Stop saying that you have a “gay” friend or a “black” friend.

Whenever I open a conversation on race, this is usually the first response I receive.

It’s like a gut reaction and then a long pause.

This long note of silence is a blast for me. I know I’m rotten. But, something is entertaining about watching someone grasp for an excuse and then ponder if I’ll buy it.

Spoiler alert. I don’t.

Saying that you have a “______” friend doesn’t remove you from racism, homophobia, sexism, or any other ism. For some reason, especially within the white culture, we hate to be uncomfortable. So, instead of admission, we adapt and paint over our issues with a comparison.

Yep. Once people realize that I’m not buying their “I have a ‘______’ friend” excuse. They offer a second explanation.

“Well, I’m not like so-and-so.”

Really? People, why are these two reactions even happening in 2021?

Admitting your bias is like admitting you have cancer. It’s only a dire sentence if you refuse treatment.

What is the first thing you need to check if you want to create an inclusive company?

Check Your Bias

When you understand your white privilege and bias, you have the opportunity to change the narrative.

After all, truth gives your freedom. If you continue to lie to yourself, you can’t move forward.

Now, understanding your bias takes time. It’s not enough to spend a day out in the wilderness with a journal and green tea. It’s not a one-time experience like a yoga retreat. If you want to change your mindset, you have to invite other voices to add to your perspective.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is by understanding yourself through self-assessment tests like DISCMBTIenneagram, and asking your team, your family, and your boss to give you a 360 review.

If you find that you have some blind spots, then take some time and meet with a therapist to understand how your past impacts the present.

Inclusion takes time. But, if you’re not willing to change yourself, there’s no hope for your company.

Start with you and begin with that one step. Then turn your attention to your business.

Check Your Workplace Environment

Are your employees content, or are they afraid to tell you how they feel?

Here’s the deal. You can enter your building, be greeted with your grande latte, and receive a roomful of smiles, but that doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything right.

Success isn’t 24/7 positivity. It’s a space where people can differ at the table and not be thrown out of the boardroom.

Ask yourself:

Have you ever invited your team to judge your performance?

Did you receive any constructive feedback?

Are you approachable and available to your team?

Inclusion can’t occur unless you know what you’re doing wrong.

And I guarantee you. You’re doing a lot wrong.

Now, don’t lose hope.

I’m not here to pick at your scabs or throw salt in the wound.

But, I want to be honest with you.

You can hire a consultant to rebrand your image, post more diverse pictures on the website, and even place LGBTQIA+ people in leadership positions with the company. But, if you don’t address the present issues within your organization, all those decisions will be a waste time.

So, how do you figure out what’s wrong?

For starters, you need to change the way that you interact with your employees.

Please don’t put a complaint box in the foyer; invite people into the office and learn about them.

Remember, if you want to make your company to be more inclusive, you need to be more intentional.

Schedule individual time with each team member and ask them about their favorite lunch spot. Then, meet with them there and converse.

Find out who they are and what makes them tick. This meeting is not about your company or your goals. It’s is about getting to know more than your employee’s name.

When you take the time to know your team, you open communication lines and create an environment that fosters honest feedback. It also gives you ideas on how your company can support your employees.

For instance, if you find most of your team members are single, stop creating family events. Think outside the box. Invite them to bring a friend or a parent.

By meeting with your employees and finding out about their lives, you can create a workplace that benefits their needs, not your assumptions.

Check Your Hiring Process

There’s nothing worse than walking into an interview and not knowing anything about the person across from you. You can conduct all the research you want about the company and the stock options, but you will rarely find anything about the leadership personality.

If you want to create an inclusive company, this needs to change.

Invite people to know you.

Start with pictures.

It doesn’t matter if you’re posting on Indeed, Facebook, or the local newspaper. If you’re placing an ad without any images, don’t be surprised when you don’t get many applications.

You and your team are the company.

Potential hires want to know what they’re getting into or at least see a picture before they pack their beach bag.

By taking the time to link to your Instagram, Tik Tok, or even Myspace page, you invite potentials to envision themselves as a part of your team.

They also want to make sure that your company is inclusive and not an advocate of tokenism.

No one wants to be the only form of representation so that you can check your diversity and inclusion box.

You should also provide name tags and ask interviewees to write their names, pronouns, and their favorite movie.

These three things allow you to see them as more than a number, address them with respect, and find commonality.

There are lots of ways that you can create an inclusive hiring process. But, if you start with pictures, pronouns, and movie titles, you give potential employees a glimpse into who you are, whom you want to become, and how you create a workspace where differences are welcomed.

Check Your 5-Year Plan

Ok. Think about it. When you sit down to picture your life five years from now, you envision more than a glass of chardonnay and a view of the ocean.

You see people––and if you’re honest, you see people who look like you.

Now, I’m not just talking about race.

We, as leaders, tend to stick with the familiar. We wake up at the same time, drink the same coffee, and listen to the same playlist. BUT, this preference towards sameness can creep into your business world.

Take a look at your vision board.

Is there anyone of a different faith? What are they wearing? Are they sporting an outfit from Walmart or Gucci?

You can’t move past your vision if you create a world in your mind of similarity.

After all, as you well know, it takes tons of work to reach your goals.

Inclusion is not about hard work but about what you’re working towards for the future.

If you want to create an inclusive company, look at your past, present, AND future goals.

It’s not enough to put a bandaid on your business and hope for the best.

An inclusive company doesn’t happen by accident.

So, the next time you sit down and review your 5-year gameplan, look at the faces, check out the location, and ask yourself how you can expand the table to make room.

Remember, if you want to create an inclusive company in the future, your intentions need to lead you to that journey.