Workplace Inclusion: Not just a buzz phrase
We hear a lot about social inclusion, but what about workplace inclusion? An inclusive workplace is one where employees feel valued, respected and safe to be their authentic selves. The Gartner Inclusion Index identifies seven key dimensions of inclusion: fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging and diversity.
While there is a labyrinth of theories and research around the topic of inclusivity, what are some simple, practical things that each of us can do to help nurture an inclusive, effective and collaborative workplace?
1. Be open and curious: Everyone wants to be seen and heard. In a truly inclusive environment, each person in the workplace needs to feel empowered and safe to express their opinions to the wider group - and to be heard. Actively include colleagues who are more introverted or who may be the sole representative of their team – give them the space and platform to share their thoughts. Just because someone is quiet doesn’t mean that they don’t have the good ideas. This openness and curiosity should not just be limited to your team members or individuals whom you are in direct contact with on a daily basis, but should extend to colleagues in different departments, functions and across all levels. In the long term, this will help to build trust and a collaborative mindset in the workplace and ensure that each employee’s contribution is valued.
2. Run effective meetings: Have you ever been stuck in laborious meetings where you are wondering why you are there in the first place, what you are meant to be contributing and when you can get on with the next task on your long to-do list? We have all experienced these gruelling incidents, but perhaps we can boost the effectiveness of our meetings and maximise productivity by:
considering whether an in-person meeting or video call is the best format to achieve the objective - could this be addressed simply by an email, note or quick phone call?
circulating a meeting agenda beforehand and sticking to it
clarifying the purpose of the meeting and why your attendance (in-person or otherwise) would add value to the meeting objectives
keeping meetings efficient and focussed
Employees are at their best when they are working in alignment with their purpose. Help your colleagues maximise their talent and purpose within the organisation, and enable them to flourish (not languish) by minimising inefficient meetings or tasks that don’t effectively serve the organisation’s wider purpose.
3. Bin the assumptions: We often make assumptions about other people’s motives, skills, experiences and values. These assumptions help us to make sense of people around us and to simplify or compartmentalise our relationships. But the conclusions that we draw may often be tainted by unconscious biases based on gender, race, age, appearance, socio-economic status and our own personal experiences. Bin the assumptions, ask questions and prepare to be surprised.
4. Manage micro-behaviours: Eye-rolling, crossing of arms, interrupting, brushing off, eyebrow-raising, ignoring…these are all mini gestures which manifest in our voices, facial expressions and body language. While micro-behaviours are often unconscious, they contribute greatly to how inclusive an environment is. It is crucial to be aware of our micro-behaviours and how they can affect others, to ensure that we cultivate a culture of inclusivity, respect and appreciation.
5. Manage micro-managing: Micro-managing can have a huge toll on the mental health of colleagues. Read more about the hidden costs of micromanagement. Reflecting on management styles can help to ensure that colleagues feel uplifted and not stifled. It is also important for employees to be able to see a clear path of progression and opportunities within the organisation, and for leaders to be equipped with mentoring skills to help team members achieve their long-term career goals.
6. Focus on equity, not equality: Treating everyone the same does not make things fair. No two individuals are alike, so when considering workplace arrangements – consider what each individual needs to better support their work life balance. A colleague who is a working mum will have very different priorities from someone who is recently divorced or another who is experiencing a period of mental ill-health. There is no one size fits all approach – when in doubt, ask, and listen.
7. Speak a common language: While it is tempting to speak your native language with fellow countryfolk in the office, be conscious of doing so for extended periods when there are others involved in the meeting or discussion who do not understand the language. While often an unconscious habit out of convenience, it can quickly make people feel excluded, disrespected and side-lined. Where possible, make the effort to speak a common language to foster a culture of trust, openness and belonging.