The importance of inclusivity in workplace culture

Welcome to my second Inclusion Week blog. In my last blog I talked about how I balance my two different lives – one as head of organisational change at Connor, and the other as Aunty Ginger, current reigning Miss Drag UK.

In that post I talked a lot about how much I value Connor’s inclusive workplace culture. In this blog, I wanted to examine how other organisations can bring inclusivity into their own cultural makeup.

What does an inclusive culture look like?

For me, one of the biggest things about an inclusive culture is curiosity. At Connor, people are always asking each other questions and seeking to understand each other’s perspectives. Crucially, they do this even if they disagree with each other – which is where inclusion really begins. An inclusive culture doesn’t just tolerate others – it embraces them.

In that environment, nobody should feel that there are elements of their lives that they can’t bring to work. Gone are the old days where it was seen as a positive characteristic to leave your personal life at the door when you come to work. For me, this is about not hiding my drag act from my colleagues – and even trying to get them along to see me at local performances. People should be able to bring all of themselves into work – their ethnicity, their gender identity, their relationships, their physical or mental health, even their hobbies and interests.

Additionally, an inclusive culture is one where people have the courage to hold negative behaviour to account. This might sound counter-intuitive – but inclusion does not have to stretch to tolerating negative behaviour. People should feel able to call out when they have been upset or offended by something someone has done or said, and not feel that they won’t be listened to or supported. At the same time, people who exhibit negative behaviour should be educated and made aware of the impact of their actions, before sanctions are handed out.

Why bother with an inclusive culture?

I appreciate this sounds like a pretty redundant question in 2019. But it is worth pointing out that, beyond the moral and ethical reasons to make your workplace as inclusive as possible, there are some solid commercial reasons that inclusivity is important.

The inclusive workplace that I described above, naturally, is one that everyone feels happy, energised, and committed to the organisation. In that environment, it’s only natural that productivity will rise, as will the quality of work, and it’s likely that grievances and other ER matters will reduce. But the benefits go further still.

There’s an old adage when it comes to diversity and inclusion: ‘Get the I right, and the D will look after itself.’ An inclusive workplace culture breeds diversity – and diversity brings another host of benefits to any organisation. Diversity of perspective, genders, ethnicities and more will bring a diversity of thought to your organisation. Insights you may have missed before, solutions you may have missed, markets you may not have been able to access – all of these things and more can open up to organisations that are more diverse.

I’m not for a moment saying that organisations shouldn’t put effort into inclusion unless they can make a return on investment. As responsible employers who care about their employees, organisations should be doing everything they can to make work a happy and safe space for people to bring their whole selves to work. But there are substantial rewards for organisations who do prioritise the issue – so really, there’s no excuse!

How can you make it happen?

In my experience, an inclusive culture has to be led from the top of an organisation. If your board doesn’t embrace inclusivity, then why should anyone else? Of course in an ideal world this would be helped by your organisation having a diverse range of people on the board itself, but even if that’s not the case senior leaders need to be taking the issue seriously.

At the same time, there are some more structured interventions that can help raise awareness of the issue among your workforce. A prime example is unconscious bias training, helping people to understand how they may unwittingly be less inclusive than you would like. These interventions need to be handled sensitively otherwise you can risk the whole thing starting to feel like a box-ticking exercise – but if they are accompanied by the right communications, and with the right leadership, they can be an effective way to spread best practice around the organisation and help cultivate a culture where everyone is working to improve their own inclusive tendencies.

It is also essential that your organisation has policies and procedures in place to support inclusivity. That includes policies that encourage it, such as a clear flexible working policy that enables employees who balance other responsibilities such as childcare or caring for relatives to fully participate in the workplace. It also includes policies that properly challenge negative behaviour.

We’re starting to see this coming through in the legislative agenda – for example banning the use of NDAs to gag victims of sexual harassment. In your organisation, you will want to consider policies that protect people who speak out against negative behaviour, and that attempt to educated people who do exhibit negative behaviour. After all, just punishing someone without helping them to improve themselves isn’t really in the spirit of inclusivity either!

Finally, organisations can look at supporting causes that resonate with their employees and their own values. Apart from being a worthy thing to do, organisations who support these causes demonstrate to their employees and the public that inclusivity is a matter they take seriously.

It starts with you

As an HR leader, you have the ability to influence and direct your organisation’s culture – more so than others. And as with any initiative, everyone has to start somewhere. Whether that’s a conversation with the board, or deciding to call out negative behaviours yourself, or even bringing a part of yourself to work that you might not always have felt able to before.

So ask yourself – what could you do to help make your organisation more inclusive?


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