Bystander Intervention Skills for the Inclusive Workplace

October 1, 2019

Do you know what steps to take when you see bias in the workplace? In this post, we discuss recognizing impact and intervening when you can.

In our previous post, we discussed intent versus impact and how jokes that were meant to poke fun could contribute to an overall climate of exclusion at work. Aside from focusing on the impact of what you say, how do you maintain an environment where everyone feels like a valuable member of the team?

Recognize the Impact of Exclusion

A workplace climate that disregards the experiences of team members from underrepresented and negatively stereotyped identity groups can impact performance, retention, and the mental health of its employees.

Research continues to tell us that, in a workplace that ignores or devalues diversity, professionals of marginalized groups are at increased risk to feel sadness, nervousness, and a lack of engagement with their colleagues. Poor physical health, self-isolation, and lowered expectations of oneself and the employer have all been scientifically associated with exclusionary work environments.

Over time, a climate like this causes profound cumulative harm to the targets, and degrades the quality of the work a team produces.

Skilled intervention can support and help the colleague impacted, and will inform the person who started the exchange about why their actions were exclusionary—without inciting a confrontation.​

Learn Bystander Intervention Skills

Your next question may be, What can I do about exclusion when I see it? You can intervene when you overhear or anticipate receiving a harmful comment or action at work. Skilled intervention can support and help the colleague impacted, and will inform the person who started the exchange about why their actions were exclusionary—without inciting a confrontation.

Effective interventions can include:

  •   Interrupting the exchange (“Let’s talk about something else.”)

  •   Sharing a story about the painful impact of a similar comment or action (“This reminds me of how my old coworkers used to always ask me where to find the best Chinese food. I’m Korean, not Chinese. I always felt misunderstood and isolated there.”)
  •   Asking questions that reveal why the comment or action is harmful (“Are you saying women are less intelligent than men?”)

You can take it a step further by engaging in your colleagues’ interests and strengths, consciously including your colleagues in informal gatherings, and thinking of other small ways to counteract the daily actions that can make colleagues feel excluded.

Ready to develop more everyday skills for managing bias?
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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