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Include Me! (Team Gathering 101)

A casual drink here, a networking event with like-minded colleagues there isn’t that bad, right? Think again! These seemingly innocuous meetings come with, what some might call, unintended consequences. However, when harmless after work gatherings exclude employees from marginalized backgrounds, which, in many cases, can have a detrimental impact on their careers, we cannot be hiding behind unintended consequences anymore. Especially, when most company websites and marketing collateral talk about how much they value and champion a culture of inclusion and belonging.

I have spent nearly 10 years in the corporate world and have had a lot of team days/nights out and ‘client entertaining’ events that have either been in direct conflict with my values or have simply made me feel uncomfortable.

For those who cannot even begin comprehending what I’m talking about, let me give you some examples:

· A pub crawl night out – not great for people who do not drink for their [not your bloody business] reasons.

· A box for a football or rugby game – real men sports with some real men free bar sounds like a space for real men

· Indoor skydiving and active sports – an especially great day out for those with temporary or permanent mobility problems or other health problems…

All of these are great activities for the appropriate crowd. But this appropriate crowd often turns out to be a very similar looking-thinking-behaving bunch. It is all well and good and each to their own, until… these are the spaces where business is being discussed, seeds for new initiatives and movements planted and important decisions made.

While such bad practices are still part of the business DNA, Culture consultants like me won’t complain about lack of business… However, when companies talk about inclusivity while still employing such exclusive practices, we are nowhere near moving forward as a humanity, even at “baby steps” or “pushing the needle” pace.

Ruchika Tulshyan, the author of The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In The Workplace, suggests the following practices towards organising more inclusive team gatherings and events:

1. Learn about your employees’ personal preferences and ask them to offer some examples of activities that would align to their personalities, languages, cultures, ethnicities, religious and physical abilities. As a manager, you must ensure all people feel included, and for that you need to first understand the practices that exclude and barriers that stop your colleagues from attending work functions, be it dietary, accessibility or atmosphere related.

2. Disrupt the destructive entertainment and events patterns by engaging a diverse event planning committee that understands how to serve a diverse group of people. During these meetings, make sure you listen more than you talk and be mindful how you are taking up space especially if the topic of discussion is not your expertise.

3. Plan more events that aren’t alcohol-centric. It is hardly a secret that in the U.S. and Western Europe, events and entertainment culture often revolve around alcohol, which can leave out people who don’t drink. And don’t assume that your female colleagues don’t drink or that your Muslim colleagues don’t eat meat.

4. Organise more daytime events. After work drinks can exclude parents (mostly women), who undertake lion’s share of caregiving responsibilities. There are plenty of fun ways of connecting during daytime.

5. Ask for feedback post event so that you can improve the next gathering. Build an environment of trust and openness by inviting your colleagues to honestly share their thoughts of the most recent team event.

At your next team event, have a look around the room and reflect on who is there and who “kindly declined the invite”? Who is engaged and who is just getting through? Who “fits in” and who feels like “out of place”? If you notice some obvious bi-polar experiences, this more often than not is also a signal that there is some inclusion work that needs to be done in your organisation.


*Originally published in SOCIALight Magazine Conscious Growth column Issue 18. Link


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