Building a Workplace Culture of Inclusion and Diversity that Lasts (Even When Everything Else Seems to Be Breaking Down)

by Cassi King, Software Engineer

10 minute read

A small group of us from STRATIS recently attended the Cultural Alliance’s “Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace” conference.

A few of the most salient lessons that I brought home to our team should be key strategies for any workplace striving to become more diverse and inclusive.

In order to build a culture and environment of safety, there are a few lessons we must embrace:

  1. Let ourselves be challenged by others with differing views. Curiosity and facing discomfort brings on growth and makes us face existing assumptions.
  2. “Fitting” in is not the same thing as belonging.
  3. Diverse teams are stronger and higher performing than homogeneous teams.
  4. Be aware of our own biases when interacting with others. How we impact others around us is what matters, not our intent behind those actions.

Intent vs. impact
Many of us have been taught the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated
However, if we think about it, treating others by our own standards really does not address the needs of the other. So, we need to replace that Golden Rule above with the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they would like to be treated.

As humans, we bring our implicit biases into our interactions with others. So it is important to constantly allow ourselves to be challenged by others who are different from ourselves. We need to check our own biases daily and challenge our existing assumptions. Additionally, we should always put the other person’s needs above all else, doing our best to not bring our biases into the equation.

We may at times believe that we have the right intent behind an action. But because intent is an internal metric it has no relevance to the external world, the other; what has a real effect is the impact of how we interact. We typically judge ourselves on our intent and we judge others on their impact on us and others. So we must always act in a way where we are measuring the impact of our words or actions on others and judge ourselves by that same standard we hold others to.

Innovation happens more frequently when all voices are encouraged to be heard. These different voices, attitudes, and backgrounds make teams stronger and higher performing compared to homogenous teams. Diverse groups are more apt to generate new ideas, bring fresh perspectives on existing assumptions, and approach decision making in a more balanced, thoughtful way.

Belonging vs. Fitting In
It is important to create an environment where a person can create their own sense of belonging. In an inclusive environment, everyone needs to be involved, especially underrepresented groups, so that all voices are not only heard but also valued. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to contribute and grow.

And, it is not about fitting in; fitting in implies a person has to fit into an existing mold.
Belonging is an individual process reached by virtue of the tools offered around them in a culture of inclusivity and acceptance. In a diverse and inclusive workplace, an individual comes to feel that they belong by knowing that their voice is heard, and that they have an opportunity to contribute and be involved.

Over the past two or so years here at STRATIS, we have embarked on a deliberate process of holding ourselves accountable and honest when it comes to embracing workplace diversity and inclusion. We have a VP of People (Veep of Peeps in HR) and a Director of Culture. Together, they have put processes in place for us as a group to contribute ideas and create plans of action for what we as a group believe are best practices. We are continuously improving and on our path towards these goals.

Best practices in these areas have to include keeping a watchful eye on the daily emotional and mental wellbeing of one another.  Additionally, care and thoughtfulness need to go into our hiring and interviewing processes to ensure they correct for as many biases as possible.

Addendum note in the face of a pandemic March 2020 (link to the World Health Organization briefing with Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus)

Rise and be Stronger Together in the Time of a Pandemic
One would think that something as disruptive, as uncertain, and ground-shaking, as a global epidemic that shuts many of us indoors for weeks at a time would begin to slowly darken the mood, or begin to slowly bury the hope, or begin to slowly crush the optimism, or begin to slowly destroy the sense of being a team, a family. It is only the beginning stages of a shelter-in-place mandate (at the least in the City of Philadelphia). What has happened, instead, is an understanding and awareness that coming together, trusting one another, and remaining in constant communication can foster a communal sense of optimism. Staying connected with whatever tools are available will better prepare us to take care of one another.

As we all hunker down at home, our CEO Felicite has committed to daily communication via Slack, email, and video (especially encouraging video for visual connection) through the ever-evolving situation. We have a daily “good morning office huddle” Zoom video to say good morning (the screenshot at the top of this post) and a “Connect Question” of the day that can be anything at all: “what are you thankful for today,” “what did you have for breakfast,” “share a picture of your wfh space,” “show us your pet companion for the day.” This simple shared gesture helps foster a sense of unity and camaraderie early in the day. The overall mood at the moment seems mostly positive. One personal frame of mind that stands out and spills over: our CEO has stated that we are not merely “getting through this” as a company, but rather we are “growing through this” together.

It is doubtful that we would be weathering this storm as steadily as we are had some foundation not been laid over the past few years. This foundation of values and practices has made it clear that we all matter – individually and communally – and that we all can rely on and trust each other. Leadership has been communicating a clear sense of steadiness and reassurance in a time of daily unsteadiness and daily discouraging news.

Only time will tell if we will be the same company at the tail end of this period of time. No doubt, we will evolve into something new; and no doubt we will have learned valuable lessons to help us continue on a path to become more honest, to help us hold ourselves more accountable, to help us become more diverse, to help us become more inclusive, and above all to help us become more increasingly self-aware.

Thank you to Shawn, Anthony, Felicite, and Yuzuka for helping me in the editing process.

About STRATIS

STRATIS enables smart apartments and intelligent buildings and is the only platform of its kind built for the complexities of multifamily and student housing. Since launch, STRATIS has installed in 350,000 apartments across the U.S. and more than 30,000 internationally. STRATIS is an Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Company in America” and an Entrepreneur 360 “Best Company in America.” To get more information visit: STRATISIoT.com.