This is the middle part of the post series on inclusion. The introduction post is here: Inclusion Matters: [Part 1] Diversity matters.
Inclusion is not straight-forward. It requires lots of compassion and effort. I have worked in a team where all 7 people were of different nationalities and different mother tongues. It was not easy – we often would get lost in translation or misunderstand certain cultural behaviors, but it was one of the highest performing teams I’ve worked with. As long as everyone on the team is aware of inclusion, and has an open heart & mind, it can work. However, many times we had to admit being wrong and learn how to make teamwork better.
Often if we are not affected by inclusion problems, we may not even notice them being there. Learning more about different people’s perspectives can help us to broaden our understanding, too.
In this post, I want to tell more about a couple of the most common inclusion problems which could be spotted almost daily in many environments. The collection of stories shared here are coming from a variety of different work environments.
Examples mentioned in this part may seem painful to some. I want to give them so that we can be equipped with awareness and better understanding that even if these problems don’t happen to us we would be able to spot them and help the people out. As Brene Brown has said: “To not have the conversations because they make you uncomfortable is the definition of privilege”. We spoke more about privilege in Inclusion Matters: [Part 1] Diversity matters, and in this part let’s take a look at some uncomfortable examples.
If these things are common in your workplace, it is a sign of a non-inclusive environment.
Adding extra effort to earn respect if you’re marginalized
Often I have been the only woman in the team or a company-wide meeting. Many times I felt like others wanted me to convince them that I’m worthy or they did not take me seriously for a long time.
One time I and another colleague who happens to be a woman went to a meeting on API design and as no other colleagues could join, it was just us and two men who were presenting the idea. We had to talk them into staying after they were asking for other colleagues to be there. It was obvious they did not think we were “technical” enough for this (how gender defines this so clearly is still a mystery to me). Spoiler alert: the meeting went great and the stance of the two men leading the presentation changed when we questioned their API solution, but the overall mood was not great.
Another example of the fact that some people need to add extra effort to be believed and respected I was told by a colleague of mine. When we, as two women who tend to stand out in male-dominated meetings working in tech, were sharing stories on how we cope with that, she told me that she has a trick that always works. Then, she took out the glasses from her pocket, put them on, and said: “Look, now I’m convincing”. I was dumbfounded. She explained: “Somehow if women have glasses on, they are often more likely to be listened to. I have a perfect vision, but I learned by experience that often just adding the glasses on – I am more respected as someone who knows what they are talking about”.
This story left a mark on me realizing that yes, I have noticed certain looks if I dress somehow differently or prep up – and I just want to be listened to and respected at work, I don’t want some comments on my looks (“innocent” jokes in the below section are enough). As a result, at work, I do choose the simplest casual clothes to wear which do not stand out, even though I am more relaxed during the weekend or in some more balanced work environments. That’s exactly where we end up not bringing our whole authentic selves to work, and being not able to benefit from diversity as we start to adjust ourselves to fit in and be more like the rest. There cannot be innovation in an environment where everyone fits in to a certain standard.
The “innocent” jokes
Talking about being a non-male in a tech company, let’s mention the occasional “jokes”…
Once I was sitting in a meeting and before the presenter even started to project the slides – the lights were dimmed. One of the attendees said “Oh, what a romantic atmosphere”, while the man sitting next to me elbowed me and told audibly (others could hear it) just to me: “Don’t you feel romantic here?”. I just kept my face straight and ignored the remark. This by some of the readers was called a possible sexual harassment case. I’d say it still is an inclusion problem: it’s exclusionary behavior, and it’s being tolerated as an “innocent” joke that I should let go by as it was even said in front of others. Nobody said a word apart from a few laughing from this “witty” remark.
These “innocent” jokes that some tend to make can really add up. Multiple times I’ve been in a situation where after “being teased” or hearing inappropriate jokes I spoke back that it’s not appropriate and got the frequent response of “Oh, cheer up. It’s just a joke. It’s my sense of humor!”. Hmmm, so maybe I just have no sense of humor? Well, for me “Computers are like women – cannot be understood easily” is not too funny. It can be difficult as an individual to stand up and highlight that these comments are unacceptable, especially if you’re in the demographic under attack. It’s sad when a male colleague decides they have to announce to other males in the group that “Women are always right, don’t get yourself into trouble”. It’s even sadder when it comes from someone who themselves could be on the receiving end of unacceptable comments. The “Don’t go there, boys will be boys” line from a non-male colleague, is an example. This is not helping us to make environments more inclusive. We should not divide people but connect them.
We do have differences. Not only in our gender, race, religion, looks, etc. We have some more outspoken people, some are silent, some are more social, others are less. The language and actions the majority uses can make you feel more or less included.
There are many more inclusion problems in our daily life that I did not mention here. Stay open-minded (and hearted) to spot them.
In the next post Inclusion Matters: [Part 3] How to increase inclusion, I give some tips on what we can do to make the inclusion better yet don’t lose our authenticity.