On a personal level, each of us can understand the importance of inclusion. Consider a time when you felt included: you probably felt more connected, productive, and joyful. Now, consider a time when you didn’t feel included: the experience was likely more isolating, demotivating, and negative. 

At work, feeling included can have a significant positive impact on employees’ commitment, productivity, mental health, and more.  

Creating an inclusive environment is a shared responsibility. Regardless of your personal identity or professional position at work, you can contribute to a more inclusive workplace. 

What is inclusion, and why is it important at work? 

In recent years, many companies have increased their diversity recruitment efforts to ensure their workforce is more representative. After all, ethnically diverse companies perform 35% better overall than their non-diverse counterparts, as do companies with higher gender diversity on executive teams

But diversity numbers aren’t everything. Research shows that diversity in demographics will not change the organization’s bottom line unless all employees, across demographics, feel authentically welcomed—that is, included. 

Creating an inclusive workplace, however, is much easier said than done. 

Inclusion is a practice, not an outcome 

There is no quick fix to increasing diversity or promoting inclusion at work. Though you might wish you could find that one training, that one statement, or that one new policy that would change everything, it just doesn’t exist. 

Instead, the first step is to understand that building a more inclusive workplace is an ongoing process. And a big part of that process is acknowledging what you aren’t doing right in the moment, so you can take steps to improve it.

One texter shared their experience: 

“I would have liked the outcome of [my workplace] simply acknowledging that they have missed the mark on racial equity issues, but that they are open to learning. I know people will mess up, this work is messy.”

The practice of inclusion can be messy, and it’s important to know how to stay engaged even when it feels difficult. 

So how can you personally help promote inclusion in your own organization? 

Promoting inclusion at work 

There are a number of ways you can contribute to a more inclusive workplace, regardless of your title or position. Though none of these strategies will be a one-size-fits-all approach, they all offer a good place to start. 

Stay engaged when feeling discomfort

If you hear feedback that makes you uncomfortable, try to get curious rather than immediately shutting down or making excuses. 

In many situations, when employees of color try to talk openly about race, for example, white colleagues respond with “silence, defensiveness, argumentation, and other forms of pushback.” Make a commitment to ask questions, keep an open mind, and stay engaged if you feel challenged in conversations, instead of shutting down or lashing out.  

This might feel uncomfortable at first, but that discomfort can lead to growth—and it also shows your coworkers that you value their thoughts, experiences, and perspectives. 

Listen deeply and seek to understand 

At Empower Work, a core part of our approach is asking powerful questions and listening deeply, without jumping to conclusions. By asking questions and listening, we’re better able to set aside our own judgements and biases.  

Oftentimes, we have unconscious assumptions about what other people need or what, or why they’re reacting a certain way to a specific situation. When we get curious and listen deeply, we can give others the space to uncover what’s going on beneath the surface. 

Next time a coworker says something you don’t agree with or understand, practice getting curious and seeking to understand instead of sharing your own opinion. For example, try asking: What’s really important to you about this? What’s bothering you most? How is this impacting you?

Commit to continued learning

None of us will ever know everything we need to know to make our workplaces more inclusive, so committing to the ongoing process of learning is the most important piece. 

Even if you have good intentions, much of what you need to learn and unlearn is made up of ingrained, unexamined habits. For example, there are ways to subtly shift language and informal practices to make workplaces more productive and inviting for employees with disabilities. If you don’t understand something—like the term BIPOC, or why gender pronouns matter—take the time to seek out books, films, or podcasts to learn more. 

While it can be great to learn from your coworkers, it’s even more important that you try to seek out educational resources yourself as a starting point, instead of relying on colleagues to teach you. 

Embrace the mess

If you’re committed to creating a more inclusive workspace, it’s likely because you care about the experiences of your coworkers, customers, and others around you. It’s normal to want to do everything right. 

However, as the texter shared, this work is messy. You’ll make mistakes along the way—we all do. The good news is that by staying humble, staying curious, and staying engaged, you’ll continue learning new tools to help promote inclusion in your own orbit. 

Looking for specific actions to take to promote inclusion? Check out our suggestions in part 2 of this series. 

If you’re struggling with building inclusive practices at work, or wondering what you can do to make your workplace more inclusive, free, confidential support is just a text away: 510-674-1414.

This post originally appeared on Empower Work’s website.