For years, campaigners, and more latterly mainstream businesses have been encouraging organisations to become more inclusive. In 2020, it is now clear that working towards, embracing or undertaking an inclusive workplace can yield improved business results in a range of ways – some being direct and others being indirect, if not completely unexpected.
Inclusive workplaces ensure that all employees are integrated fully and supported equally to realise their full potential. In this sense, a key group to benefit from inclusive workplace cultures are employees, particularly those who may otherwise be disadvantaged (e.g. women, disabled staff, and ethnic minorities).
When we think about the positive influence of workplace inclusion – who are we thinking about? Many people reading this might be thinking its all about the organisation?
Well, you probably have a point, however we would argue that your people should be the main beneficiaries of an inclusive workplace. Inclusion shouldn’t be about free tea or coffee, competitive benefits or your bonus scheme – that’s called employee engagement. Inclusion should focus on improving the understanding of each and every employee in the organisation.
Employees who differ from most of their colleagues in religion, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic background and generation, often hide important parts of themselves at work for fear of negative consequences. This is called “identity cover,” and it makes it difficult to know how they feel and what they want, which makes them vulnerable to leaving your organisation.
To give you an idea of how identity cover can manifest itself, how about one of your staff that happens to be Muslim but chooses to pray in his car because he doesn’t want to advertise his religion, or the mother who doesn’t put up pictures of her family and children so that her colleagues won’t question her commitment to the organisation or lastly the gay team leader who is unsure whether he can bring his partner to company functions?
These are just a few examples. We’re confident that a large number of employees undertake identity cover daily because they need their job. Wouldn’t it be better to have those employees use their skills, knowledge and experience in a way that positively contributes to the success of the organisation?
So, the positive influence that inclusion can bring to organisations is that it allows your staff team to be the people they are and understand how their contribution fits into the overall team or organisation – this way, your staff team will truly be authentic at work and start to bring all of the benefits with it.
The key to inclusion is understanding who your employees really are. Three of the most effective ways to find out are:
- survey assessments
- focus groups
- one-on-one conversations.
To be effective, however, they must be approached in a way that accounts for the fact that people – particularly those in underrepresented groups – can be more difficult to get to know than we think. Here are some best practices for getting to the heart of who your employees really are:
Segment results by minority groups
Many organisations conduct employee engagement surveys, but most neglect to segment the data they collect by criteria such as gender, ethnicity, generation, geography, tenure, and role in the organisation.
By only looking at the total numbers, employers miss out on opportunities to identify issues among smaller groups that could be leading to attrition, as the views of the majority overpower those of minorities.
Focus groups are another way to gain deeper insight into what employees care about and the issues that may be causing frustration and burnout.
These groups are best facilitated by an outside company or trusted diversity and inclusion professionals who don’t have a vested interest in the outcome so that employees can speak freely.
A one-on-one discussion with a manager can be the most powerful tool for finding out what an employee cares about. But for these conversations to be effective, the manager needs to have an open-door policy and exude a “tell me anything” persona.