The world of work has seen an enormous amount of shift in recent years. Organisations must work harder than ever before to remain competitive, offering high quality experiences for both customers and staff. Collectively, we expect more from the businesses we work for and the businesses we buy from – companies can no longer pursue profit at all costs.
Expectations are becoming higher for a variety of reasons. Social justice movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo have brought diversity and inclusion to the forefront of the business agenda, the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ is making talent acquisition and retention increasingly difficult, and hybrid working has revolutionised our daily lives. These trends are here to stay, and HR leaders must adapt their strategies accordingly to remain competitive in an ever-changing business landscape.
Building an inclusive workplace is crucial for employee retention and business performance, as having a wide variety of experiences within a workplace contributes to employee safety and business innovation. Many organisations are behind the curve when it comes to inclusivity, and so it is high time that they reconsider current strategies.
Separating diversity and inclusion
Diversity constitutes the representation of those from a range of different human demographic backgrounds – ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, age, sexuality and more. Whilst inclusion is closely linked to diversity, the two have an important distinction. Inclusion refers to a feeling of belonging within a specific setting, and in the workplace often means feeling respected, accepted, valued, and encouraged to participate within the organisation. Put simply, just because an organisation is demographically diverse, it doesn’t mean that employees from different backgrounds feel included.
Leaders largely accept the value of diversity these days, but inclusivity often remains under-recognised. Global companies with the most culturally and ethnically diverse boards are said to be 43% more likely to experience higher profits – the financial evidence speaks loud and clear about the benefits of representation. Inclusion is much more difficult to track because there is no quantitative way of measuring the way employees feel about their experiences within an organisation. As a result, it is often brushed under the carpet in favour of representation quotas, which are easier to measure.
Building on representation through inclusive workplace environments
Diverse representation is a key step to creating better workplaces for a wide range of employees, but it isn’t the only step. Just ‘being seen’ doesn’t get people the help they need; in reality there are disconnects between the diverse external image and what employees are actually experiencing.
In a world where external image is crucial to a company’s reputation, organisations are keen to protect themselves against criticism. The dominance of social media and the 24/7 news cycle has allowed customers to become increasingly connected with brands, and as a result, businesses have a greater interest in protecting against reputational harm than they perhaps had in the past. Consequently, some companies implement representation quotas to ensure that they look diverse to the external eye. In reality, the general public have no idea what is going on internally for employees from minority backgrounds – having a female leader doesn’t always mean that female staff on the ground are having a positive experience.
How can you create an inclusive environment for staff?
In practice, an inclusive workplace is one where employees can thrive in their jobs, regardless of their background. An organisation cannot be considered inclusive if employees do not feel psychologically safe to be their true selves at work, whether that be feeling safe to talk about their sexuality or religion or feeling safe to raise queries and concerns with management.
Inclusive organisational cultures begin with senior leadership and managers, who tend to have the most security to encourage vulnerability in the workplace. Leaders should become role models for inclusion by starting conversations that can sometimes be difficult. This includes having leaders be honest about the struggles they are facing within the workplace, encouraging feedback from the wider employee base about how the organisation can improve. When leaders are open about these subjects, employees will slowly begin to feel more supported and heard by the organisation.
The ability to safely speak up and have an equal voice to other employees is at the core of an inclusive workplace environment. Digital technologies can support in this area, with advice platforms offering a safe space for employees to express any concerns or doubts and receive support from their peers. Workplaces need to be safe places where people are allowed to experiment and fail, learning from the process along the way. Without a culture of openness and understanding, an organisation struggles to innovate, and will ultimately lose out on growth opportunities.
Inclusive workplace environments are essential to progress
According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index, almost half (41%) of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within the great year, in what has been dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’ by psychologists and the media alike. Without strong talent, an organisation will flounder – an inclusive workplace environment could be the edge that an organisation needs to remain competitive.
The pandemic awarded many people the luxury of reflection on what they expect from their employers, and the result has been that people are increasingly choosing organisations where they feel truly comfortable and supported in their development over those that pursue profit at all costs. Inclusion is no longer an additional benefit to organisations but could be what elevates their progress. HR leaders must concentrate on constructing truly inclusive cultures, going beyond representation on their boards and concentrating on the real-world experiences of employees.