Many of us are in the midst of the 2021 Annual Performance Cycle and having ongoing conversations about how to better unlock and support our employees and teams. Knowing that inclusion is one of the foundational elements of highly engaged and effective teams, it’s also a great time to reflect on DoorDash’s value of Making Room at the Table. But what does inclusion really mean and why does it matter? As a leader, how do you help to build inclusion and truly make room at the table?

Studies show that inclusive environments increase trust and collaboration and drive innovation. When employees feel included they also perform at higher levels and stay at the company longer. At DoorDash, we define inclusion as the act of being included in a system or structure. Inclusion is created in policies, procedures, social norms, language and word choice, etc. Put another way, inclusion is the degree to which organizations embrace all employees and enable them to make meaningful contributions. 

There are two separate and distinct experiences that are necessary in order for an employee to feel inclusion: a sense of belonging (e.g. “I feel that I am a valued member of the team”) and that their uniqueness is recognized and appreciated (e.g. “I feel seen and who I am matters here”). Employees can feel as if they belong, but may not feel included if they also have to change who they are or assimilate in order to fit in. On the flipside, an employee may believe their differences are recognized but that they are seen as an outsider because of it. 


Before we provide a few ways you can build a more inclusive environment, it’s important to understand what gets in the way. When we’re aware of some of the challenges, we can more actively and intentionally avoid them.

  1. Unconscious bias: Our brains automatically filter cues based on pre-existing shortcuts that are often inaccurate but feel objective and logical. Cues that are visible to the eye (gender, race and ethnicity, and age) often trigger the fastest and strongest associations in our brain. Check out the December edition of the DEI Digest for ways to recognize and mitigate bias.
  2. Attributions of behavior: The success of members of the majority group tends to be attributed to ability and failure tends to be attributed to situational factors (e.g. “It’s not their fault because of XYZ”). The opposite tends to be true for underrepresented groups (e.g. “They just aren’t very good at the job”).
  3. Likeability penalty: People tend to dislike those who engage in counter-stereotypical behavior. For example, women who voice their opinion are seen as “pushy” or “aggressive” whereas men may be seen as “assertive” or “strategic” since that behavior is seen as expected.

Microaggressions: Microaggressions are defined as “the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.” They are often based on stereotypes and often leave the individual feeling devalued and demoralized. For example, saying to a Black colleague, “you’re so articulate” or asking an Asian colleague, “where are you really from?” Check out a few ways to avoid microaggressions HERE.


Now that you understand the main inhibitors of inclusion, let’s talk a bit about the most essential aspects of inclusive environments:

  1. Shared understanding: It is not possible for any one person on the team to see the whole picture. We must start by having a shared belief that the combination of various teammates’ perspectives makes for better, more innovative solutions.
  2. Team insight: Team members need time and space to learn about one another as individuals. Nuanced, personalized information ultimately replaces superficial and stereotypical assumptions that our brains rely on. This builds deeper connections which helps facilitate collaboration and teamwork. 
  3. Supportive context: Employees have to feel safe to express themselves without worrying about suffering negative consequences. The default assumption should be that people are competent and that they have positive intentions. Risk taking for the sake of learning and open, vulnerable communication should be shared values among team members. Psychological safety happens when the team trusts one another and listens with an open mind when there are dissenting opinions rather than judging.   
  4. Inclusive rules of engagement: Teams need intentional, clear, and consistent communication around what behaviors are expected to encourage participation and promote collaboration. In the absence of clear guidance, team discussions and decision making usually becomes dominated by certain team members. The highest performing teams develop explicit “rules of engagement” about how to make decisions, resolve conflicts, collaborate, and solicit input/ideas from one another.


As leaders, we often think that in order to build and drive inclusion, we have to make major changes or take big swings, when in reality, inclusion happens in our every-day actions, consistently over time. Here are some tactical ways leaders can model inclusion:

  • Clearly and regularly communicate your expectations. Share your commitment with your team and be specific about the steps you’re taking to be more inclusive. For example, “This week, I will ____; please hold me accountable.”
  • Demonstrate vulnerability and empathy. Embrace the opportunity to share more about yourself by talking about something outside of work that is important and meaningful to you. 
  • Show an interest in getting to know team members as people (not just as employees). Ask questions, actively listen, and remember what your employees tell you. If they are willing to share, allocate time each week to do a physical-emotional-intellectual (PEI) check-in on how they are feeling.
  • Be intentional about mentoring and developing all team members. Keep a running list of people and their goals. When an opportunity arises, look at the list before allocating the opportunity to the first person who comes to mind.
  • Encourage team members to communicate their perspectives and opinions and listen carefully when they do. Start a meeting by asking everyone to answer the same question and ask every participant for their opinion at least once and acknowledge their contribution.

Reinforce inclusive behavior through feedback and allocation of rewards. Ask each team member to commit to a tangible (and observable) inclusive practice.

Non-Inclusive BehaviorsInclusive Behaviors
Not acknowledging or downplaying someone’s contributions
Interrupting or cutting others off
Withholding information
Showing little interest in someone’s ideas or opinions
Dominating the conversation
Making others feel welcome
Showing genuine concern
Resolving conflicts effectively
Willingness to help one another
Standing up for one another
Giving others the benefit of the doubt
Being critical of underlying assumptions

About the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Digest:

Increasing representation of underrepresented talent and creating a space for all employees to thrive continues to be an industry challenge. As we strive to build more diverse, equitable, and inclusive communities within our company, industry, and cities, we are committed to sharing best practices, learnings, and insights through this ongoing series created by our DEI team.