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  • 15 August 2023
  • 9 min read

How Can We Build An Inclusive Workplace?

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    • Richard Gill
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How to build an inclusive workplace“Any positive change can start from just me and you- if we want to transform the workplace we’re a part of, we should start with ourselves.”

Inclusivity is vital component of a healthy, supportive, and diverse work environment. But what can you and your colleagues do to build an inclusive workplace? In this helpful and candid article, Marzena shares her experience and advice.

Have you ever worked in a place where all your ‘quirky’, ‘different’, ‘unique’, or ‘difficult to understand behaviours’ are welcomed and understood by your colleagues and managers? If not, I would like to tell you about how to build an inclusive workplace, where everyone feels welcome, listened to, understood, and loved.

My Experience

I was born in another country and arrived in the UK in 2013. This article will be based on my own experiences and several stories from my colleagues in healthcare settings, both privately and NHS run. My vision of an inclusive workplace is that where anyone who feels different can come to feel welcomed and loved.

I have had a chance to observe amazing employers who want to listen to their staff, set a great example, and are passionate about diversity; nevertheless, I could also mention plenty of examples where things could be improved.

Living in another country and a different culture opened my eyes to many different issues people come across. Some of my thoughts might be perceived as controversial, but please be reassured that my intentions are not to harm anyone, but rather to open a dialogue and hopefully become more aware of possible hurtful comments or behaviours that we might be not even aware of.

Organisational change is, of course, necessary to building inclusive workplaces but any positive change can start from just me and you. Thus, if we want to transform the workplace we’re a part of, we should start with ourselves. I would like to highlight that this work should be a joint effort from migrants and native residents towards each other. I wish that everyone would be curious about ‘quirkiness’, rather than judgmental.

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What Not To Do

I would like to focus on struggles mainly related to immigrants’ lives and the benefits of being inclusive towards our colleagues. However, it is just as crucial to know what not to do when seeking to create a welcoming and tolerant team.

I have spent some time reflecting and analysing some situations I came across or heard from my colleagues and prepared some examples of actions that could be perceived as exclusionary to different groups. These will be helpful to know for improving your practice and becoming more inclusive towards your colleagues:

• Do not make unkind comments about the smell or appearance of someone’s food - instead, if you’re interested, ask them to tell you about their culture’s cuisine and express interest in trying an authentic dish. You could even go out for dinner together.

• Be cautious when making comments about celebrating Christmas; holidays vary depending on nationality and religion. The celebration might be on a different day, with different types of food or presents given to family members. Many migrants find Christmastime difficult if they can’t spend it with their family and close friends. Some of them might feel lonely and would appreciate the invitation to your home around the holidays.

• Nasty comments and microaggressions about nationality have no place in an inclusive, welcoming environment. You should never use slurs or inappropriate language to refer to someone’s ethnicity or culture. These are protected characteristics. 

• Actively challenge unhelpful cultural biases and stereotypes; migrants already deal with a massive amount of discrimination in media, so they would appreciate a break from that at their workplace.

Any positive change can start from just me and you- if we want to transform the workplace we’re a part of, we should start with ourselves.

Improving Communication

People migrate from all different parts of the world. Therefore, accents can be varied, and this sometimes causes some communication difficulties. In some cases, it can be beneficial to slow down when we speak to each other, write down what we want to say, or even use some gestures.

Although it is important to have good communication skills, we also need to recognise that around 93% of communication is non-verbal. Our tone of voice, posture, gesture, and facial expression often say much more than our words. Rather than shame someone for their accent, become their teacher and be present for them in their linguistic journey.

At this point, I would like to mention office banter. There is nothing wrong with bringing a relaxed atmosphere into healthcare settings, but it’s essential to be mindful that some staff might need some additional support to understand jokes and, as above, offhand comments have the potential to come across as discriminatory.

It is not only related to migrants, but also staff who are neurodivergent, as well as those who might be younger or older than us and LGBTQIA+ co-workers. Language is constantly evolving, and we are lucky to live in a diverse society, so what used to be seen as an acceptable ‘joke’ in the past might be offensive to your colleagues.

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Remaining Supportive And Celebrating Differences

There is a worldwide trend of staff shortages in healthcare facilities of all kinds, and it looks unlikely to change any time soon. I would encourage everyone to accept it and become an ally to their colleagues. A supportive team is key to creating an inclusive workplace.

Gratitude and kindness can make our lives much easier and full of love and happiness. Let’s focus on what we have in common and the differences that might be celebrated. Being present for a migrant colleague and mindful that some further support might be necessary, can be crucial to keeping your patients and team safe.

Remember: Moving To And Adapting To Life In Another Country Isn’t Easy

There are many investigations related to mistakes that appear to be based unfamiliarity with the National Healthcare System, rather than clinical errors. At this point, it is important to highlight that colleagues who migrate from another country might be fluent in their required second language but might not be aware of the system in which they are supposed to ‘play a game’.

Going through an investigation in the healthcare setting causes enormous anxiety, guilt, and fear about the future. Many migrants in the UK possess limited rights compared to people who have full citizenship; therefore, any investigation puts them at higher risk of losing their rights of living abroad. Some people might think that migrants choose to leave their home country, but for many of them, it is a choice of survival and an escape from the difficult circumstances they lived in.

It is extremely hard to grasp and adapt to the rules and culture of another country. Migrants try to make some sense of the situation they chose or were forced to adapt to. Some of them might adapt well, but others might struggle with this, feeling separated from majority of citizens. This can create more inequality and segregation.

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Why Inclusive Workplaces Are So Important

There are no two experiences of migration, and many people might feel traumatised during the migration process. I compare this to grief, and I believe it gets easier, but for some it proves nearly impossible to get through.

Although many migrants want to feel welcome in another country, they might struggle to integrate with colleagues in their workplace if the environment is not inclusive. Sometimes we need to reach out to them and reassure them that they are safe.

So, next time you see a colleague who is going through the migration process, be compassionate. Celebrate differences and ask them about their culture, and you could make a lifelong friend. To learn more about jobs related to band 5 visit here.

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About the author

I am a registered mental health nurse and a happy mum of two little girls. I'm currently working as a CAMHS practitioner. Nursing gives me plenty of enjoyment and I love the idea of learning something new every day. In my practice I try to focus on a holistic approach to wellbeing while highlighting the importance of connection between mental and physical health.

    • Richard Gill
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