different types of insects gathering around a campfire illustrating diversity and inclusion

5 Game-Changing Diversity and Inclusion Activities for Teams

Written by Alison Robins, Designed by Léandre Martin-Meilleur

September 27, 2018

Diversity and inclusion (D&I) have become amongst the hottest buzzwords of 2018, and while many companies are putting in their best efforts to get diversity right, it’s the experience they create for those diverse hires that tends to get neglected. In order to reap the many benefits of diversity, companies first need to foster inclusive cultures.

According to Forbes, it’s the only scalable way to build diversity within an organization. In fact, “Without thoughtful and deliberate discussion and action to cultivate an inclusive environment, all the energy and resources spent on recruiting a diverse workforce are for naught. The employees, so painstakingly recruited, will be gone within three months.”

Diversity without inclusion is like an energizer bunny without a battery.

Inclusion is what brings the diversity to life. You can feel when a company gets it right. It’s palpable in the teamwork, the interactions between colleagues, the ideas and ultimately the business results. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach or quick checklist for D&I. In fact, even the best companies are still figuring out how to embed it into their daily systems and processes. The good news is that inclusion is a “mindset” more than anything, and believing in its value is the first step.

You’re on the right path!

Keep reading to learn:

  • Why inclusion is key for the future of work
  • Who is responsible for inclusion in an organization
  • 3 expert tips for leaders to build inclusive organizations
  • 5 inclusion activities for managers and their teams

Why is Inclusion Important?

Different types of butterfly leaving their nest, flying away

“Research also shows that teams that operate in an inclusive culture outperform their peers by a staggering 80 percent.”

As intangible as inclusion seems, it does have a direct impact on the most concrete element of all. Business results. Why? Because inclusive cultures are what lay down the smooth and solid foundation for innovation.

The most innovative and disruptive ideas arise when a group of diverse minds collaborate, share perspectives, listen empathetically and challenge one another dynamically. This is the recipe for innovation, the success factor that will keep your company ahead of the game.

In order to be successful, we have to be successful together.

But innovation doesn’t just happen. It’s the product of creating a safe environment where employees feel that they can come to work as they are and do what they love without fear of being judged. This is the recipe for psychological safety, a term to remember, if not memorize, because it rests at the heart of the future of work.

According to HBR, “Psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off — just the types of behavior that lead to market breakthroughs.” Fear is creativity’s long-lived nemesis, and the ultimate inhibitor of innovation.

“You can’t ever do anything brave if you’re wearing the straitjacket of ‘What will people think?!”

Bréné Brown

Workplaces that nurture teams fueled with a sense of belonging, trust, empathy and compassion are the ones that “winnovate”.

In fact, the science behind inclusion tell us that feelings of exclusion and rejection actually register in the brain as physical injury. That’s right. It literally hurts to feel excluded, and it’s not without consequence on your business results. According to Forbes, “there is also evidence that suggests not being able to “think straight” is a real outcome of feeling rejected.” This means that our ability to think, process information and generate ideas is affected by how we feel at work. If we feel that we belong and are accepted as we are, our brains literally become more valuable.

Who is Responsible for Inclusion?

ladybug sheltering other bugs from the rain to illustrate togetherness

The mistake that is commonly made across all industries is that organizations are leaving it up to HR to foster inclusive environments. D&I is not an HR strategy, it’s a strategy that includes everyone, most specifically an organization’s leadership. When CEOs delegate the “inclusion project” to someone else, they set themselves up for failure because the modelling of inclusion must necessarily start at the top. If the company preaches inclusion, its key figures and managers must walk the talk.

That being said, every individual in the organization is responsible for inclusion. While it might start at the top, it’s the job of the frontline managers to nurture it within their teams and ensure that it is lived by every member of the organization. Inclusion is not a job for leadership, it’s a job that starts with leadership.

Tip to catch your bias: Mentally flip whoever you are dealing with in a specific situation with someone else and see how it feels. If it feels weird then you probably have a bias. For example, flip it from man to a woman to see if you have a gender bias.

Before we dive into more actionable tips, we recommend sending your team our free Diversity and Inclusion Poll. You can quickly discover your team’s strengths and weaknesses when it comes to inclusion, then us the tips below to help fill in the gaps.

Expert Tips for Leaders to Build Inclusive Workplaces

Michelle Kim, the CEO of Awaken who is passionately changing the face of D&I within organizations, offers three essential tips for leaders to build inclusive workspaces.

Tip: Find out what religious and cultural days and holidays are significant to your employees from different backgrounds, and offer them the time off.

Tip: Whether it was an act of violence on a specific community that is represented within your company, or recurring events in the news regarding mental illness, gather your team and let them know that you recognize the impact. Ask if anyone needs some time off, and remind them you have an open door policy should they need to talk.

3. Use Your Power to Level the Playing Field

People look to the company’s leadership to set the norm, so it’s the duty of the manager to model inclusive behaviour for their teams.

a beetle showing the example to other bugs in the team

  • Interrupt harmful language, bias or behavior in the moment. This includes noting your own, as we all have bias. Speak up!
  • Listen to and amplify underrepresented voices.
  • Give credit where credit is due; to people who actually did the work.
  • Delegate work equitably and thoughtfully – give everyone the chance to shine.
  • Question and then challenge norms established by and for privileged groups.

5 Diversity & Inclusion Activities for Teams

Inclusion must exist from beginning to end in an employee lifecycle. From the moment someone sees your recruiter brand to the moment someone leaves your company, the goal is to build an inclusive culture, all around. But according to Kim, the D&I expert from Awaken, “there are a lot of companies that put out fancy marketing slogans about diversity and inclusivity but when we peel back the layers and look at how managers lead their teams there is a gap.”

Here are 5 Diversity and Inclusion Activities for managers to build stronger teams:

  1. Ask everyone to think about the three most defining moments in their lives and write them down on separate Post-its.
  2. Have each employee present these moments to the team, and share their story to whatever degree they feel comfortable.
  3. Thank everyone for sharing and ask the team to share what their takeaways are from the exercise.

Use the following conversation-starter in small groups to kick off a meeting, or try it during a one-on-one to set the tone for openness and vulnerability. It also gives the employee a moment to reflect on how they are feeling, which is something we don’t often take the time to do.

  1. Go around the table and have everyone on your team finish this statement: “If you really knew me, you’d know that…

It can be something as simple as: “I missed the bus this morning so I feel a bit stressed. I need a minute to collect myself.” Or, something a bit more revealing such as: “I have a family member who is not well and I’m having trouble focusing”.

3. Confront Stereotypes Head-On

This particular inclusion activity suggested by MIT is a great way to break down misconceptions and stereotypes by allowing individuals to report on how they identify themselves, while also allowing them to address the stereotypes behind these identifying factors.

Here are the steps for “I Am, But I am Not”

  1. Each participant should fold a piece of paper in half to create two separate columns.
  2. In the first column, write “I Am”.
  3. In the second column, write “I Am Not”.
  4. In between these two columns, write the word “But”.
  5. The final phrase will read “I am _____, but I am not _____.”
  6. Participants should fill in the first blank with some kind of common identifier, such as their race, religion, etc. and the second with a common stereotype about that group which is not true of them (whether the stereotype is positive or negative).
    Ex: “I am Asian, but I am not good at math.”
  7. Make sure there are no questions and have everyone write at least 5 statements.
  8. Allow participants to share their statements with the team and have an open and respectful discourse on stereotypes.

4. Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes

Harvard Business Review recommends “perspective taking” as a great way to mentally walk in someone else’s shoes. Empathy is key in building inclusive and pro-diversity cultures.

a flying bug carrying another on their back

  1. Have your team share what types of diverse backgrounds they see on their team (race, religion, education, sexual orientation, age, etc).
  2. Pair each team member with a background that is different from their own.
  3. Have everyone write a few lines on the distinct challenges that they believe the background group they’ve been paired with could face.
  4. Share and discuss with the team or in small groups.

This reflection will produce more empathic teams, and according to the Harvard study, will help build positive attitudes and behaviors toward minorities. The study also reveals increased support and “engaging in less mistreatment toward marginalized minorities”.

5. Bring Bias to the Forefront

We all have bias, whether we think we do or not. One way to overcome bias and non-inclusive language is to call it out and confront it in yourself and others.

two different butterfly side by side

  1. Start a bias jar!
  2. Have your team call out bias and non-inclusive language openly.
  3. For example, using gendered language when discussing a specific profession.
  4. Whoever is called out must submit a dollar.
  5. But don’t stop there. Have a quick discussion about the type of bias with your team so that it resonates.

The practice will help everyone reduce their bias a bit more everyday by bringing it to the forefront. At the end of the year, use the money to do something fun together as team.

Retaining and engaging your employees is about creating an environment they want to stay in. One where they feel heard, included, and where they can be themselves. Inclusion needs to exist in the DNA of a company, and it’s up to that company’s leadership to model it. Modern managers play an essential role in exhibiting inclusive and empathic behaviours that will inspire employees to do the same. When a company truly believes in the power of inclusion and lives it uncompromisingly in their day-to-day, they earn a competitive advantage that can’t be matched. Cultures of belonging are the ones that reduce fear and increase curiosity and creativity. The future of work is now, and it’s inclusive.

Get everything from understanding to action planning in our full Diversity & Inclusion content series.