Microinclusions: The Hidden Elements of Belonging
Microinclusions: The Hidden Elements of Belonging

Microinclusions: The Hidden Elements of Belonging

Leadership Development, Company Culture, Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Employee Well-being   — 4 MIN


You’ve heard of “microaggressions”—the small, everyday slights that impact members of marginalized populations. These are comments or actions, usually spoken or made thoughtlessly, that diminish a person’s peers. Over time, the cumulative impact of many microaggressions is mentally taxing on individuals and demoralizing for groups. You may not be familiar with “micro-inclusions” or “micro-affirmations.” They are small but consistent actions leaders can take to create an inclusive environment for diverse teams. While it’s possible that you’re already engaging in micro-inclusions naturally, you can always make a conscious effort to utilize more micro-inclusions.

It’s the little things

As a team lead, Daisy puts everyone’s birthdays and work anniversaries into her calendar. She sends an email on their big day, so her employees know they’re appreciated and remembered. Elliot, a manager, makes it a practice to introduce himself to new teammates by using his pronouns. When someone indicates what their pronouns are, he uses them correctly. Jamar, a CEO, always remembers who took notes at the last brainstorming meeting and makes sure to ask a new person at the next meeting, so no one is permanently tasked with the administrative role. He ensures he asks people regardless of gender to be the notetaker.

When we remember to engage in small, consistent acts of thoughtfulness, we affirm the identity of our peers and build their confidence—both in themselves and in us as confidants. We build trust, foster belonging, and validate our teams.

Micro-inclusions, major impact

Being micro-inclusive is not about knowing everything about all your colleagues. After all, your colleagues may not want you to know details about their personal lives. Being micro-inclusive is being thoughtful about everything you do know about your colleagues and being considerate about commonly overlooked needs.

Micro-inclusions don’t take a lot of time or effort—they just require thoughtfulness and consistency. We can also utilize technological tools to help, like in the earlier example. Engaging in micro-inclusions as a leader creates a positive feedback loop where your colleagues will begin to emulate your example. There’s a lot of truth to the saying, “Employees don’t leave bad companies—they leave bad managers.” Be a good leader, and it will help you retain your talent.

How to be micro-inclusive

Most of us want to be kind, thoughtful colleagues—and probably are. But there is always room for improvement. When seeking to actively engage in micro-inclusions and foster an environment that encourages others to do the same, what kinds of actions should we take as leaders? Consider the following tips, inspired by LinkedIn:

  • Get names right. There might only be a few things more frustrating than someone getting your name wrong. When should you correct them, if you haven’t yet? Should you repeat yourself if you’ve already corrected them? If you’re a leader, take the guesswork out of this. Make sure you’re pronouncing your employees’ names correctly, and it will help others do the same. If you need to consult with a trusted colleague to make sure you’ve got this down, do it. Remember that getting names correct isn’t just about pronunciation. If someone tells you her name is Elizabeth, don’t decide to call her “Liz” until she invites you to.
  • Vary your networking opportunities. Some offices have a strong “happy hour” culture, and that’s great—but if it’s always held at a bar, whom does that leave out? Anyone with young children will probably head home at the end of the day. People who don’t drink may opt out as well. Consider putting team lunches or child-friendly events after work into the rotation. If you vary the activity, it’s more likely you’ll hit on things everyone can do.
  • Respect restrictions. Speaking of work lunches, make sure you have options for people who might be vegan, vegetarian, or pescatarian. Check to make sure if your teammates have allergies or intolerances, and don’t expect them to just brown bag it if everyone else is ordering something. Most restaurants have something for everyone, so make sure you utilize those options.
  • Watch out for people’s wallets. There are few things more sensitive than money. If your organization reimburses for expenses, be aware that not everyone has the flexibility to put an airplane ticket to a conference on their credit card and then wait for their reimbursement. Always offer to put expenditures on the organization’s credit card, or make it clear that other alternatives exist, so people don’t have to stress over something they might prefer to keep private.

Even organizations with the most inclusive intentions can end up falling into typical social patterns. Find out if the people on your team who are consistently asked to organize happy hour, team lunches, or work travel are women—and if they are, make sure to change that moving forward.

Modeling micro-inclusions for your team

A strong leader is aware of their own behaviors and the way those behaviors impact their team. So much of micro-inclusions—or their opposite, microaggressions—come down to thoughtful behavior or the lack thereof. If you’re practicing self-awareness, you can catch yourself before you engage in a microaggression, apologize for one once you realize your misstep, or actively look for opportunities to engage in a micro-inclusion.

Here are some ideas to practice greater self-awareness so you can continue to build a more inclusive environment, courtesy of Brown University:

  • Practice active listening. You’ll be more aware of your colleagues’ needs and more able to validate and provide feedback if you’re paying attention.
  • Validate feelings. We may not always agree, but we can always try to see where another person is coming from and offer mutual respect.
  • Practice specificity. It’s nice to hear, “Great job!” But it’s even better to hear, “You did a great job getting those deliverables out on time under a stressful situation. We appreciate you!”

At the heart of micro-affirmations is the desire to see employees succeed. If your heart is in the right place, your head can be too. Ready to take the next step on your learning journey? Click here to schedule a consultation with one of our DEI learning experts to see how Blue Ocean Brain can help your organization build a culture of belonging and inclusion.