They say it’s the little things that matter most.
And when it comes to creating an environment of inclusion, Michael Bach says people often underestimate the importance of individual actions – particularly the seemingly small ones.
A nationally and internationally recognized thought leader and subject matter expert on inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility, Bach is the founder of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI), as well as the founder and CEO of CCDI Consulting Inc.
He explains that, ultimately, inclusion comes down to our own behaviour.
“It’s not about a policy,” says Bach who, in his work as a consultant, supports his clients in creating and authentically living inclusive policies and practices. “A policy’s a part of it. But a policy is only as good as the paper it’s written on. What matters is how that policy is enacted into reality.”
While inclusion is a critical component of quite simply being a good human being, Bach gives us a lens on why it should be important to businesses, what inclusion looks like as lived behaviour, and some meaningful and tangible things businesses can do to cultivate inclusion for their employees, customers, and community.
“Inclusion is creating a culture that embraces, respects, accepts, and values diversity. It is a mindful and equitable effort to meet individual needs so everyone feels valued, respected, and able to contribute to their fullest potential. Where diversity occurs naturally, creating the mix in the organization, inclusion is the choice that helps the mix work well together.”
Why inclusion should matter to businesses
With labour shortages currently impacting the growth of many Canadian businesses, the ability to hire and keep employees is certainly top of mind for business owners right now. And inclusion is an essential element in the kind of culture people want to work in – and stay working in.
“From an employment perspective, inclusion is important to attracting talent, it’s important to being able to retain talent, and it’s important in promoting and engaging talent – getting the best out of who they are and contributing to your organization,” says Bach.
He explains the argument for inclusion is similar when it comes to drawing in customers, as well as nurturing a loyal customer base. It’s about understanding the needs of your customer and making sure you’re able to meet those needs, while at the same time being aware that people have different needs – and that’s all part of being human.
“Whether the difference is around their sexuality, their gender, their race or ethnicity. It’s just about understanding people,” says Bach. “The bottom line is, if I’m going into a store or restaurant or whatever, I want to know that I’m going to be treated with respect and dignity. That I’m not going to feel of less value because of who I love. If I go into a store and I’m holding my husband’s hand, and the person behind the counter kind of gives me a funny look, I’m out. I’m not giving you a dollar of my money. So it’s about making sure that your space – whatever your space is, whatever you do as a business – is one where all people are going to feel valued when they come into it.”
Perspective (hint: not yours) is everything
Bach says that in his years of working with businesses a common thread he sees is that people notoriously underestimate what they don’t know – particularly if they’re from a dominant group. He says a big factor in addressing this is having the awareness that, quite simply, it’s not all about you.
“People often default to looking at things through their own lens,” says Bach. “But, for example, I’m not an expert on all things LGBTQ2+. Because I only have my own personal perspective. I’ve never been a Lesbian, I’ve never been Bisexual, I’ve never been Transgender, I’ve never been Two-Spirit. The lesson is that you have to put your own perspective aside. It’s not about you. Everyone has their own lived experiences and no two person’s experience is alike. One of the things that regularly happens is that someone thinks their perspective is the same as everyone’s in the organization when, in reality, it’s likely not even close.”
Doing the work
Because every organization is on their own respective journey, the reasons that bring businesses to CCDI Consulting Inc. can vary widely, says Bach, so he meets them where they’re at and typically provides help in these four areas:
#1: Defining why inclusion matters to your organization. And then crafting a business case around that.
#2: Defining the problem(s). This involves looking at who your people are, how they feel about your organization, and where there may be an issue.
#3: Coming up with a set of solutions. This is where the strategy work happens.
#4: Education, education, education. Bach says this is about 50 per cent of what he assists businesses with because if you want to be inclusive, you need to understand what that means. “How do you magically begin to create an inclusive space? Well, you need to educate your people,” he says.
Keep it simple and focus on what’s meaningful
Bach says taking steps to create an inclusive climate doesn’t have to be complicated. But it does require communication and being intentional and consistent in your actions.
“At the most fundamental level, if you want to include LGBTQ2+ people in your business, your job is to put a Pride sticker in your window and make a commitment that your space is safe. You need to make sure that your staff understands what that means, and then have a process or policy that says if a homophobic or transphobic or biphobic issue comes up, here’s how we’ll respond. So if I come into your store and one of your employees or customers says or does something homophobic, how will you respond? That’s the extent of what you need to do. I’m not suggesting everyone needs to watch 14 seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, although I’ve watched every episode and it really is a fantastic show.”
3 actions for making inclusion your business
- Show your space is safe: put a Pride sticker in the window
- Make it safe: develop a policy and bring implementation down to the level of individual action
- Ask, listen, and act: proactively take steps to get to know your people, educate yourself, and continuously grow
Small behaviours have big impacts
It’s the small actions that can create the largest impact – positive or negative – says Bach, explaining this is where education really comes into play. Because once you know and recognize how powerful one simple act can be in producing exclusion, your next step can be to counteract that behaviour.
“You and I as individuals can create inclusive space, and we can create exclusionary space. Very, very little things we do can send a message of inclusion or exclusion. Things like, name pronunciation. Do I take the time to ensure that I’m saying your name right? Or a male boss getting into an elevator – did he say good morning to just the men? Or being intentional about putting your pronouns in your email signature or on your Zoom profile. That last one sends such a strong message to people who don’t identify with he/him or she/her. It says, hey I acknowledge you. It’s the simplest of acts that can send a really powerful message of inclusion.
“At the end of the day, it’s not through a really big, massive action that inclusion happens – it’s the little things. It’s as simple as a Pride sticker on the door of a store. That’s a symbol that tells me I’m likely safe in that space. Because when I don’t see it, I have to guess. Little acts like that can be incredibly powerful.”
- Learn about Michael's latest book, Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work.
- Learn about CWB's Love Stuck project.