Embedding inclusion in the organization’s DNA
Diversity and Inclusion is a topic that has been gaining momentum in the past few years in corporate workplaces globally. Though often used interchangeably, the terms are varied in their individual meaning. In order to make both work, it is important to first surface their meanings.
Diversity is about the differences that people bring on board- visible as well as the invisible differences. Examples of visible differences include gender, age, disabilities and examples of invisible differences include sexual orientation, thought diversity, religious diversity and other similar aspects of an individual’s personality.
Inclusion is the sense of belongingness that an individual feels at both the organization and the team level. It comes alive through the daily lived experience of an employee. True inclusion is experienced when the employee feels respected and heard, in spite of coming from a diverse background or having a diverse view point.
Recognizing what each of these represents is critical if the diversity and inclusion efforts are to create a long-term impact. ‘Getting the most of your Gender Diversity efforts, June 2017’ reports that in spite of more than 90% of companies surveyed have gender-diversity programs in place, only one in four women feel they have personally benefitted from such programs. It can be seen that inclusion will not take place automatically by focussing only on diversity. Specific interventions need to be taken up to ensure that an employee feels included and respected on a daily basis. Some starting points for an organization can include:
Culture building interventions:-
Building humanistic leaders: In a recent HBR article, the authors share some pertinent research and ideas on the why and how of creating ‘human leaders’. At the heart of humanistic leadership lies an unconditional respect for all team members. From the inclusion lens, leaders needs to ask themselves the following questions in designing change interventions that impacts both business and people: Does it make business sense? Does this promote equality and inclusivity for the internal stakeholders as well as the community it operates in? Is it sustainable from the long-terms perspective as well as from a future generation perspective?
Creating inclusive intelligent teams: An employee should feel included within the team that he or she is working with. Therefore, the role of the teams in creating inclusive workplaces cannot be ignored and requires focused attention by the team leaders and the individual members. This can be done by fostering an environment and creating platforms for active perspective taking and perspective to reveal different patterns of thinking. Learning about individual strengths and recognizing how each of the strengths can be leveraged and enhanced for higher team performance is another powerful way of creating that sense of belonging. Team off-sites and team building interventions are forums that can be proactively used for building inclusive intelligence.
Effective and on-going communication: Inclusion requires a change in behavior affected by first changing mindsets. For example, in case a blind person joins a team that has never previously worked with persons with disabilities, it will mean that team members will be required to undergo mindset changes and increase awareness of their behavior.
Strategies will not work unless a shift in the mindset has taken place. And once a fundamental understanding of biases starts, awareness can be expanded by engaging in continued self-exploration. -- Howard Ross in his book, ‘Everyday Bias’
An ongoing and sustained communication intervention will do exactly that; keep the conversation going beyond sensitization sessions. Innovative communication material in the form of animated videos, storytelling formats, engaging online content such as quizzes and puzzles are some ways in which this can be done.
Increase connectedness: Every individual carries a multitude of identities. These identities, in turn, informs on who we interact with, whose views and ideas we accept more easily and it helps us decide about whom we are dealing with. To become inclusive, an organization should consider increasing the number of shared identities of its employees. This can be done by creating forums for people of the same identity group, to create affinity, as well different identity groups, to build sensitivity, to come together.
Forums can include employee resource groups, online and offline networks, hobby workshops, similar life-stage groups, functional master-classes, sessions conducted by specific diversity strands and other such activities. Expanding the list of inclusionary forums will also give employees a variety to choose from, in turn contributing to their own learnings.
In conclusion, such sustained efforts will be seen more in the long run than in the short term. It is critical to recognize this.