Build Inclusion by Sharing the Unwritten Rules for Success

November 5, 2019

Are your employees from underrepresented groups in the know when it comes to your workplace's unwritten rules for success?

New employees from underrepresented backgrounds face unique challenges when getting acquainted with your office culture. How can you help onboard new employees inclusively?

Not only do these new employees face stereotypes, microaggressions, and other forms of exclusion based on their identity group membership, they're also often left out of nuanced, hard-to-see steps to success that seasoned employees and members of majority identity groups take for granted as common knowledge. Examples include an unspoken expectation to attend the office holiday party, and knowing to seek out high-profile assignments to make your work more visible.

Acknowledge The Unspoken, Unwritten Rules

It’s important to acknowledge that these rules are unspoken and unwritten—they aren’t official policy or included in a code of conduct. They’re typically ingrained in your existing office culture, and they can seem minor. After all, the holiday party seems like a casual gathering, right?

But unwritten rules can prove crucial for networking and advancement, and could negatively impact the way an employee is perceived if the rules go unheeded.

Unwritten rules can prove crucial for networking and advancement, and could negatively impact the way an employee is perceived if the rules go unheeded.

Studies show that members of the majority group are more likely to know the unwritten rules already. Since the dominant culture gets to define the rules in the first place, majority-group members tend to pick up on them more easily. They then share them with people like themselves as a matter of course.

Everyone—whether they’re specifically tasked with onboarding new employees, in a position of leadership, or just somehow in the know—should make a point of sharing the unwritten rules, especially with those who are less likely to have access to them.

Inclusive Mentoring

Once you’re alert to these rules, they’ll start to pop up everywhere. Start noting them to your colleagues when they come up. Over time, this will help someone who otherwise may not have had access to the rules. In fact, sharing the unwritten rules is likely to help everyone in your office feel included and capable.

Sharing the unwritten rules is also a critical element of inclusive mentoring. Inclusive mentors acknowledge that mentoring is not a race-, gender-, sexual identity-, or disability-neutral process. Instead, mentoring occurs in an environment studded with distinct challenges for members of marginalized and underrepresented groups. Mentors who share the unwritten rules address the career and social-psychological development of their mentee.

Mentoring is not a race-, gender-, sexual identity-, or disability-neutral process.

Keep an eye out for our next post, where we'll do a deeper dive into inclusive mentoring.

Want to learn more ways to make your workplace inclusive?
Check out our courses on inclusive hiring and organizational culture.

This post is part of a series addressed to HR and other hiring managers about integrating diversity competence into each step of the employment lifecycle, from recruitment and hiring, to creating an inclusive workplace, to evaluating and cultivating leaders who will take inclusive excellence at your enterprise to the next level.

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