People are People First: Fostering an Inclusive Workplace For All

Nine people from different backgrounds, different ages, different races pictured like images on a video conferencing screen. A rainbow graphic at left with the Oyster logo.

June is Pride Month. It’s a time for us to recognize the importance of inclusion and diversity both in and out of the workplace. It’s a time to celebrate all employees regardless of gender expression, gender identity, and sexual orientation, but also to recognize how far we have left to go. 

A people-first approach

At Oyster, the concept of inclusivity runs deep. It’s more than a startup core value or a buzzword plastered on our careers page. Inclusivity is in our mission, it’s the basis of our product, and it’s something we practice every day. 

We believe that talented people come in all shapes, colors, sizes, orientations, and exist in every corner of the world. That’s why as a company we subscribe to a globally distributed model of working. And why we’ve made it our mission to break down any barriers that may have come between great people and great work. Creating a product that allows other companies to hire across borders and not look at an employee’s race, nationality, or location as an obstacle or deterrent is one way we’re creating a more inclusive world.

For our CEO Tony Jamous, people are people first, and labeling people as a race, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation can cause us to forget that. “Once we let go of this concept and look at people as people and as human beings, then we can go a long way to create an environment, an organization, and also a world that’s more fair, equal, exciting, and more inclusive.” 

Diversity as table stakes

Today, workplace diversity is table stakes. Bringing together people with rich histories, different backgrounds, and a multitude of perspectives sparks creativity and innovation. It leads to better decision making and it also brings out the best in people. 

At Oyster, we employ people from more than 35 different countries and have a diverse leadership team and we’ve done so in a little over a year of operation. 

It’s something we’re proud of, but we also know it’s not enough to simply recruit and hire a diverse workforce. Building a culture where people are respected and appreciated and feel truly included requires another level of effort—one that’s worth investing in. 

How to create an inclusive culture

Here are some ways we, and other companies, can strive to create an inclusive and supportive culture and environment:

1. Start at the top

If you want to foster an inclusive workplace environment, you’ll need to get buy-in from your leadership team. Without it, introducing new policies and prioritizing initiatives will be difficult. Offer diversity and inclusivity training at the C-level and ask the tough questions:

  • What are we doing to make diverse individuals feel included, supported, and respected?
  • What is motivating us to take action?
  • Are we simply donating to a cause without taking the time to understand the issues faced by minority communities at work?

Bringing in a third-party to help facilitate these conversations and come up with an action plan that feels true to the company is a good place to start. 

2. Use inclusive language

A lot of the language we use today is gendered. The problem is that it’s existed so long in people’s vernacular that many of us don’t realize we’re using it. In order to foster a more inclusive environment, start by replacing phrases such as “Hey guys” with “Hey team” and opting for neutral terms.

Use words like “spouse” or “partner” rather than the gendered “husband” or “wife” to refer to someone’s spouse, especially if you do not know their gender.

Finally, learn and use the preferred pronouns for employees in your company (she/her, he/him, they/them, for starters). If you don’t know, simply ask or encourage employees to add them to their email, slack, or internal HR systems.

3. Remain open to change

Part of the learning process is being open to change and willing to adjust policies to account for the needs of different groups. Many company policies were created several years or even decades ago or modeled after established companies. But be open to adjusting those that aren’t inclusive enough for your current or future workforce.

For instance, companies may consider adjusting parental leave policies to account for same-sex partners who adopt a child and extending the same benefits given to new birth mothers to those who have become new parents.

4. Be transparent

When it comes to workplace inclusivity, no one expects you to nail it on the first try and never make a mistake. But being transparent about the current state of things, acknowledging where the company can do better, being open about prioritized initiatives and timelines will go a long way in building trust and ensuring employees feel like they are part of the process. 

5. Celebrate differences

If you have a diverse workforce, facilitate time for employees to get to know and learn from each other, especially across teams. Hold work events that celebrate what makes people unique. Let employees learn about other cultures, host workshops, lunch and learns, and events, and invite guest speakers to cover a diverse range of topics.

Simply setting aside 15-30 minutes a week to devote to teammates connecting will not only promote better communication and inclusion by ensuring everyone has a chance to speak, but it will also foster team-building, and open employees’ eyes to who else their colleagues are. 

6. Listen and learn

Your people are your greatest resource and ensuring they feel comfortable, included, and supported should be any leader’s top priority. If someone comes to you with an issue, acknowledge and act on it. But you cannot guarantee every issue will be voiced, so take a proactive approach.

Ensure employees know that their managers are there to listen and learn, and provide alternative modes of communication—an anonymous form, a quarterly survey, an inclusivity Slack channel. Whatever mode you choose, ensure every comment or concern is seen, heard, and recognized.

Building an inclusive workplace environment is something we should all strive for. At Oyster, it’s the type of work that’s never truly finished. Every day is another opportunity to create the kind of supportive inclusive culture we all want to be a part of. 

Looking for additional resources on workplace inclusivity? 

About Oyster

Oyster is a distributed HR platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. It lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve. Without the usual headaches or the expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world. With reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.