An inclusive work environment will drive performance, improve safety and increase production and profitability. A diverse workforce brings a varied set of experiences and ideas that will contribute to the overall success of the team by reinforcing the value of all members. Understanding what inclusivity is and how to create a culture of inclusion isn’t always obvious, so we will take a look here at language and actions that can make a difference.
What is inclusion, and how do we create an inclusive culture?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word “inclusive” to mean “including everyone.” Especially, “allowing and accommodating people who have historically been excluded (because of their race, gender, sexuality, or ability).” On the other hand, not hiring or including people because of their race, gender, sexuality or ability is exclusion.
According to Zippia.com, 92.6% of arborists are men and 7.4% are women. Of those, 3% identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). The report states that 65.8% of arborists are White, 19.9% are Hispanic or Latino, and 7.7% are Black or African American (6.6% are Other or Unknown).
So statistically, our industry is not diverse. These demographics show the tree care industry is predominantly white and male. This is why efforts to diversify will have a great impact.
So what can we do? Just reading this article is a step toward being more inclusive. If you attend a workshop or listen to a presenter, those are steps toward being more inclusive. Being open to the idea, its benefits and what it entails is a step in the right direction. It all starts with you.
Be an ally
Inclusion begins with you being an ally. Allies actively and consistently use their own power and privilege to achieve inclusion and equity for others. With intentional efforts, you will hold yourself accountable to the needs of others, specifically, marginalized people.
Marginalized groups work endlessly toward achieving equality and justice. It is a long and arduous process with many setbacks along the way. Allies leverage their power and privilege to confront racism and other prejudices within their own groups. By employing and promoting an inclusive workforce, allies can extend the reach and impact of their actions.
Being an ally also means listening to those you seek to include. Is your organization actively pursuing employees with a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds as well as gender diversity? If yes, ask yourself questions such as, “What are their needs? How can I help?” It’s not about what you think they need; you must listen carefully and take appropriate action.
The tree care analogy
In our industry, most things come down to time, training, support and, of course, the ever-changing variable – the tree.
Let’s start by defining inequality as unequal access to opportunities.
Inequality: In Figure 1, you’ll notice the inequality between person A and person B. The tree leans to one side and has more fruit on that side. Person A and person B have unequal access to opportunities the tree has to offer.
Equality: In Figure 2, the equipment is distributed equally between both persons, but distribution of similar ladders does not compensate for the differences the individuals are experiencing. Person A is still at an advantage to the variable of the tree, while person B is at a disadvantage.
Equity: In Figure 3, variables – the tree and the individual differences person A and person B are experiencing – are recognized. The tools and opportunities are allocated in a manner that enables an equal outcome. It is important to understand that all people and trees do not share the same needs.
Justice: In Figure 4, justice is at work. It involves fixing the system, a long-term solution for the variable of the tree. Additional support is offered through training, time, tools, etc.
Develop an inclusion policy
Follow these five steps with intent to create an inclusion policy that is specific to your team. When individual team members have input, they also have a sense of ownership and accountability. Each team member brings their own unique experiences and personality to the team, so together they can positively impact the company culture of inclusion.
1. Find core values
If you’ve been through the TCIA Accreditation process, you may have gone through a similar exercise to determine the company’s core values. Figure 5 includes a list of core values. Provide a copy of the list to each team member at the beginning of the week. Ask them to take the list home and think about their personal core values. Have them circle their three core values. At the end of the week, come together as a team and list all core values on a whiteboard. This is a great team-building exercise.
People truly live by their core values, and they will shine in their roles in a place of business that encourages their core values. For example, if someone holds accountability as a solid core value, that person may make a great crew leader. They want to make sure the job is completed and will hold the rest of the team accountable.
2. Set ground rules
Create a handout that becomes part of the code of conduct in the employee handbook. It is signed as an agreement. Your list of ground rules can be a simple list of positive behaviors you want to reinforce with your team. This is to ensure vulnerability is met with support. Here are a few examples.
- I will not judge myself or others.
- I will speak supportively and with good purpose.
- I will act within my core values and the core values of (this company).
3. Create buy-in
Buy-in is the unique place where inclusion, equity and diversity overlap. People are stronger, happier, more productive workers when they feel like they belong. When an individual’s views, beliefs and values are integrated, the organization creates belonging. It also can engage the full potential of all individuals.
4. Gender inclusion
Roles, expectations, opportunity and advancement should not be defined by male and female stereotypes. Break down the general male and female stereotypes. Be sure to use people’s pronouns correctly. Use gender-neutral language. Listen to everyone. Pay attention to the gender wage gap and race wage gap and adjust to ensure equal pay for equal work within your organization.
5. Code of conduct
In order to uphold your policies, you need to adhere to your code of conduct. For example, if an employee is late without prior notification, follow through with a specific action such as a write-up in their file. The write-up ensures that the policies in place are always upheld equally across the company. Treat the code of conduct like every policy in your company handbook.
Create an inclusive work environment
Here are 4 tips on how to be proactive.
1. Use resources and create opportunities
Approximately two-thirds of all arborists in the U.S. work in the private sector, according to various sources, where a lot of time and energy goes into making the bottom line. It is important to take the time to create opportunities to get involved with your employees. This is where you can think outside the box. If done with intention, this can be aligned with grassroots marketing.
2. Have regularly scheduled check-ins
Regularly scheduled, productive team meetings and reviews are important. Quarterly meetings with employees are important to build trust and manage expectations and keep a positive work environment.
Great check-in questions:
- What are you most excited about right now?
- What do you wish you could spend more time on?
- What is most challenging for you right now?
- Is there anything bugging you?
- What can I do to help?
Have a debrief conversation during weekly safety meetings. Go over the highs and lows of the week. Discuss accidents and near misses. Ask each person to speak about one thing they learned that week. Acknowledge someone for a job well done.
Ask team members to describe an innovative idea they heard or a feeling they experienced. Discuss something that pushed team members outside of their comfort zone, or how they will apply what they learned this week.
3. Foster an inclusive learning environment
Set a training schedule and a checklist to go through, like the TCIA specialist books. Use job-site opportunities for continued learning. Hold yourself and employees accountable. Encourage authenticity. Recognize bias. Understand that taking the time to teach will pay off in the end.
4. Company calendar
Have a company calendar and create planned events. Post birthdays, team-member anniversaries, sponsored events and local gatherings. Allowing staff time for planning and accommodating their family and children is inclusive.
Results of an inclusive culture
Defining, creating and growing an inclusive work environment will develop deeper interpersonal relationships within the company. This type of relationship creates opportunities and options for collaboration. It encourages a willingness to express and discuss all the complex matters we deal with on a regular basis and creates learning opportunities. This open communication leads to better mental health and more cohesive crews. Goals become achievable, and the team has the ability to reset after setbacks, failures or disappointments.
In summation, there are two things that have the power to encourage or discourage whether a person will experience inclusion.
1. What they’re working for
The employee-to-business relationship and boss-to-employee relationship.
- Core values.
- Job description.
- Long-term goals.
- What is in it for both sides.
Is the employee doing what makes them feel they are a valuable asset? Does their position leave them feeling fulfilled? Is their role/job description adjusted for future success or hardships, or adjusted to prevent exclusion? Are both parties willing to make the same investment? Does the company have room for the employee to grow?
2. What they’re working with
- The employee-to-employee relationship.
- Produced results, effective behavior.
Is everyone “getting along?” Are they sharing responsibilities, and is there equal access to training and skills development and career paths for advancement?
What we have to ask ourselves is if we feel included and how we can help our colleagues feel that way. We all benefit from a diverse, inclusive workforce. Each day brings opportunities to become an ally and take steps toward inclusion and equity.
Cassandra Bryant is a Connecticut licensed arborist. Her expertise lies in tree care preservation and maintenance. She recently joined the F. A. Bartlett Tree Expert Company, an accredited, 48-year TCIA member company based in Stamford, Conn.
This article was based on her presentation on the same subject during TCI EXPO ’22 in Charlotte, North Carolina. To listen to an audio recording created for that presentation, go to TCI Magazine online at tcimag.tcia.org and, under the Resources tab, click Audio. Or, under the Current Issue tab, click View Digimag, then go to this page and click here.