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Is Your Business Really Inclusive? A Primer on Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

Mar 10, 2022

Business culture has changed dramatically and rapidly in recent years, with diversity and inclusion in the workplace attaining more importance than ever before. Today’s workforce increasingly consists of traditionally marginalised groups, and an inclusive workplace helps attract and retain this emerging talent.

Traditionally, the focus on inclusiveness has tended to have women, the young and the old, and people of colour foremost in mind. Overlooked in that push have often been the LGBTQIA community, the disabled, and people suffering from mental health conditions. More recently, the quest for inclusiveness has expanded to include those groups as welcome and valuable members of the workplace.

Now, while it’s easy to point a finger at some bad actors, and there are indeed some really bad ones out there, it’s fairer to say that many employers are well-intentioned but not so well-versed in workplace inclusion. You’re obviously keen to ensure your organisation is truly inclusive — if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be here ready to learn from this article — so, congratulations on taking steps to build the best possible organisation! But at the same time, you’re probably wondering whether there’s more you can do to build a truly inclusive organisation.

In short, you’re open to making changes and creating an inclusive workplace culture, because doing so aligns with your values and who you want to be as a leader. But you’re not sure exactly what changes are necessary to realise that vision and help you move forward in your valued direction. So, let’s take a look at what inclusiveness is, what an inclusive organisation looks like, and how to measure inclusiveness. After all, you can’t fix an issue if you don’t know it exists.

What is inclusiveness?

You’ve probably heard the term ‘inclusiveness’ many times. But it’s a commonly misunderstood term, so it’s no surprise if you’re not 100% sure what it means. At its most basic, inclusiveness is just what its root implies: all are welcome to participate.

Portrait of group of people activists protesting on streets, women march and demonstration concept.

This is something we learn at an early age. As young children, for example, we’re encouraged to include everyone in games, parties, etc. We’re taught that no one likes feeling left out.

Today, the working reality of the word is a little more specific than that. While it still means equal opportunities and resources and the like, the idea is more about extending those things to people who typically haven’t had equitable access to them. This is not at the expense of those who already enjoy that access; it’s expanding the umbrella and opening more doors.

As a basic example, children often don’t actively exclude a shy member of their class from an activity, but the shy child might not have the courage to join in. When a teacher asks the child if they’d like to play, they’re not preventing other kids from playing or showing favouritism, they’re just going to a little extra effort to ensure the shy kid gets to enjoy the activity too. In this scenario, equality would be telling all the children they can do the activity. Equity is telling all the kids they can join in and then going the extra mile to remove the barrier of shyness that prevents one child from participating.

Diversity and inclusion in the workplace isn’t about equality, it’s about equity. It aims to ensure all workers have the resources they need to produce the same outcome.

Here are two workplace examples:

  1. A workplace with meeting rooms that can only be accessed via stairs would not be very inclusive. Sure, everyone could be given permission to have meetings in those rooms, but there are many people who would not be able to make use of that resource. People in wheelchairs, those who require a walking stick, and even people with certain heart conditions may be unable to use stairs and thus excluded from using such meeting rooms. An inclusive workplace would provide a lift, so all staff could access meeting rooms.
  2. Some workplaces have special graduate programs for indigenous Australians, so they can be sure their organisation hires a minimum number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. This is far more inclusive than just having an equal opportunity employment policy as it gives indigenous Australians an equitable chance of working at the organisation.

What makes an inclusive organisation?

So what is the meaning of an equitable, inclusive workplace? A diverse workforce is a good indicator of an inclusive one, but there’s more to it than just that. This Forbes article with examples of inclusive workplace practices is a good read, but here is a summary in case you’re short on time:

  • All employees have full access to the resources they need to discharge their responsibilities successfully
  • Workers feel they have a voice among colleagues and management and that their input has value
  • People feel valued for who they are, not just what they do
  • Everyone has opportunities for learning and professional development in order to advance their careers and achieve their potential
  • A collaborative environment that encourages teamwork and shares both risks and rewards
  • There’s an active, intentional focus on inclusive workplace practices
  • Employees feel a sense of belonging and engagement — their job means more to them than just showing up so they can pay their bills

When looking at examples of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it’s also helpful to explore what isn’t inclusive. The following are some signs a work environment is toxic and therefore highly unlikely to be inclusive:

  • All employees have full access to the resources they need to discharge their responsibilities successfully
  • Workers feel they have a voice among colleagues and management and that their input has value
  • People feel valued for who they are, not just what they do
  • Everyone has opportunities for learning and professional development in order to advance their careers and achieve their potential
  • A collaborative environment that encourages teamwork and shares both risks and rewards
  • There’s an active, intentional focus on inclusive workplace practices
  • Employees feel a sense of belonging and engagement — their job means more to them than just showing up so they can pay their bills

When looking at examples of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it’s also helpful to explore what isn’t inclusive. The following are some signs a work environment is toxic and therefore highly unlikely to be inclusive:

    Cliques, gossiping, and bullying

 Lack of diversity

.

Tolerance of crass language and off-colour, offensive, or exclusionary jokes and comments. For more on this subject, please read our article on healthy language in the workplace.

Favouritism by management

One-way communication

  Limited flexibility and collaboration

     Public criticism and humiliation

Little opportunity for advancement

Staff treated as resources, not valued individuals

High burnout and turnover rates

How does inclusiveness benefit an organisation?

In a strictly business sense, an inclusive workplace is healthy for a company’s bottom line. Inclusiveness boosts morale, which leads to higher productivity. Retention is higher in diverse and inclusive workplaces too, reducing the time and money spent replacing departed workers (which studies show costs around 33% of the employee’s annual salary).

Inclusiveness has value in a human sense as well. People feel better about themselves and take more pride in what they do. They’re optimistic about their prospects within their company. There’s a sense of being a part of something, of not just being one of many people who just occupy the same space for several hours at a time and then go home only to repeat that each workday. Those positive vibes also carry over into people’s personal lives, helping improve their overall well-being.

Most importantly, your organisation will benefit from diversity and inclusivity because they align with your organisation’s values and improving workplace diversity and inclusivity is the job of the kind of leader you want to be.

How can you measure how inclusive your workplace is?

Still here? Thanks so much! We love that you want to learn how you can do more to promote inclusiveness! So how can you measure inclusivity in your workplace? Some of the examples we’ve given are easy to look for, but the answers are sometimes harder to find. This Harvard Business Review article takes a deep dive into the subject, but here’s our summary of ways to measure inclusivity:

Listen to employees

Host listening sessions or focus groups. Solicit feedback. Keep an open mind when they tell you what’s going well and what could improve. If employees are reluctant to speak candidly (a sign right there of an unhealthy work environment), you can encourage anonymous responses.

Engage in honest self-reflection

This can be difficult, but it’s important to be able to ask yourself how you’ve come up short and what you could do better to promote inclusiveness, teamwork, and strong morale.

Be vigilant and proactive

Stay on the lookout for signs of trouble. Have mechanisms in place to respond to them and also for people to report them.

Review your processes and results for recruitment, promotions, etc.

Are you reaching your goals for diversity and inclusiveness? Set SMART goals, paying special attention to the requirement for them to measurable, and then look at the data and see whether you’re achieving those goals. If not, it’s time to review your processes to see where you can make changes to get you moving further in the valued direction you want to go.

Another way to measure workplace inclusion is to keep yourself informed by reading articles on diversity and inclusion in the workplace like this one!

Now that you have a fuller understanding about what inclusiveness is, what an inclusive workplace looks like, and how to measure inclusiveness, take a close look at your own workplace.

If you find that your organisation isn’t as inclusive as you’d like it to be but you want to change that, you’re off to a great start! You’re also not all alone! To help you with tips for an inclusive workplace and how to implement them, we’ve prepared an article about the top ways to improve workplace inclusivity. Check it out soon!

AUTHOR Michelle Trudgen, Clinical Director, ACT Curious.

CONTACT US  📞    0438 922 979 (Australia Wide)  email: hello@actcurious.com

DISCLAIMER The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

COPYRIGHT © ACT Curious Pty Ltd, 2022.

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