Suntiva Blog Civility

How active civility can transform a diverse workplace into an inclusive environment


Research has shown the importance of diversity and inclusion in organizations, but the two have been linked together so often that people don’t always realize they’re different parts of the success equation. According to a Harvard Business Review, “In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen.”

While diversity encompasses characteristics that make each person unique, such as gender, race and age, inclusion refers to the workplace behaviors that make people feel safe, respected and appreciated. To reap the benefits of having a diverse workforce, you also have to ensure that your culture is inclusive. Active civility is the key to achieving that.

What is Active Civility?

Miriam Webster defines civility as a polite act or expression, such as saying please and thank you, smiling, saying hello when encountering another, being polite in e-mail and holding the door for a colleague. Civility is the basic behavior expected in a professional work environment and protects the organization from legal action against harassment. However, if you want to create an inclusive work environment, it requires practicing active civility — connecting with others in a way that respectfully acknowledges differences and encourages empathetic listening.

Actively civil behaviors include speaking kindly of colleagues, having each other’s back, including them in a network or on a team, sharing resources, helping them to be successful, and asking generative questions to ensure all viewpoints are being heard. In an inclusive workplace, all individuals are treated with fairness and respect, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and are acknowledged for their contributions to the organization’s success.

The Leader’s Role in Creating Inclusive Work Environments

Active civility requires continuous and overt recognition of small and even subtle behaviors that acknowledge value and accomplishments. To exhibit and promote active civility, leaders must stand in the gap, speak up and take action when you see others exhibiting uncivil or micro-aggressive behaviors (subconsciously excluding or dismissive behaviors). While uncivil behavior is dismissive and rude, it’s broad, general, and undirected. Micro-aggression is uncivil behavior directed at someone of a specific level, gender, ethnicity or other diverse characteristic. It’s essential to provide feedback to employees who exhibit micro-aggressive and uncivil behavior, both of which contribute to toxic, inhibiting work environments.

Leaders are on the frontline in creating inclusive organizational cultures. Their actions give employees tacit consent to be dismissive or inclusive. When a leader demonstrates respect for all ideas and perspectives, team members follow suit. Sondra Thiederman (The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook) provides a list of essentials for inclusive leaders:

  • Treat people as individuals, not as members of groups
  • Reach out to people of all backgrounds for ideas and input
  • Acknowledge and engage all employees in the hall, in meetings, in the elevator
  • Assume good intentions rather than jumping to conclusions regarding the presence of bias or prejudice
  • Communicate an intolerance for discriminatory or offensive words or behaviors
  • Admit and apologize if you have said or done something hurtful to another person
  • Keep an open mind to different ideas and approaches
  • Spend time with people of diverse backgrounds
  • Provide feedback that will allow all team members to grow and contribute to the best of their abilities
  • Encourage open and respectful dialogue about diversity and inclusion
  • Recognize that inclusion is an ongoing process
  • Hire and promote leaders committed to building an inclusive environment

Some things are easier to do, but some will require self-awareness, reflection and practice. At Suntiva, we have the behavioral science background necessary to help you move your team members across the spectrum to active civility. Our workforce transformation and coaching experts can help you build an inclusive leadership skill set, help you establish clear career planning, and practice asking generative questions that open doors to dialogue and discovery, lead to movement and action, create insights and ignite change. To learn more, contact us today.

Written by Katherine Coles