The black lives matter movement marked a change in people’s relationships to their identity. Straightness, whiteness, and other identities that may once have been taken for granted are beginning to be called into question. In an attempt to decenter certain normalised experiences, everyone is being encouraged to learn more about themselves, getting curious about things such as their ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. At the same time, people are more curious than ever about the experiences of people in their communities, including their workplaces. This interest can sometimes translate into asking questions that make our coworkers feel uncomfortable. While a few instances of these are considered microaggressions, having to navigate a consistent stream of inappropriate questions can leave people feeling othered and marginalised. But how do we find the balance between genuine curiosity and overstepping?
When enquiring about identity in the workplace, it can be helpful to first recognise how comfortable we are disclosing our own identifiers. If we have never socially shared things such as our sexuality, marital status, or background, for example, it’s unreasonable to expect our coworkers to readily share this information. Take into account the culture of the workplace: is it the kind of place where you feel free to be your authentic self? If it isn’t, we can’t expect our coworkers to safely share without thinking about potential repercussions. Depending on the workplace culture, outwardly disclosing certain religions, political beliefs, pregnancy, disabilities, sexualities, and more can lead to ostracism, bullying, or even firing. We must be careful not to jeopardise our coworker’s livelihoods in the name of curiosity. Similarly, we shouldn’t assume that people wish to be as open as we are in the workplace, as people’s boundaries vary and being authentic in the workplace is often itself a privilege.
Before asking people questions about their experiences do a little bit of research first. Come to the conversation with at least a beginner’s level of knowledge so you are not asking the person to educate you and you are less likely to deliver microaggressions.
If you see that there are actions, behaviours or policies that would prevent people from feeling safe to discuss their identities in the workplace – then take action. Ask your leaders what they are doing to create psychological safety for everyone, where is the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion plan, where is the organisation at with Reconciliation? What can you do personally to create an inclusive environment? Maybe call in a guest speaker, facilitate a lunch and learn, design your programs and services with an inclusive lens.
Building interpersonal relationships is essential for supporting and strengthening professional collaboration. Curiosity is required to create inclusive workplace cultures, but it must be exercised with respect and caution at all times.
To be accountable for the actions you’ve determined, you need to report in detail regularly – every six to twelve months – on your workplace’s pay equity progress. This information should be provided to the highest level of governance in your organisation and be made available publicly. It’s also important to reflect on your actions. Include a summary in the report that provides the current pay gaps, demonstrates where they have changed and the steps that will be taken to move forward and address remaining gaps.
Want to learn more? Join our DEI network for people seeking to create inclusive and diverse workplaces.
18 April 2023
25 February 2020
01 January 2020