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How to Create An Inclusive Work Culture (Really)

When a workplace prioritizes a culture of belonging, all employees benefit. Ruchika Tulshyan, an expert on workplace equity, shares how every one of us can enact positive change at work and why we can be hopeful about a shifting landscape.

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Embracing an inclusive work culture isn’t just the responsibility of a company’s Human Resources department, or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team. It's an effort that every employee—particularly leaders—can take on through a commitment to learning (and unlearning), a push to reestablish workplace norms of “professionalism,” and using one’s privilege for good.

For those endeavoring to do this work, Ruchika Tulshyan’s powerful book, Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work, guides readers through meaningful strategies for promoting inclusion, equity, and diversity. The book builds on Tulshyan’s work as the founder of Candour, an inclusion strategy practice, and a contributor to The New York Times and Harvard Business Review, where she writes about workplace equity. (Curious what kind of impact she’s made on this beat? The HBR piece she wrote with Jodi-Ann Burey, Stop Telling Women They Have Imposter Syndrome, was one of the site’s most popular articles of all time; Brené Brown later brought both authors on her podcast to discuss the topic at length.)

The crux of Inclusion on Purpose is Tulshyan’s appeal to leaders to specifically center the experience of women of color to kickstart change that benefits employees across the board. Here, she walks us through essential reading for understanding why these efforts are essential for the modern workplace; videos to offer new perspectives (including a Pixar short that expertly, playfully explores the nuances of being an “only”); and the steps we can all take toward improvement—for ourselves, our colleagues, the companies we work for, and the future of work culture.

The Bias of ‘Professionalism’ Standards

Aysa Gray
SSIR

Ruchika Tulshyan: “When I read this article, I am pretty sure the person in the next room thought I was losing my mind: I shouted ‘yes’ and ‘finally!’ pretty much throughout reading it. I still do when I re-read it for the billionth time. It puts into perspective the lesser spoken about (but most people of color know exactly what this refers to) pressures of ‘professionalism’—like perfectionism, punctuality, speech, accent, and dress—that all point to a coded bias towards whiteness and Westerness. To create an inclusive environment (really), we must recognize and work against only having one acceptable way of doing things.”

The Myth of Bringing Your Full, Authentic Self to Work [WATCH]

Jodi-Ann Burey
TED

RT: “Jodi-Ann Burey is an extraordinary leader and her TED talk so poignantly captures the experience so many people of color have at work. Too many workplaces say they want everyone to bring their authentic selves to the workplace, only to penalize employees from underestimated backgrounds for doing just that. This is a must watch!”

The Danger of a Single Story [WATCH]

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
TED

RT: “I assign this to every class I teach because Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a sorceress with words ... and having grown up with learning a singular story about people like myself in the media, I think the power of storytelling can unlock inclusion across the board. When more leaders choose to see beyond stereotypical narratives about marginalized people, we’ll see real change.”

‘Purl’ from Pixar Sparkshorts [WATCH]

Pixar
YouTube

RT: “I adore this clever, easily accessible short film with a huge message. I can’t imagine anyone not connecting with this film and it also puts into perspective the subtle nuances of exclusion as much as the overt ones, like what it feels like to be the ‘only’ in the room.”

The Urgency of Intersectionality [WATCH]

Kimberlé Crenshaw
TED

RT: “Professor Crenshaw’s work should be required in every classroom across the world. It’s so clear how the intersections of our identities compound our experiences in the workplace. And yet, not at all intuitive. I love that this important term (coined in 1989!) is finally entering our mainstream lexicon.”

A Woman of Color Cannot Save Your Workplace Culture

S. Mitra Kalita
Charter Works

RT: “I appreciate this thoughtful piece that points to how important it is for workplaces to prioritize inclusion over diversity. Too often, women of color are brought in to ‘save’ toxic workplace cultures, without others taking responsibility for creating an inclusive culture. This article has some good recommendations on how to make meaningful change.”

Your Rainbow Logo Doesn’t Make You an Ally

Lily Zheng
Harvard Business Review

RT: “Tired of displays of performative allyship—or people just stepping up for social justice issues when it’s convenient or trendy? This article helps the reader differentiate between true action and allyship … and the performative kind.”

Sisterhood Is Critical to Racial Justice [LISTEN]

Women at Work
Harvard Business Review

RT: “Stella Nkomo and Ella Bell Smith are the trailblazers who really brought to light how women of color, particularly Black women, face such significant challenges at work compared to white women. This podcast episode is hard-hitting but also creates so much hope about how more white women can push for racial justice at work by building relationships with Black women.”

Ruchika Tulshyan

Ruchika Tulshyan is the founder of Candour, an inclusion strategy practice, and author of Inclusion on Purpose: An Intersectional Approach to Creating a Culture of Belonging at Work. Tulshyan writes regularly for The New York Times and Harvard Business Review on workplace equity, and is a keynote speaker who has addressed audiences at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pixar, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, U.S. Congress, and more.