Globally, corporate organizations are recognising the business benefits of having a diverse workforce. Because of which, interventions and policies that support and celebrate diversity are on the rise. Participation in Pride events, observing international days dedicated to certain diverse groups, instituting non-discrimination policies and hiring targets for diverse talents are some of the ways in which organisations begin their diversity and inclusion journey. 

While well-intentioned, these activities are only the starting point. And for effective inclusion to take place, more focussed and intentional efforts are required, those that appeal both to the mind and the heart; employees have to not only ‘see’ but also feel and experience inclusion in their daily lives. 

In this article, we will explore the key concepts and ideas on how to accomplish the intended results, when it comes to inclusion. 


Understanding Inclusion

Inclusion can be understood as an environment where employees have equal access to opportunities and information networks, where they feel free to express their authenticity as well as have a strong sense of belonging. Interventions should be designed to appeal to both: the cognitive aspect (the seeing) as well as the emotional (feeling and experiencing). 

As shown in the image below, the stage of integration- creating opportunities and increasing workforce participation is an important step but does not naturally translate to inclusion. Often, organisations begin and stop at this stage, which makes the interventions short-term in their impact and reach. Catalyst report, the day to day experiences of workplace inclusion and exclusion, also highlights that employees feel included when they experience both a sense of uniqueness and a sense of belonging. 


integration vs Inclusion

To achieve this, barriers have to be removed to not only increase workforce representation but also create engaged employees. 

Here are some ways: 

  • Creating physical accessibility: Instituting policies as well as infrastructural accessibility is critical. The needs of different diverse groups should be taken into account while doing this; some of these may require only minor modifications but will go a long way. Examples of policies inclusive of but not limited to same-sex partner benefits, parental leave for male and female employees, adoption leave that is extended to same-sex partners, sex reassignment surgeries amongst others. Examples of physical accessibility include gender neutral washrooms for transgender employees, assistive technology support such as braille devices and assistive listening devices for persons with disabilities. 
  • Emotional Inclusion: This is a very important step and often the most over-looked when it comes to designing inclusive interventions. The sense of belonging comes when employees are able to foster deep connections with colleagues and do not feel the pressure to down-play or hide their authentic selves in order to avoid discrimination. Catalyst Report 2018 reports that 40% of women stay on guard in anticipation of gender bias. A UN Report titled Tackling discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans & Intersex people reports that in the US 27% of LGBT employees who are not out said that hiding their identity had held them back from sharing an idea. To commence this journey, a good starting point would be to carry out a listening exercise that focuses on the human elements and captures the subtle biases and fears experienced. Interventions can then be designed on these stories. 
  • Creating Inclusive Leaders: A recent HBR research shows that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. In addition to adopting and demonstrating good inclusive behaviors, an organization should also help the leaders address their specific dilemmas and offer practical solutions in handling and overcoming the dilemmas. For example, a common dilemma of a supervisor with an expectant female employee on the team is about managing the workload with an already stretched team. Giving the supervisor practical inputs on resolving this becomes critical if inclusion for both parties is to be achieved.
  • Robust Communication: Employees from diverse groups often say that they are not aware of any policies within the organization that supports them. Awareness of its existence needs to be communicated, if employees are to see inclusion. In addition, constant messaging on the ideas of exclusion – inclusion and that every person experiences it at some point can be very effective in normalising the conversation. When senior leaders come out and speak about these issues and share personal stories, the narratives become much more palatable and create the way for others to speak up too. Gamification and digital platforms can be leveraged for this. 

In conclusion, inclusion requires a clear and focussed intent to transform the workplace and has to go beyond policies. Interventions should be designed to create the right environment for its employees, one where they feel free to exercise their authenticity while feeling deeply connected to the organisation. This will in turn lead to higher engagement, leading to higher productivity, which will ultimately positively impact business. 

This article first appeared on People Matters.

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