What anybody at any level can do to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace

Most of us want to increase diversity and inclusion in our workplaces, but don’t have hiring or promotion authority. While those are the most direct ways to increase diversity and inclusion, there are many other ways to influence culture and promote inclusion. Here are 21 ideas for people without formal hiring or promotion authority or influence.

Diversity of ideas

  1. Encourage diversity of opinion and cognition by making it clear that you value hearing different perspectives in your decision-making. If the people you ask for input are all like you, in background, department, age, ethnicity, and mindset, find ways to reach out to people who aren’t like you.
  2. Look at how you respond to people whose perspectives challenge yours. How do you try to learn from them? Do you ever reject them because they make you feel uncomfortable or implicitly criticized? We all love our comfort zones, but one sign of transformational learning is that it makes us uncomfortable.
  3. Look outside your field to get ideas or keep up with professional development. See what professionals in other areas have to say about the same issues that you’re addressing. Articles about recruiting and retaining volunteers at nonprofits can have great lessons for HR managers at for-profits and vice-versa, for example.
  4. As often as you can, look at news from a different country. If you use Google News, this is as easy as picking another country’s edition from the dropdown at the top left.
  5. If you write a newsletter, forward articles, post links on a webpage, or otherwise regularly inform others, consider increasing the diversity of the people that you cite. Try looking at publications written by and for a different demographic group, such as reading AARP if you’re younger, publications for working women if you’re a man, or ones that target an ethnicity that’s different from yours.

Word of mouth and networking

  1. Actively refer job openings to friends of friends. Our first-level networks tend to be people like ourselves but our second-level networks tend to be much more diverse. If you have a job opening, reach out to everybody in your network and ask them to ask their friends. Offer to help describe organizational culture to those applicants, especially if they’re switching organizational types. Somebody coming from an old-fashioned law firm applying for a job at a high-tech SaaS firm, for example, could benefit from your sharing sample (non-confidential, of course!) internal communications so they can style their application materials appropriately.
  2. If you hear of or attend cultural events that attract a diverse audience, consider recommending that your company become a sponsor. Smaller organizations can be a great investment in relationship-building at very little cost, especially if the sponsorship notice says that you’re hiring or invites attendees to learn about careers at your organization.
  3. Industry meetings, conferences, and other events are a great way to make your network more diverse. Especially if you’re well-known in your industry, take the time to find and meet people from different backgrounds, especially if it’s a background that’s under-represented in your field.
  4. Make yourself an ambassador at your organization’s events. If you see somebody who doesn’t seem to know others yet, invite them into your conversations and introduce them to your connections.


  1. Idioms and metaphors are incredibly vivid but can be confusing or simply not meaningful for people from different backgrounds. If a metaphor or symbol is important to understanding a point, make sure that it’s something that everybody in the audience is familiar with. For example, most people will understand the phrase “giving somebody free rein,” from horseback riding and racing, but not necessarily “dodgepot” or “under starter’s orders.”
  2. Jokes that depend on current cultural references can be tricky if you put them in material that your organization may use for years. Somebody who’s new in the country may not recognize a song that was last summer’s hit.
  3. Encourage the people who are quiet during meetings or don’t go to you with their thoughts and ideas. Some may not be comfortable speaking up in public in general, others prefer to spend time gathering their thoughts before responding, others may be put off from contributing if they perceive others as dominating the conversation. During meetings, solicit their ideas, or, if they prefer not to speak then, encourage them to share their ideas later.
  4. If a meeting includes people who don’t fluently speak the language of the meeting, ask if they would prefer to speak up during the meeting, write down their input, or use a break period to gather their thoughts into the language.
  5. Use inclusive phrasing wherever you can. Unless you’re specifically talking about churches, temples, or mosques, use terms like “place of worship,” and unless you know somebody’s orientation, use terms that could encompass multiple genders, such as “seeing somebody” or “have a partner” instead of “have a boyfriend/girlfriend.”

Office events and gatherings

  1. Show respect for cultural and religious practices with food and events. Many Jewish people don’t eat shellfish any time during the year, so a seafood restaurant where the house specialty is shrimp or lobster can make people feel excluded, even if there’s still plenty that they can eat. Many Muslims fast during the daytime during Ramadan, and if there’s food out in the open, that can be an unwanted temptation. Simply putting the cover on the box of doughnuts or adding extra ventilation to the kitchen during Ramadan can make it easier.
  2. Many office parties include alcohol and many department get-togethers take place in bars or other places where alcohol predominates. If the office happy hour includes expensive microbrews, for example, spend a bit extra on a variety of Italian sodas or gourmet bottled iced teas, so that non-drinkers don’t feel excluded or like afterthoughts.
  3. When planning team outings, consider if noise levels, steps to climb, or other physical aspects could be uncomfortable for members who, while not technically disabled, have limitations with their hearing or experience joint pains with activity. Many employees, especially in office jobs, don’t mention having “invisible” conditions like arthritis, fibromyalgia, or minor hearing loss.
  4. If somebody with a physical disability might attend an event, try to go through the physical path that they’ll need to take, as close to their perspective as you can. Avoid putting somebody in a position where they might need to ask for help and remember that for many people who use wheelchairs, having to be lifted is deeply uncomfortable
  5. When scheduling social events, be mindful of the needs of parents with younger children and others with dependents. For single parents or parents who work different schedules, evening events usually mean paying for child care. Adults who provide care for their own parents may also face extra cost or inconvenience. If evening events don’t work for all staff, make sure that you don’t schedule important announcements during the evening and that there are free opportunities for informal networking during the day.

People with PTSD

  1. Many veterans, people who have experienced domestic violence, or people from refugee backgrounds have symptoms of PTSD. This can include extra sensitivity to loud noises, sudden flashes of light, or unexpected movements. Try to avoid shouting or yelling (especially when somebody’s not expecting it), turning on the lights in a dimmed room without warning, popping balloons or packaging, or tapping people on the shoulder from behind.
  2. Even if they don’t have full-fledged PTSD, members of the military, people who have claustrophobia, or who have experienced domestic abuse or dating violence may feel uncomfortable if they feel physically cornered. Especially if you’re physically more imposing than the person that you’re speaking with, avoid blocking somebody in a physical space. For example, if you’re standing in a cubicle doorway, stand sideways rather than blocking their line of vision and seeming to hem them in. If you’re talking with somebody in a wheelchair, sit at a slight angle, and if you’re pushing somebody in a wheelchair, when you stop, let go of the chair and step away, rather than keeping a hold of it.

More thoughts? Please add yours below!