Article: Solidify inclusion efforts with inclusive managers

Leadership

Solidify inclusion efforts with inclusive managers

In the fifth and final part of our five-part series on Pride Month, we explore the pivotal role of people managers in making LGBTQ+ inclusion a reality. Here’s what industry leaders and employees have to say about the role of people managers in reinforcing the inclusion agenda.
Solidify inclusion efforts with inclusive managers

A Quantum Workplace survey asked it’s respondents to complete the following sentence:

"When it comes to diversity and inclusion strategies, my immediate manager is…”

The responses were as below:

Image source: quantumworkplace.com

Commenting on the survey results, Joe Gerstandt, Author & Inclusion Strategist said, "Delivering a more inclusive employee experience is first and foremost a product of a certain kind of leadership or management...Organizations must clearly define the experience they want employees to have. And then you’ve got to build that into your management expectations. Some specific behaviors and practices need to be written into job descriptions."

Gerstandt rightly highlights the aspect of management expectations.

As much as diversity, equity and inclusion is everyone’s responsibility, each one of us in the ecosystem play our individual roles to fast-track the inclusion agenda, sometimes as enablers and sometimes unknowingly and unintentionally as the brakes that slow down the progress.

In particular to people managers, they hold the power to make workplace inclusion a reality. But how? 

In the fifth and final part of our five-part series on Pride Month, we talk to industry leaders about the pivotal role of people managers in making LGBTQ+ inclusion a reality and explore the opportunity areas for managers to make a meaningful and sustainable difference to the inclusion agenda.

The role of people managers in making inclusion a value and practice

In an interview with Irish Times, John Mercer, Chief Executive of Mercer Ireland, said that everyone in the organization has a role in D&I. Mercer noted that while the C-suite sets the tone at the top by establishing D&I as a business priority and allocating resources and funding, HR is responsible for implementing policies and practices, and employees are responsible for open-mindedness towards diverse perspectives and fostering an inclusive culture. However, he added, “While all three of these are important stakeholders, leaders at all levels are the key to creating a diverse workplace with an inclusive culture as they are often making the people decisions around hiring, development, advancement, engagement.”

Industry leaders across the globe agree. Talking to People Matters about the role of people managers in building an inclusive team climate, Adil Katrak, SVP, COO & HR Service Delivery, and Chair of LGBTQ+ Council, Wells Fargo India & Philippines said, “While leadership sets the tone at the top, managers make this happen on the ground. Managers have diversity, equity and inclusion goals integrated into their annual performance objectives to drive accountability and to encourage them to build diverse and inclusive teams. However, diverse representation alone is not enough. Our managers play a critical role in creating the right work environment by driving equity, not just equality.”

Adding that managers are also responsible for fostering a sense of belonging within teams, so people feel included and their talents and experiences are valued while differences are celebrated, Katrak shared that the organization supports its managers with regular training and coaching sessions on unconscious bias, recognizing, understanding and appreciating differences, and leading inclusively.

Capgemini’s Niraj Parihar, EVP, Leader - Insights and Data, India and Business Champion D&I echoed these thoughts. He told People Matters, “People Managers are the backbone of organizational culture who can significantly advance the D&I agenda. For instance, they can ensure proactive hiring of the LGBTQ+ community into the workforce and help shape HR policies for building an inclusive workplace.” Parihar added that great people leaders put effective inclusion practices in place like “making the diversity more visible, putting them in strategic assignments, let them run meetings on rotation basis, and proactively seek suggestions and participation from diverse groups to leverage their perspectives for successful decisions.” 

Amsterdam-based software firm TomTom believes that while everyone within the organization has the ability to foster an inclusive work environment, people managers have an even bigger responsibility in creating a climate where everyone feels safe, valued and accepted. “People Managers are often TomTom’ers most influential touch points and can serve as role models for what behaviors are acceptable and what is not within their team – shaping its culture,” TomTom’s Head of CSR & Diversity Management, Nicole Blake told People Matters. 

Nicole added, “It simply isn’t enough to say we want TomTom to be an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive. People Managers have the critical role of transforming the vision of inclusivity into tangible behaviors and ceremonies that are lived and experienced by all TomTom’ers.” 

Yet another firm that acknowledged the role of managers in making the workplace inclusive is Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS). In the four years of their journey to enable LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace, HGS believes it has accomplished quite a lot. The organization began their inclusion journey by creating awareness around the LGBTQ+ community among their leaders. This initiative was well appreciated, and “there has been no looking back” shared Shilpa Sinha Harsh, SVP – Global Corporate Communications, CSR and D&I, HGS.

As is evident, organizations agree on the need for concrete plans and a crucial touch-point to translate the DEI vision into tangible behaviours. But before they expect managers to fast-track this journey, they need to start with ensuring managers themselves stand for inclusion, and aren’t just delivering on mandated goals.

Equipping the organization with inclusive people managers

Sharing an example of inclusive behavior - collaborative decision making and problem solving - TomTom’s Nicole Blake highlighted that inclusive people managers seek out different perspectives, listen to them and value them all equally. “They also go a step further and ask why certain voices aren’t represented, identifying invisible barriers which others might not be aware of. Creating opportunities like this not only foster inclusion but lead to better quality solutions.” She added that people managers are not only responsible for empowering their direct reports but can lead the organization to the best version of itself by “being the blueprint for inclusive behavior.” 

The correlation between an inclusive manager and an inclusive team climate is evident. Moreover, inclusion isn’t just about representation in numbers, rainbow filters and women’s day celebrations.

Inclusion is a practice, that needs to be carefully and consciously woven into the organizational fabric that has become prey to unconscious reinforcement of bias and discrimination. In the absence of inclusive managers, the threat to true equity and inclusion persists.

Adding to this thought, Lakshmi R. Rajagopal emphasized that having strong inclusive change leaders across the organization is important, as other employees can learn and be inspired by these champions. But how can inclusive managers fast-track the inclusion agenda? Lakshmi noted that creating a strong ‘Ally’ network within the organization through learning the various nuances and facets of the LGBTQ+ community and being good listeners is the first step. “Collaborating across various employee groups in the organization to leverage the power of intersectionality is important,” she added. 

So beyond being inclusive, what can people managers do to build an inclusive team climate - and subsequently - an inclusive organizational climate? The next section addresses this question by reflecting on the role of people managers in creating safe spaces for conversations, thereby paving the way for building allyship.

Breaking down the knowledge gap with conversation spaces and allies

Among the most crucial steps in building an inclusive team climate is recognizing the gap not just in behaviours, but what guides those behaviours, which is more often than not a lack of awareness or rigid mindsets.

To enable change, conversations are key.

And to ensure greater understanding, openness, acceptance and thereby accountability among team members to make the team climate one that is safe for all, team managers and leaders must own the task of creating a culture and safe space for open, honest, even uncomfortable conversations to overcome psychological barriers to inclusion.

McKinsey’s study ‘LGBTQ+ voices: Learning from lived experiences’ confirms the importance of creating spaces for conversations in building inclusive workspaces: “Listening and learning about employees’ lived experiences is the first step business leaders must take if they want to create fairer workplaces.”

Building conversation spaces is easier said than done.

To remove the complexities that shadow difficult and uncomfortable conversations around the lives and bias against marginalized groups, one of the greatest tool managers can leverage is allies.

Infact, with true equity years away, allyship is one weapon to counter further breeding of bias and discrimination.

Capgemini’s Niraj Parihar shared with People Matters how Capgemini has taken numerous steps towards strengthening its inclusion agenda with allyship. “We run Culture Brain and Bias workshops to reiterate the importance of being inclusive. Moreover, we provide a safe platform to our employees and leaders to talk on topics of inclusion via various channels like Podcast and Yammer conversations. Last year, we took the OUTfront program a step further by creating a network of inclusion champions called OUTfront Ally Network Group (OANG), where colleagues affirmed their actions by taking a pledge to drive the culture of inclusion at all levels of the organization.” 

Inclusivity as a trait is crucial among people managers, if organizations truly intend to make workplace inclusion and belonging a sustainable value and practice. People Managers are the carriers of values, as much as they are role models. How they interact with the team on a daily basis significantly influences the team climate and working environment and determines the nature of conversations among team members. Why is that important? Lakshmi R. Rajagopal, Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Fidelity Investments India explains why:

“Allies/ members of the LGBTQ+ community should have an environment where they can ‘speak out’ and share their ‘lived experiences’. This leads to having courageous and constructive conversations in the workplace around difficult topics.” 

How are organizations equipping people managers?

“D&I creates a sense of belonging that improves employee engagement and increases the performance of the organization. People managers anchor this philosophy and ensure they navigate and support their teams,” Suman Reddy, Managing Director and Country Head, Pega India, told People Matters. Suman further added that the organization works with its managers to continuously reinforce an all-comprehensive policy to celebrate the spirit of inclusivity.

Fidelity Investments's Lakshmi R. Rajagopl recommended a continued focus on debiasing and nudging among managers, “Even going to the extent of differentiating and rewarding managers who amplify an inclusive culture based on specific inclusion KPIs would be good progress.”

This in turn would encourage allies to recognize bias quickly, especially when it manifests as micro-aggression, in order to speak up and act in a timely manner, added Lakshmi. 

Talking to People Matters about the organization’s growth journey specific to LGBTQ+ inclusion, Shilpa Sinha Harsh, SVP – Global Corporate Communications, CSR and D&I, Hinduja Global Solutions said that lack of awareness and sensitization among employees have been major challenges in this journey. HGS has focused on removing this roadblock by creating awareness and sensitizing people in the right way through various activities and communications, she added.  

“This includes pledging our support to the community as a strong ally – both internally and externally, and reviewing our policies to make them more inclusive. We have also taken steps to address inappropriate behavior by holding regular conscious and unconscious bias trainings for employees, especially those in recruitment and managerial levels. Systemic support such as gender-neutral bathrooms, ERGs and counselling services has helped too. We have made significant progress but we have to continue our work on sustaining the education to drive better inclusivity,” said Shilpa.

The impact of inclusive people managers

Sujoy Das is presently working as a Financial Analyst at NetApp. He has over 14yrs of experience in ITES. He identifies himself as a specially abled queer and is actively involved in the DI&B initiatives at NetApp. He is the lead for ‘Proud@NetApp’ & ‘NetAbled’ initiatives leading Pride and disability awareness within and outside the organization. Talking to People Matters about the role of people managers in enabling an inclusive team climate, Sujoy shared that an honest conversation with his hiring manager helped him a lot in understanding the company’s focus on DI&B policies. 

“Empathetic managers have worked as catalysts to make the workspace more inclusive and diverse, fostering a true sense of safety and security. Their effort in this direction has translated into higher productivity and has positively impacted me as an individual – making me feel included and belonged,” he added.

Sujoy shared some insights into how people managers can work towards building an inclusive climate: 

  • People managers play a vital role in sensitization/ awareness around the LGBTQIA+ community including terminologies, usage of pronouns, intersectionality, and existing discriminations in the society across geos
  • Acknowledge the existence and work towards the elimination of unconscious biases
  • Enable recruitment of LGBTQIA+ people in the team and contribute towards inclusive policies
  • People managers can help create a safe and secured space for the community members
  • It is important that the people managers express solidarity and lead by example

There are no two ways about DEI being a journey and not an overnight change. And the journey comes with its set of learnings - not everyone is aware of the intricacies of the various diverse segments organizations cater to today. Sharing his experience and the outcome of having an inclusive people manager, Ketty Avashia, Vice President, Enterprise Functions Technology, Platform Services – Platform Integration (India Lead), Wells Fargo & Company told People Matters:

One of my managers in the UK was not very aware of the LGBTQ+ community, but he was just a very open-minded person. He brought such a level of comfort to our one-on-one meetings that I felt secure enough to come out to him. He simply said, “Whatever floats your boat; all I care about is performance.” Back in those days, when LGBTQ+ awareness and acceptance was very low, this was truly encouraging and motivational.

Today, Ketty is a technologist with 18+ years of global experience, across the US, the UK, and India, primarily in financial services companies. His experiences have also helped him become an advocate for change. He mentors LGBTQ+, women and some men at work, and is part of a strong ally network within the industry. 

Enabling collaborative inclusion by reinforcing inclusive behaviours

It is true that inclusion is indeed everyone’s responsibility, but to get that message across the various organizational levels, functions and individuals, people managers play a significant role. “I feel it is not only the responsibility of people managers but every employee to create a safe and inclusive environment at work. But yes, people managers should lead by example. They should act as coaches or guides by ‘walking the talk’, and the onus lies on every employee in the organization to support them. Without a collaborative approach, driving an inclusive organizational culture is simply not possible,” reckoned HGS’s Shilpa Sinha Harsh.

Fidelity Investments’ Lakshmi R. Rajagopal echoed her thoughts adding, “Organizations should strive towards - building a culture of accountability across the board, and not just among people managers. People at all levels of the organization should own and be instrumental in creating an inclusive environment.” 

With every element of the workplace ecosystem having their own role to play, it indeed is clear that inclusion is everyone’s responsibility. However, one common thread through the organization with a wide sphere of influence and impact is people managers. As we wrap up the final part of our five-part series, here are some key takeaways for people managers to further their efforts in the space of LGBTQ+ inclusion:

  • Be cognizant of your sphere of influence to drive change
  • Acknowledge and understand the scope of your responsibility as a people manager
  • Reward inclusive behaviours and reprimand non-inclusive and discriminatory behaviours and practices
  • Encourage visible and vocal allyship
  • Enable learning for self and team members through safe conversation spaces
  • Seek guidance from leaders as well as colleagues when in doubt

In case you missed out our five part series this Pride Month, here's a snapshot of what was covered:

Part One: Accelerating LGBTQ+ inclusion with ACA

Part Two: A glossary of inclusive workplace communication

Part Three: Roadblocks to LGBTQ+ inclusion at the workplace

Part Four: Enabling cultural shifts with allyship

Part Five: Solidify inclusion efforts with inclusive managers

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Topics: Leadership, Culture, Diversity

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