The true meaning of inclusion
We’ve spoken before about the way in which, as employers, our approach to diversity in the workplace can sometimes be misguided – treating it as a box-ticking exercise, rather than genuinely looking at whether all of our people feel safe, valued and that they belong. These are all crucial components of a positive working culture, without which an organisation’s people and performance will always suffer.
This is why the term ‘inclusion’ has become so important when discussing workplace diversity and culture. Inclusion challenges us to take our approach to diversity to the next level, it goes beyond being diverse for show and instead makes it about our people.
Whenever I think of the word ‘inclusion’ it takes me back to the playground at school and what it meant to be included in essentially the first proper social situation that most of us faced on our own. Now, a picture of the perfect harmonious playground is one where everyone is playing together, everyone feels welcome and it’s filled with laughter. However, how many of you remember your own playground experiences like that? I can certainly say that mine often involved a central group dictating who could and couldn’t be involved in certain games and there were often a number of us who would stand at the side wanting to be included but regularly shut out.
Picture your workplace as a playground – which version is closest to the truth? Are any of your people stood around the side, not being allowed to play?
This may seem like something of a simplified view of things but I think it paints an interesting picture. Inclusion is key to company culture, and subsequently company performance because when people feel shut out it significantly affects their sense of value, safety and trust in those around them. How do you think you would perform if you didn’t feel that you made a difference to the team you’re part of? How easily do you think you could keep your focus in an environment that you didn’t feel safe? Would you stick your neck out for others when you didn’t trust them or think they would do the same for you?
The benefits of true inclusion have been well-documented, with boosts to creativity, innovation and decision-making all being regularly reported amongst teams that are genuinely inclusive. However, these are only in cases where the challenges in achieving true inclusion are recognised and tackled effectively. Building an inclusive culture will often require a complete disruption of the way things have ‘always been done’ (possibly the most toxic words in any workplace). Those wanting to achieve inclusion have to be willing to challenge the mindsets of their people and ruffle some feathers.
More than anything, an inclusive culture needs strong leadership in order to set the right examples for others to follow. Inclusion relies so much on safety in the workplace, safety in being your true self and safety in being different. It is up to the leaders to ensure that this is possible whether it be through challenging existing dynamics, seeking different perspectives from different people (not just the underrepresented) and setting out new ways of doing things – and ensuring that they’re followed up and adhered to.
To take it back to the playground, the one thing that can be said for those that are creating the exclusive groups and leaving others feeling left out is that, in most instances, they don’t know any better. The problem with exclusivity is that it feels good if you’re part of it and often the biggest barriers to inclusion is that it requires selflessness and generosity on the part of these individuals – not often found in abundance in small children. However, as professionals, as colleagues, as team members and leaders we do know better and are more capable of the generosity that inclusion requires. Inclusion is happening in the places where the people are capable of it and the leaders stand up for it – can you make it happen too?