The start-up and tech spaces haven’t always had a reputation for being the most inclusive workplaces, especially for women and people of color. For a long time, the trope of a dark and dingy development team workplace, filled with junk food, Nerf guns, and Star Trek posters, was based in reality, at least in some companies.
Today, start-ups and tech companies are working hard to build workplace inclusivity, foster increased diversity in the workplace, and give valued team members of all backgrounds a feeling of belonging.
What does it take to create an inclusive workplace? We asked employees from a wide range of tech businesses and start-ups this question: What makes you feel like you’re part of the culture? Here are the key themes.
Encouraging organic opportunities for connection
Many people felt that everyday human connection was more important to feeling included than attending obligatory social events. Said one person, “Taking the first few minutes of a meeting to connect on a human level before diving into work topics always makes me feel connected and included.” Said another, “It’s as simple as asking how the other people are doing or asking what they did over the weekend.”
These types of casual interactions are essential as more and more people are working remotely. One team member said, “It can be as simple as everyone dialing in individually to a call, even when some are sitting around a conference table. It helps those working remotely to better join the ‘small talk’ before the meeting.”
Being invited to the table–and then being heard
“I appreciate intentionally being asked for my opinion and invited to collaborate,” one person said. “It’s sometimes hard being the youngest, the only non-white person, or the only woman, but having people ensure you are given the space to share is what helps me feel part of the culture.”
Another team member added, “Seeing my feedback being received and implemented makes me feel included, taken seriously, and important to the team.”
Inviting people to bring their full selves to work
The best workplaces are those where employees feel like they can be their authentic selves without judgment or repercussions. One employee appreciated their company not having a dress code that required (or forbade) certain styles of attire or hairstyles. Others commented on feeling seen when their company started including everyone’s gender pronouns in their email signatures and internal communication tools.
Building company-wide transparency
“Transparency is a huge priority for my company,” one person said. “There are many avenues for employees at all levels to learn what’s happening across the company.”
One person who recently joined a new startup commented, “I appreciate folks who recognize not everyone has the same level of working knowledge on a topic. This can be as simple as taking a moment to explain an acronym the first time it’s mentioned in a meeting or setting context for a discussion before diving in. It’s a way of being thoughtful about bringing people along instead of expecting them to figure it out. It makes people feel empowered to participate.”
This level of transparency should start with day one. Said one person, “It’s about being intentional with onboarding–and not just with the systems to the job, but also connecting new team members with the people, groups, and meetings that can help them be successful at work.”
Celebrating milestones and accomplishments
“I feel seen at work when we celebrate together. Honoring work anniversaries and promotions, along with life events like marriages and new babies, shows that my team values me for more than just the work I produce,” one person said.
Added another, “It’s good to have a few friends at work that you can be casual with. By building bonds, you feel like you ARE the culture.”
Offer a wide range of social events
Not everyone’s idea of a fun team social event is an after-work happy hour, and not everyone is available after typical work hours. Companies are shifting away from alcohol-related, after-work events and instead moving to team-building events during regular work hours.
“I’m starting to see more activity-based events,” said one person. “I’ve participated in trivia games, done terrarium building, and even tried a virtual wine tasting. I also know of companies setting up monthly walks and potlucks for remote employees who work in the same geographic area.”
The CEO of a small tech company added, “We try to create space at work to have fun, get to know each other, and build community while acknowledging that everyone has their own lives outside of work that have unique challenges and priorities.”
Building your own inclusive company culture
What’s best for one company’s culture may not work for another. That’s why when you set out to build a culture that makes all employees feel welcome and valued, it’s best to go right to the source: ask employees what matters to them. Ask for their opinions, invite them to voice their concerns, and then encourage them to work collaboratively with leadership and each other to build a space where everyone can thrive.
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