When it comes to addressing diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) issues in the workplace, many people think of things like training sessions about microaggressions, or HR handling discrimination complaints. Because DEI issues are embedded in every workplace structure, some are more covert and not brought to light as much as others. Here are 3 common issues that arise on a daily basis when we are not intentional.

1. Non-inclusive Team Bonding

Though well-intended, many organizations’ team bonding efforts aren’t inclusive. For starters, many team bonding activities are held after work hours, which may be difficult if not impossible for individuals who have another job, or who provide unpaid care for children, elders, family members or others, among other factors. In 2022, over 65 million people in the U.S. were giving care to chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family members/friends. Additionally, many team bonding events are hosted at a bar/restaurant or other venue centered around alcohol. Although meeting for drinks after work is common, this environment could be triggering for employees who struggle with addiction.

Moreover, events centered around physical activities like a volleyball or kickball game exclude employees who do not have the ability or comfort to participate.  If the event is optional, people are either left out or may feel obligated to attend so that they don’t disappoint their team or supervisor, especially if they are worried that seeming uninvested will affect their performance review or consideration for a raise or promotion.

“Although meeting for drinks after work is common, this environment could be triggering for employees who struggle with addiction.”

Do your best to schedule team bonding events during work hours, around non-physically strenuous and substance-free activities, and at no cost to employees. Those who can’t afford the activity – no matter how insignificant you may find the cost to be – may not feel comfortable saying that they can’t afford it and will be forced into either opting out or paying for something outside of their budget.

2. Assumption of Pronouns/Gender Identity

Rarely do organizations encourage employees to share their gender pronouns, which leaves employees to automatically assume the gender identity of their colleagues and clients, reinforcing the gender binary. To break it down, if at first glance you instinctually evaluate someone’s features and clothing and refer to that person as, “him,” you are assuming that person identifies as a man because of social norms that have taught us what a man’s gender expression is or should be.

Being misgendered is associated with depression, anxiety, and decreased self-esteem, among other mental health issues. The way people present or express themselves does not indicate their gender identity; rather, our automatic perceptions and labeling of others stem from our own biases that come from what we’ve internalized about gender.

By asking employees to share their pronouns in introductions, email signatures, Zoom names, physical name tags, and more, your organization can acknowledge that pronouns and gender identity should not be assumed and can start to create a culture change. A verbal introduction sharing pronouns can be something like this: “Hello! My name is Taeko, my pronouns are she/her.  I started here as a Senior Associate in January.” 

3. Lack of Digital Accessibility

Globally, at least 2.2 billion people have a vision impairment, and adults with visual impairments often have lower rates of workforce participation and higher rates of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression (World Health Organization).  Sadly, this outcome is all too common for groups who lack equal access.

According to Abilitynet, 90% of websites are inaccessible to people with disabilities who rely on assistive technology.  Assistive technologies are software programs, product systems or pieces of equipment that are used to increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of people with disabilities.  Common examples include screen readers and communication programs.

Having proper heading structure, image captions, video closed captioning, and strong color contrast for text are just a few of the important features that your organization should have in place to make your website and other digital content accessible. The Bureau of Internet Accessibility recommends you conduct an accessibility audit of your website every 4-6 months.

DEI Consulting

Identifying issues is one thing; trying to correct them, hold people accountable, get buy-in, and shift organizational culture is a different beast.  Bringing in the expertise of a consulting team can help you with all of the above and more.  Consultants can assess your situation, identify the root issues to ensure your solutions are designed to solve the right problems (DEI training is not always the answer!) and help you make real, sustainable culture change.

Visit cockerhamassociates.com/services to learn more about our DEI Consulting Services.