The pandemic temporarily increased the sense of inclusion felt by employees and under-represented groups (URGs). Minorities felt more comfortable as the freedom to be more of their authentic selves increased working remotely. Empowered by the ability to turn off their video and being able to avoid unpleasant situations in physical office settings – at the water cooler and so on, 81% of Black knowledge workers conveyed a preference towards remote or hybrid work moving forward. Covid-19 was initially viewed as the ‘great equalizer,’ as every employee from an intern to the CEO took up the same real estate in their own square on a zoom screen. Yet in the post-pandemic workplace, long-term hybrid work models pose major risks to inclusion should executives and managers get the evolving flexible workplace wrong.
What does workplace inclusion mean in 2022?
Inclusion represents employees’ sense of belonging and the feeling that they can bring their true authentic self (their culture, gender, sexual orientation, age, political views, physical properties, and demographics) to work. Fundamentally, inclusion refers to the experience of those with different identities as part of the greater workplace community.
To achieve inclusion it’s important to pay particular attention to URGs as they are not represented equally in management positions, have higher attrition rates, compensation gaps, promotion gaps, and are less likely to be mentored and engaged. Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) excellence drives superior business performance. From a business perspective, research shows that the most inclusive organizations are those that endure. Inclusion has been found to instill a sense of belonging that impacts the most important drivers of company success, such as financial performance, customer satisfaction, innovation, workforce engagement, and retention.
And while research indicates that there is still a long way to go when it comes to delivering on inclusion, the investment in DEI initiatives is skyrocketing. In the new world of work, inclusion must become the new imperative as, without it, diversity strategies cannot succeed.
The following is a 10-step checklist for improving inclusion:
- Create purpose- Surveys reveal that improving inclusion is now one of the top drivers of employee satisfaction. Furthermore, high belonging was linked to 56% greater performance, 50% less attrition, and a 75% reduction in days off due to illness. A sense of belonging comes when employees feel an underlying shared purpose to which everyone is subscribed, and it is critical to ensuring effective collaboration from afar. When team members have a strong sense of shared purpose, creating inclusive work environments, where everyone feels they belong, becomes much easier. Yet as hybrid work becomes more and more prevalent, purpose and culture are at risk. It is important to build purpose from the bottom up. First-line managers should communicate how team goals serve organizational objectives and consistently reinforce what the company believes in.
- Embed DEI as a core business objective– Making DEI a core business objective is one of the most powerful strategies for driving inclusion and diversity. For DEI initiatives to succeed, a well-defined strategy owned by everybody in the organization is key. This multi-prong approach requires a dedicated focus from top leadership and HR roles that can drive DEI objectives forward. Senior leaders must be held accountable for diversity goals, such as recruiting diverse candidates, sourcing from underrepresented groups, and ensuring they feel like they belong once onboarded. In times of the Great Resignation and beyond, DEI must be included in the leadership development curriculum instead of being treated as another compliance issue.
- Listen and act– In a climate of uncertainty and rapid change, feedback is an integral part of decision-making. In fact, listening to employees is a top driver of excellence. Listening sessions should be organized according to guiding principles and take into consideration current barriers to inclusion. Sessions should be conducted in settings where either all employees are present or all are communicating on zoom, to ensure equity. To establish a comprehensive employee listening strategy, focus on promoting psychological safety. Managers can conduct frequent employee listening forums with clear rules that encourage people to speak up freely in order to create a culture of active and respectful listening. Creating an environment in which each person can share their experiences, speak their truths and open up about uncomfortable perceptions without negative consequences is key. Making sure that employees do not sense that listening is a reactive practice in response to specific events rather than part of an overall strategy is critical.
- Encourage authenticity– Authenticity points to a speak-up culture of psychological safety and increases employees’ agency. When leaders create an organization in which everyone can be themselves and bring their differences to work, the organization will thrive. Encouraging authenticity in an organization enlists everyone in the development of unique and innovative solutions. These solutions can significantly contribute to the differentiation of the organization’s offerings from its competitors. Research shows that only 42% of managers agree that they have the tools to conduct meaningful conversations when it comes to race. Build the concept of authenticity into management development programs so that managers are encouraged to model it for their teams by being open and vulnerable. HR can incorporate authenticity into management development programs and review existing training for opportunities to embed that notion.
- Lead– DEI is not only a training issue but rather a core strategy and cultural aspect of the organization as a whole. Findings show that senior leadership commitment is a prerequisite for DEI success. Therefore, holding the leadership team accountable for DEI outcomes is critical. C-Suite executives must instill employees with a shared purpose that people buy into and that inspires them and brings a sense of belonging. Leaders must articulate where DEI fits into the organization’s business strategy, focusing on the overall business benefit, and must communicate this vision broadly and frequently.
- Define metrics and goals- Outline what DEI means for your business and frame a strategy for it by defining metrics and measurements. Despite the challenges, it’s important to precisely define what success looks like in your specific company. The most important inclusion metrics must be communicated broadly, keeping everybody in the loop about the progress.
Compare – Rather than merely comparing internally, try benchmarking with other companies in the same industry in order to define the right goals.
Review – Leverage platforms that check inclusion indexes and provide real-time data-driven insights into the factors that drive DEI, such as those provided by Montara.
Provide transparency – Avoid using DEI targets as a publicity opportunity, and focus on keeping employees and managers apprised of progress
- Create Accountability- Accountability enables companies to reach high levels of performance. To achieve the best results, DEI accountability should reside in every business unit, in every function, on every team, not just in the hands of the head of HR or the CEO. To drive accountability, start by describing what diversity, equity, and inclusion will look like, how they align with the company’s purpose and vision, and how these impacts strategic planning, workforce planning, team metrics, and business outcomes. Clearly identify how actions will be prioritized, who is accountable, and how actions and results will be communicated. Create an ecosystem for DEI. Just like any other business imperative, progress and outcomes must be shared in order to make a meaningful impact.
- Educate- HR can analyze data about diverse teams in your organization, and connect it to customer and financial data in order to demonstrate where diverse teams make the biggest impact. Showcase examples and stories that demonstrate how diversity benefited the business and find business champions for DEI. The organization can facilitate leadership discussion groups to determine where there is energy and then support leaders to walk the talk. Leaders can identify subjects about which they are passionate and share them with other leaders and teams. HR can find leaders who are interested in championing concepts that increase inclusion and help them spread the word to other leaders. Audit learning and leadership development programs with a focus on DEI, taking into account the specific problems people face in your organization taking into account the influence of remote and hybrid work, and making actionable suggestions for improvement.
- Create a Comprehensive DEI Environment- DEI must permeate the talent supply chain – from hire to promotion, to growth. The knee-jerk reaction to diversity problems is usually to concentrate on hiring yet research and conversations show that a hiring-only approach simply does not solve diversity issues. Diverse talent will often leave an organization quickly if they feel excluded or feel there is a lack of diverse role models in leadership. Inclusive design must be built into individual evaluations, rewards and compensation, opportunities to grow and develop, and the entire employee experience.
- Cultivate employee resource groups – ERGs are formed when an organization formally supports employees that have come together to create a more inclusive workplace. ERGs are often based on common backgrounds, social identity, personal characteristics, and/or life experiences. It is important to encourage these types of voluntary diversity and inclusion initiatives. Research shows that many companies support these employee resource groups because of how much they contribute to the overall company culture and the sense of inclusion and belonging that employees feel. These studies also show that these communities can improve retention efforts and reduce turnover costs.
High-performing organizations consistently meet or exceed financial targets, satisfy and retain customers, accomplish high levels of workforce engagement and retention, and create environments in which people feel a sense of belonging. They take a holistic approach to diversity and equity in order to create a culture where employees feel a sense of inclusion. To do so successfully, everyone across the organization must be accountable for advancing DEI. Without a dedicated and ongoing focus, DEI outcomes and improved business performance are not sustainable in the long run.
Montara provides visibility and insights into an organization’s ability to foster a workplace built on belonging, authenticity, and empowerment for all employees. Discover how to increase inclusive relationship diversity within your organization today.