A truly inclusive culture isn’t achieved by organizations simply hiring diverse talent. It takes prioritizing, and committing to, making everyone feel equally welcomed, appreciated, and accepted. I have experienced what it’s like to believe that you can’t be who you are at work. Fortunately, I have also experienced what it’s like to feel valued. As a purpose-led and values-driven organization, PwC continues to invest in its people, fostering a culture of care and belonging that builds trust and aims to make a meaningful difference in the world.
When I joined PwC, I had already come out and transitioned. I had no intention of sharing my background, my story, with anyone. At the same time, I recognized that representation was important and that there needed to be people in leadership roles who have had experiences such as mine. My perspective and approach changed as a result of that recognition. As a leader and a manager, I wanted to share my story to support and represent—emotionally and professionally—those around me and who would come after me.
Managers play a role in helping make the workplace work for everyone. They can be advocates for marginalized colleagues, helping them advance in their careers. Moreover, inclusivity is good for business. Dozens of studies show that management teams that prioritize inclusion attract better talent and foster more creative approaches to solving business problems. My own experience with my mentors at PwC has imparted some important lessons about inclusion and belonging at the team level.
Three Steps to People-First Inclusion
The way for managers and leaders to invest in their people is to treat them the way they want to be treated (demonstrate the Golden Rule). Here are three ways to take a people-first approach to advocating for inclusion at the team level:
1. Recognize your power—and responsibility—as a manager
Managers are often the linchpins of the workplace. They can be in one of the most influential positions to have meaningful conversations with employees to understand and implement solutions that matter. A great example of something PwC leaders learned from listening was the need for expanded benefits for transgender and non-binary people. The cost of gender-affirming care is extremely high and oftentimes only partially covered by some insurance plans.
In my opinion, many archaic barriers to reimbursement still exist. As you can imagine, being unable to access affordable care can be quite difficult. PwC’s leaders listened and heard the needs of its transgender employees—as people first—and expanded transgender-inclusive healthcare benefits in June, increasing coverage amounts and reducing the requirements for accessing care. This is one example related to trans-inclusive health care policies, yet it helps reinforce the importance of managers having open conversations to facilitate dialogues resulting in meaningful change.
2. Build on a culture of belonging
Part of being an advocate means embracing empathy and compassion. You also need to stay informed, use your voice, and get involved meeting with others and learning about their journeys—especially if you’re not part of a marginalized group. While managers should encourage employees to openly discuss their lived experiences, you don’t have to be in a formal position of leadership to make a difference.
Fostering a supportive work environment means empowering any employee (and providing them with the necessary tools and resources) to help build an inclusive work culture by listening and learning. This helps to develop inclusive leaders at all levels who understand their colleagues and how to support their needs. Regardless of your role, it is critical to respect the fact that we all have the right to bring our authentic selves to work.
3. Find better ways to be inclusive
Diverse individuals want the same treatment and respect as everyone else, and supporting a culture of inclusion and belonging is simple. To start, initiate a conversation about one’s individual preferences. This includes referring to them in their preferred way and asking if you are unsure. If you make a mistake, apologize, and make a mental note to be mindful in the future.
In addition, support and celebrate employees’ differences. At PwC we have Inclusion Networks, which are resource groups led by professionals who share a common background or life experience, but they are open to everyone. Here, employees can share traditions, learn about each other, and celebrate their differences. Affinity groups—whether at PwC or another organization—are a great way to inspire and foster a work environment where people feel comfortable being who they are and valued for their input.
Lastly, it’s important to be vocal and transparent advocates for greater inclusion as well as hold each other accountable. Last year, to support equity and opportunity at all levels, and be accountable for transformative progress while sharing insights with others, PwC published its first-ever Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Transparency Report. Building upon that this year, PwC is releasing its integrated FY21 Purpose Report, which shares how in an unprecedented year, our firm embraced the opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion; operating responsibly in sustainable ways; and driving a human-led, tech-powered approach.
In my experience, an inclusive leader transcends one’s career to one’s life. They invest in others as individual people and encourage them to be their authentic selves. When leaders care when they ask “how are you doing,” that’s when advocacy, relationships, and human connection can truly flourish.
This column doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinion of The Bureau of National Affairs Inc. or its owners.
Rosalie Valdez-Vitale is a trust solutions tax director at PwC.
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