Insights & Expertise

Creating an Inclusive Workspace: Insight and Advice from Our Unlimited Learning Experts

by Andrew Westveer

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Aubrey Wang, Ph.D. and Brittany Bronson '17 (M.S.) were the featured speakers of the "Diversity in the Workplace" webinar.

On Oct. 22, Saint Joseph’s Unlimited Learning series featured "Diversity in the Workplace," a webinar exploring diversity, equity and inclusion and what organizations and employees can do to create a welcoming, inclusive workplace. 

The conversation featured two Saint Joseph’s experts: Brittany L. Bronson ’17 (M.S.), current doctoral degree student, owner of Rebrand Career Consulting and former assistant managing director for the City of Philadelphia, and Aubrey Wang, Ph.D., professor of educational leadership and director of the organization development and leadership graduate program at Saint Joseph’s University, which now offers a concentration in diversity, inclusion and belonging. 

Here are key takeaways from the segment, as well as questions from the audience that our experts addressed. 

Why is it important to focus on all three values — diversity, equity and inclusion — not just one, in the workplace?

Brittany Bronson: Each of these components is valuable in the workplace, and each is distinct. When we talk about applying them in practice and policy, they ensure that you’re getting the best from your employees and that you have the best employees who speak to your audience and the culture being created in the organization.

Dr. Aubrey Wang: Research has shown that increasing a sense of inclusion and belonging helps to significantly reduce stress, improve physical health, emotional well-being and performance.

What are some of the identities people have that may be less visible, but still important to consider for creating an inclusive workplace?

Wang: There are many less visible social identities that distinguish people. They include personality, cognitive style, tenure, background and first language. Regardless of being visible or not visible, these identities shape how people perceive themselves and how they perceive others. When organizations value visible and less visible differences they also increase their competitive advantage.

Bronson: One area I really pushed this year in my office was understanding ableism. For people in wheelchairs, for example, we want to be sure to accommodate cubicles, doors and other compliance metrics. But what about when we talk about anxiety, depression and trauma? Whether it’s the trauma of poverty or witnessing Black men murdered on camera. No matter what those traumatic experiences are, they shape the experiences of Black and brown women, mothers, fathers, for example. We need to take this into consideration, too. 

How can organizations or employers create safe spaces for employees?

Wang: When someone is new, make introductions to create a sense of belonging. In meetings, solicit input and ask opinions; then follow up with questions so they feel that they were heard. When someone speaks, let them finish their thoughts and do not speak over them. Pay attention and be present in conversations to show respect. Sharing stories is one of the most important ways of creating a sense of connection among people who are different.

Bronson: Also, set norms across the office that are proactively inclusive. So, in my office, we set a norm that everyone uses their pronouns in their signature. Another area we’ve been practicing is simply using the word "partner" instead of "husband" or "wife." We want to be sure we’re using language that is inclusive across demographics, not just reserved for a specialized group of individuals. 

How do we create an inclusive culture within a virtual or remote community?

Wang: In the corporate setting, there are quite a few things people can do. With Zoom calls, for example, instead of the hand-raising function, an alternative would be to use "yes or no" or anonymous polling so people don’t feel the need to follow the typical leaders within the group. It’s important to understand that every piece of technology used for meetings could be used in a way that could show coercion or in a way that allows people to express what they feel. 

Bronson: In my doctoral program [Doctorate of Educational Leadership] courses, we have "coffee chats." We’re paired up with a classmate that we didn’t know and talk with them for twenty minutes every week on a selected topic and then reflect on that. The chats are intentionally inclusive by making sure everyone has a level playing field to bring something to the conversation. The conversations really force you to show up without any of the socio-economic standards that often create exclusion across groups.

 

Learn more about the Organization Development and Leadership M.S. degree program at Saint Joseph’s University, including the program’s concentration in diversity, equity and belonging.