Most of us have said or done something distasteful at work and instantly regretted it. This can be anything from asking an intrusive question, giving a backhanded compliment, or sometimes just making a genuinely stupid comment. These mistakes are often easy for us to brush over and move on from. However, I believe, it’s time for us to own our mistakes. We all need to make greater efforts to realise and reflect on the impact of words and behaviours in the workplace. Particularly when the comments or actions we make hurt those around us.
We live in an era where companies (and indeed the world at large) are actively seeking to celebrate diversity and make strides to be more inclusive. Diversity, which is about having several different voices in the room, can be characterised by many things including gender, age, personality type and thinking style. Inclusion on the other hand is about listening to these different voices and taking the perspectives of everyone into account. Research has shown that organisations with a diverse and inclusive workforce are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market, 70 percent more likely to capture new business and often have more engaged employees.
In the Middle East, there’s a huge amount of diversity in the workplace by virtue of a large expat workforce. In recent years, there has been a drive across the region to become more inclusive. This can be seen in the efforts made by countries to include more women in the workplace. In the UAE, for instance, women now make up approximately 37 percent of all new hires (an increase from last year) and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the government has implemented a target to increase female participation in the workforce to 30 percent by 2030. While these changes are likely to bring many benefits, the inclusion of new voices in the workplace presents many more opportunities for us, at an individual level, to say things that we may later regret.
When interacting with people who are different from us (because of age, gender, race, education etc.), it’s hard to be inclusive and easy to cause conflict. This can be due to different communication styles, the misunderstanding of different perspectives or the unconscious biases we hold. Think about the jokes we tell at work. Even though they may seem innocent, making a joke about characteristics that others can’t change, such as ethnicity or disability, can offend or lead to the creation of a toxic work environment. In fact, 66 percent of employees have said their performance has declined when dealing with what they perceive to be toxic workplace environments. While we may not intend to offend or create difficult working relationships with our colleagues, we need to take accountability when we do.
By taking time to examine ourselves and what drives our behaviour, we can better understand what causes us to act more or less inclusively, which in turn allows us to address our behaviour consciously. If we see that our words or actions have caused a negative impact we need to try to understand why. Although it is difficult to hear, we need to listen to others if they tell us we have been offensive. We should also make an effort to go out and seek different perspectives on the effects of our actions.
Holding ourselves accountable for what we say or do is important and treating our colleagues with empathy and open-mindedness will help us learn from our mistakes when dealing with those who are different from us. Calling out bad behaviour when we see them is also hugely important to creating an inclusive workplace. Lastly, we need to recognise that it’s okay to make mistakes as long as we’re open to and willing to learn from them. We should acknowledge that we can change our behaviour if we truly want to. Nothing changes in a day and continued effort over extended periods helps us grow.
Moving forward, rather than regretting our words or actions, it’s time for us to own our mistakes, learn from them and build a more inclusive workforce.