Sticky Solutions

Sticky solutions to your everyday business challenges


Question: My company is in its second year of working to become more diverse and inclusive. While most of my colleagues and I have completed unconscious bias training and are learning about gender and identity affirmation in the workplace, I still trip up on things like using binary pronouns for team members who prefer “they/them”.  As a team leader, I feel that it’s especially important to model the kind of inclusive behavior that we want to see, but I’m writing to ask what recommendations you have for moving forward when my efforts to be inclusive fall short?

Answer: For too many, awkward and uncomfortable experiences like yours lead to denial, defensiveness, or, worse, silence. Studies have shown that fear of punishment and rejection are a key reason why people remain silent.

As a team leader, showing care is always better than saying nothing. And when you do find yourself making a misstep, here are some ways to take action and pivot into a positive learning experience.

Own it. Depending on the situation, whether it’s failing to use gender-inclusive language or being called out for an unintentional microaggression, don’t try to immediately fix it or explain it away. Live in the tension.

Create a space for dialogue, learning, and humility. Demonstrate genuine curiosity in understanding the nature of your misstep. Ask questions about your word choices, and use this as an opportunity to learn about “gender” as a social construct.

Model courageous conversations. The more practiced and comfortable you become talking about racism, privilege, and oppression, the more others will take notice and follow suit. You can’t help someone feel safe about proposing new ideas until people know it’s safe and beneficial to share who they truly are and what they’re grappling with.

Persist when you make a mistake. It’s natural to be overwhelmed by a fear of messing up, saying the wrong thing, or not being able to do enough. The key is to fail fast and recover quickly. When you make missteps — and you will — how you react is more important than what you did. When you persist with kind, authentic, and genuine care, you’ll better be able to move forward together with a shared understanding.

The path to creating and sustaining an inclusive culture will never be free of obstacles or mistakes. So own them and persist.


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