Inclusive workspaces may bring to mind several potential images, some more common than others. People may imagine an inclusive workspace is one that has several bathrooms designations, additional titles for people with different pronouns, or perhaps even a space for a new mother to safely and with dignity bottle milk. All of this is part of an inclusive workspace, but what should also be a part of an inclusive workspace are considerations for neurodivergent individuals or those living with a disability or mental health diagnosis. The question then becomes, how do I begin making my workplace inclusive and, if it’s already inclusive, how do I maintain it’s inclusivity?
One of the simplest ways to begin designing an inclusive workplace is to ask what your coworkers or employees would appreciate seeing in the workplace. Being proactive about asking these questions can make it far easier for those who would improve under certain accommodations to speak out about what could be done to help them. These questions can be asked verbally in a larger meeting or could be handed out as a form so individuals feel safe to voice their needs anonymously without scrutiny. Having a conversation about what can be done is a good first step to discerning what has to be done.
Secondly, once a communication line has been established and needs are identified, it’s important to take action on those requests and needs. If people are willing to be vulnerable and voice what would help them in day to day life, especially after answering a direct call for such information, and it isn’t acted upon this could severely harm workplace morale and ruin trust between the people involved. Additionally, it’s important once needs have been identified that training occurs to educate the whole of the workplace population on correctly working with these unique needs. It should not be the responsibility of folk who live with special circumstances to educate everyone in the workplace on them, as it can both be an exhausting task to educate so many people so frequently and could be a private topic they’d prefer not to have to discuss overmuch with others. Training would provide the education necessary for those at the workplace to have the knowledge to aid their peers as proper allies or as a support network that can understand and has some ability to help each other. For example, if an employee who lives with PTSD and begins to have a reaction to something at work or is otherwise triggered, an educated coworker would be able to provide support and help calm down the individual or know who to contact to appropriately help them.
But what are some general, relatively easy changes to make while that dialog and larger changes are going on? A simple way to be inclusive to LGBTQ+ folk is to make simple, but effective, changes to dialogue. For example, rather than addressing a room or group of people as ‘Hey you guys’ or ‘Alright ladies’ you might instead say ‘Okay folks’. Rather than assuming what pronouns to use with someone, ask and use them. Another simple but effective change is one which regards more neurodiverse people. Some may have sensory issues dealing with sound or texture, and simply allowing these folk to wear headphones or perhaps have a slightly different dress code that accommodates their sensitivities can improve their quality of life at work greatly.
Finally, with all that has been talked about, a simple question may be coming up for many; how do we maintain all of these changes? What if more are needed over time? One of the simplest solutions is to keep an open line of communication between those who control the workspace’s environment and those that engage in said environment daily. Being able to raise questions, concerns, or suggestions in a safe and secure environment is ideal and important to maintain all of the work you and your coworkers put into fostering these changes and environment.
By, Jessica Seney, MHC Intern