Now that the business case for employee diversity is virtually a given, it’s time to look at the need to follow it up with workplace inclusion.
The result? Frustration and disappointment for employers and employees alike.
Management then steps in with a new approach, assuming there is something awry with the recruitment process design instead of asking: “What is happening in our organisation that fails to allow diverse employees to thrive?”
The question is a crucial one because it highlights the distinction between workplace diversity and workplace inclusion.
Organisations strong on inclusion have a culture in which a diverse workforce can flourish. Without this culture, diversity is a half-baked ethos that breeds no more than tolerance. And if you have ever been merely tolerated, as opposed to genuinely accepted and included, you will know that it doesn’t enable anyone to work at their best.
In many organisations, I hear about so-called ‘acceptance of differences’. It sounds good – until I look at an organisation’s leadership and its pipeline to advancement, where the culture of diversity falls short.
All too often, managers view diversity as an HR-instigated box needing to be ticked and, alarmingly, the diversity programs are seen as having little relevance to overall business strategy.
In contrast, companies leading best-practice in Australia have looked closely at local and global case studies, which prove that, in a work culture of genuine inclusion, employee differences are used in a way that builds organisational capability.
Working with companies for many years as I have now, I have seen how genuine diversity conversations unleash positive staff energy and create truly inspiring workplaces. Everyone, from the CEO to those on the shop floor, wants to feel inspired and valued at work, and this is what a true focus on inclusion achieves.
Good examples include the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, where LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex) initiatives have resulted in documented growth in employee engagement. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) employs people from numerous cultures and has won awards for its diversity work. Energy group AGL ‘nutshells’ the crucial diversity-inclusion relationship when it states on its website that it’s “committed to building a diverse workforce and an inclusive workplace culture”.
Bottom line benefits
The ultimate benefits of inclusion are gold for employers. They include:
- Improved employee morale, discretionary effort and loyalty
- Expanded skill sets
- A richer learning environment
- An ability to attract and retain better or specialised talent
- Diversity of thought, resulting in better decisions and solutions to complex problems
- Improved operational agility
Companies that are doing diversity well also describe major benefits for customers, including employee willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ to satisfy them, and a deeper understanding of customer needs, which can also lead to the introduction of innovative products and services to meet those needs.
Bottom line benefits of inclusion include lower costs due to reduced absenteeism, lower staff turnover, higher productivity, better branding and increased market share.
Three steps to help foster inclusion in your workplace
- Ensure the CEO is on board. The biggest stumbling block is often the man at the top who isn’t ‘on board’ and views diversity as simply an HR issue. (It’s usually a man, but it can also be a woman.)
- Drive home the message that inclusion is not a risk, but an opportunity. A leader with a narrow mindset can see diversity and inclusion a risk rather than an opportunity to build organisational capability. Individual and systemic bias results in ‘in groups’ and ‘out groups’, while tolerance mindsets result in special treatment of diversity-founded groups, and talent pipelines that are anything but diverse.
- Continually emphasise how inclusion will pay strong dividends. The organisational journey beyond diversity, into workplace inclusion, is a leader-led step that requires an initial leap of faith. But, as many an experienced, successful CEO can tell you, the results from making the leap are tangible, alluring and good for an organisation’s people and its profits.