Why creating inclusive cultures should be a business imperative

In this piece, Charlotte Sweeney discusses the importance of encouraging an inclusive culture in a business.

The impact of creating more diverse and inclusive work environments on a company’s performance has been a hotly-debated topic for over two decades. Changing workforce demographics, globalisation, government policy and increasing employee expectations all play a part. But is creating inclusive cultures really coming of age? Or does it continue to be the poor relation to diversity?

In recent research McKinsey found that workforces that are both diverse and inclusive have 12 per cent higher employee productivity; 19 per cent higher retention; 57 per cent higher team collaboration and 42 per cent higher team commitment. Deloitte also identified an 80 per cent improvement in business performance when levels of diversity and inclusion were high.

That’s the key point; when diversity AND inclusion were high. Not just one or the other.

If we think of diversity as the ‘mix’ of people working within our companies and inclusion as ‘making the mix work’, increasingly organisations can articulate their stance. This is usually covered by how they aspire to increase the representation of women into senior positions, how they would like to diversify their talent pipeline and how they would like to reflect the communities in which they operate and serve.

External influences also play an important part that encourage organisations to purely focus on the mix of their employees. High profile reviews such as the Davies Report on getting more women into Board positions within the FTSE 350 and the Ghadia Review on getting more women into the finance sector at senior levels as well as the pipeline focus mainly on representation without taking the change in culture required to attract and retain talented women into consideration.

The key challenge is that many organisations mainly focus on how to increase the diversity of the people who work there and do not take as much consideration into how they are really included and ensuring they get the best out of those people once they actually join them and encourage their sustainable success.

We all instinctively know that when we feel part of something, when we feel that our views are respected and heard and when we feel that information is openly shared we want to contribute much more. When the opposite happens, many of us naturally want to take our toys back and play somewhere else – we just don’t give our best and we don’t want to give our best where it isn’t valued.

So, how do we enhance the focus on creating inclusive cultures?

There are a number of ways to create a more inclusive workplace; here are three areas to consider:

We all play a part

Let’s not forget that inclusion is about all of us and we all play a part in creating a more inclusive workplace for our colleagues regardless of the role we have or our level of seniority. Think about your own personal behaviours. Do you make sure that you listen to all of your colleagues or give the majority of your time to a few? Do you actively go out of your way to get to know your colleagues and find out what makes them tick? Do you treat all your colleagues with respect and ensure they can really be themselves around you?

Measuring impact

Find ways to measure the level of inclusion within your organisation. This can be done via regular colleague opinion surveys by asking specific questions about how colleagues feel included and able to give their best as well as analysing the wider survey data by a whole raft of different groups such as by gender, age, ethnicity etc. This gives you valuable insights into how different groups of colleagues feel about workplace issues such as pay, promotion and business success. If the information shows that colleagues with disabilities, for example, feel less connected to the organisation that is a good starting point to identifying how to change it.

Embed into everything

The concern with many diversity and inclusion activities is that they are seen as ‘initiatives’ – an activity that can start and stop. I prefer to see this as continuous improvement…an activity that will evolve and grow as the organisation becomes more sophisticated in its delivery and see this as a ‘way of life’ rather than an add-on. Actively embed inclusive behaviours and practices into the organisation via the leadership frameworks, individual performance and remuneration and into how you engage with clients and customers will have a lasting impact.

Is inclusion the poor relation of diversity? Sadly, in many organisations I do think it is. In a world where we are getting to grips with what Brexit actually means and increasing examples of discrimination and hate crime in the press surely there has never been a more critical time to create inclusive cultures that work for everyone.

Charlotte Sweeney is an expert in diversity and inclusion

Further reading on inclusion

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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