Often in my professional life I meet people who tell me that one of the key barriers they have to achieving real change in the Inclusion and Diversity space (I&D) is the perception that the processes required to achieve real change are too complicated and require too much effort.
In fact, making a difference here often only requires businesses to open their eyes and really see how the environments they create – both internal and external – impact on their people, stakeholders, partners, and consumers or customers.
Take the High Street pharmacy chain Boots, for example – a huge brand in the UK retail sector, employing 56,000 people across 2,276 locations around the country.
Recently the company announced it was renaming its ‘feminine hygiene’ aisle as ‘period products’.
It’s a small change, but in terms of customer inclusion it sends a big message and immediately changes the dynamic of Boots’ customer relationships.
In many cases we drop roadblocks on our path to creating more inclusive environments through the unknowing, or perhaps traditionally accepted, use of language that fosters exclusion, even if the aim is to do the opposite.
What Boots recognised was that the word ‘hygiene’ prompted an unconscious perception that periods were in some way unsanitary. Understandably, that always risks making some women believe, even if only subconsciously, that they are not entirely welcomed or valued.
Reacting to the retailer’s decision, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “We welcome the move away from the term ‘hygiene’ when talking about period products. Periods are not dirty or unhygienic, they are normal and natural, and we would urge more retailers to do the same.”
This issue is not only true of products relating to the menstrual cycle, obviously. The lack of attention to the immediate environment creates similar problems in other areas where inclusion is desirable – mental health, disability, race, sexuality, and more, are similarly prone to fostering exclusivity.
Seemingly small changes like that implemented by Boots can actually have a wide-ranging impact over time, especially when those changes are implemented incrementally.
So, what steps can businesses and individuals take to create a more inclusive mindset?
1. Learn more about the topic at hand
As with most things, education can unlock many inadvertent and unintended mistakes or problems. By understanding more about the inclusion we want to create, we are able to better interpret how our approach needs to change.
- Build greater awareness about the language we use and the impact of it
Our language is a living one, which means it changes over time. What was accepted as the norm 40 years or even 1 year ago when people talked about common areas of discrimination and prejudice are either no longer acceptable or not appropriate now. And the more we engage with how others talk about themselves, the easier it is for us to speak and understand their language.
- Talk to people with knowledge or experience that is relevant
No one expects anyone to be an expert in inclusion, and it’s okay to ask for insight and advice if you’re either facing a tricky situation relating to I&D or you want to learn more about how you can make a difference. Many people who do have either lived or expert experience of I&D will be happy to help you to achieve a better understanding of your personal environment.
- Bring awareness to any biases we might hold
Self-awareness is key when it comes to unpicking our own biases, whether they’re unconscious or conscious. Work to understand whether those biases are useful, abundant and compassionate; or related to a potentially unhelpful way of being and related to a scarcity-based way of thinking.
If you’d like to know more about how you can begin to create a more inclusive and diverse workplace through better understanding of your human and environmental ecosystem, we’d love to hear from you!