Aquent Aquent

Cultivating and embracing an Inclusive & Diverse Workplace Environment

by Greg King

Cultivating and embracing an Inclusive & Diverse Workplace Environment

Diversity and inclusivity is becoming increasingly important across all businesses today. Employers are not only now making deliberate decisions to hire for diversity but to embrace making the workplace an inclusive environment for all staff members, freelancers and external support. The emphasis on diversity is moving away from a basic, equal opportunities model which in many cases appears to be a lackluster effort to fill quotas and avoid legal action. What we are seeing more and more is a celebration of diversity in companies, where workplaces are starting to see the value that different races, religions, belief systems, sexual orientations, gender identities and nationalities can bring to their ecosystem. 

With that said, unfortunately there is still a very long way to go.

It comes as no surprise that the gender pay gap is still very much alive. In The Netherlands, according to a survey by Intermediair and Nyenrode University women up to the age of 35 earn 6,4 percent less than their male counterparts. Furthermore, in accordance with research from DutchReview, a non-Dutch-sounding surname is earning 9 percent less than someone with a Dutch-sounding name. This has a particularly profound effect on those from the afro-caribbean communities in The Netherlands. According to the EU LGBTQ+ survey 2019 carried out by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), a considerable proportion of LGBTQ+ in the EU feel discriminated against at work. The degree of reported discrimination varies between countries – and also between groups within the LGBTQ+ community.The diversity element of the diversity & inclusivity area is an ongoing battle which requires huge international, systemic and institutional work. But what we can all do every day to make immediate and important change is focus on the inclusivity element.

How inclusive is your workplace?
How inclusive are you? 

What can we collectively and individually do to make changes to empower and lift our coworkers from all backgrounds to celebrate the diversity that currently exists. The modern workforce is used to sharing an office with multiple nationalities, people with varied belief systems, people with different sexual preferences and other minority groups, but how do our daily interactions with each other impact on people from other backgrounds than us? How does our behaviour make them feel? Are we as progressive and forward thinking as we would like to believe….The answer is probably not! To look at how inclusive we are, we need to take a look at our subconscious biases and to be aware of the existence of microaggressions that we or other coworkers display towards our colleagues.

Unconscious biases as defined by The UCSF office of outreach and diversity are “social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness”. We all hold unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing. There is masses of evidence which suggest that unconscious bias seeps into everyday decision making which reaches far and wide. This can range from: Recruitment, access to healthcare, the criminal justice system and most relevant to this article, success and sense of value in the workplace.

Unconscious bias is often described as or compared to “Gut feeling”.
It is in its essence a survival instinct.

Our unconscious biases inevitably lead to microaggressions. A microaggression, as defined by Doctor Derald Wing Sue of Columbia University as “the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership”. These can often be unintentional and arise from bias in combination with lack of understanding or knowledge of how these behaviours and viewpoints can affect those that they are directed to. Examples of microaggressions are wide and far reaching. 

Commonly endured microsagressions in the LGBTQ+ community for example include “You don’t act gay” “You don’t look trans” “I don’t believe in bi-sexuality - just pick a side”. Comments like these are often intended without malice or even as complimentary, however they draw from deeply embedded, negative and detrimental societal stereotypes which can deeply affect the person on the receiving end. One of the most common issues raised from a focus group I held with gay women and men aged 25-30 in the Netherlands, was that nearly all participants mentioned feeling a certain pressure to disclose their sexuality to colleagues and managers before having their sexual preference mis-assumed which could lead to awkward of embarrassing conversations with further microagressions.

Many even felt it necessary to mention their sexuality during the interview phase of a job search
with some believing it affects whether they would be hired for a position.

The BAME community is subjected to numerous micro-aggressions on a daily basis. According to interviews which I recently conducted amongst young male and female professionals from BAME communities, the most common of these include: asking second or third generation immigrants “Yeah, but where are you actually from”, proclaiming “I don’t see colour”, denying racial prejudice by saying “I’m not racist, I have black friends”, commenting on food choices of people eating food from their own culture. Furthermore, what may be regarded by some as positive stereotypes are also microaggressions which fundamentally dehumanise and reduce people to merely their race, these include presumptions of higher intelligence in the asian community and the assumption of higher athletic prowess within the back community and indeed the more favourably large penis of black men.

Whilst the commentator may intend these as “banter” or indeed even complimentary,
they are in fact founded in ignorance and bias and often cause offence and hurt. 


It is still common for women in the workplace to feel overlooked and dismissed by their male counterparts. According to research carried out by TheWayWomenWork in 2019, 64% of women are exposed to this form of discrimination, with non-white women experiencing it more than anyone else. The latter statement feeds into intersectionality, which is a huge topic of its own, but worth mentioning here for context. Other examples of microaggressions towards women in the workplace include objectification, comments or expectations on how they are dressed, presumption of job function and the use of sexist retorts or jokes. It is also apparent that sexism towards women, both at a micro and macro level in the workplace is amplified once they become pregnant or return to work from maternity leave.

Whilst microaggressions are not limited to the LGBTQ+, BAME and female communities, they account for a large number of reported microaggressions. Each of the groups discussed in this article will have experienced different forms of microaggressions with varying levels of impact depending on what minority group they are part of, but the red thread throughout all of the above is that what they all experience is some form of discrimintation based on unconscious bias. Microaggressions can often build up over time and can have a detrimental impact on mental health, productivity, anxiety levels, feelings of self worth and many more. In 2020, this is not acceptable and we all need to work together to make our work environments more inclusive. 


So what can we all start doing today to embrace diversity and ensure we are cultivating an inclusive workplace?


It should go without saying that demonstrating respect and compassion to everyone equally is a good place to start. This however is easier said than done. It starts by accepting that we all carry bias’s.  Once we accept this we can start to unravel them. There are many online resources where you can test your bias including Project Implicit. This can be confronting at first, but is the first step to overcoming bias. Once we become conscious of our biases we can start building strategies to fight them. Take the time to reflect if a decision you make or a comment you pass in the workplace pertains to someone's gender, sexuality or race, if so, don’t do it, it is likely to be a microaggression formed from a bias. Start challenging your own stereotypes, ask yourself why you feel a certain way to a group of people and challenge that. Take time to engage with colleagues from different backgrounds, respectfully learn about them, what makes them tick and why they do things the way they do. Stand up and speak out if you see other coworkers presenting microaggressions.  

Once we embrace the fact that different backgrounds and viewpoints
can only serve to enhance the business
we can strive to create a truly inclusive work environment.

Many studies have shown that an inclusive workplace leads to; Higher Job Satisfaction, Lower Turnover, Higher Productivity, Higher Employee Morale, Improved Creativity and Innovation., Improved Problem-Solving and Increased Organizational Flexibility, to name just a few. We have a very long way to go in the fight for full and complete diversity and inclusion in all aspects of life as well as in the workplace. But we can all start today by being considerate to others, taking stock of our own perspectives and how these feed into our unconscious bias. Once we have our biases in check, we can start creating an inclusive and harmonious environment which will enable higher productivity, success and job satisfaction.

About Author

Greg King is an Account Director for Aquent in the Netherlands. He partners with clients to ensure that not only are they committed to recruiting inclusively but actually celebrating diversity and the benefits it brings to both local and global teams. 

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