If you are a leader and you’re wondering ‘why is inclusion important’ then I want to take my hat off to you because you are taking a step in the right direction towards increasing inclusion within your workplace.
Creating an inclusive environment is one of the number one priorities of leaders the world over.
There are a couple of problems though.
Many leaders think they are inclusive – when they’re not. And while some understand the ‘why’ of inclusion – not all do. And through my thousands of conversations with global leaders, I also know this – not all don’t understand the ‘how’ of inclusion.
You can skip to other articles to read more on inclusion in the workplace or continue with this piece to find the answer to: why is inclusion important?
I’m also going to answer three other frequently asked questions along the way about inclusion and diversity, including:
- What are dimensions of diversity?
- What is a sense of belonging?
- What does ‘good’ inclusion look like?
Each of these questions contribute to a greater understanding of the importance of inclusion.
So, let’s dive in.
The rise of diversity and inclusion in the workplace
The wave of solidarity groups supporting inclusion and diversity has exploded over the recent years. Movements such as Black Lives Matter, Me Too, and Let Her Speak have put a global spotlight on social injustices.
You don’t have to look very far on social media to see threads of conversation aiming to educate about white privilege, the gender pay gap, and ableist language. More people than ever are getting involved in conversations, spreading awareness, and standing up as allies and supporters.
What we see on our TV screens and smart devices impacts our lives at home – so it’s not at all surprising that they filter down into our lives at work as well.
Although, to be honest, it didn’t need much of a push. The workplace has been fraught with DEI issues since the 60’s when the importance of inclusion and diversity first came to light. Traditionally we talked about glass ceilings and segregation – more recently, we’re talking about the use of pronouns, parental leave equality, and creating space for transgender rights in sport.
It’s not surprising then that organisational leaders might be confused when it comes to ensuring that everyone feels included.
Where can they start?
It’s time to simplify inclusion for leaders
Leaders love simplification!
When busyness and business priorities take over, we all (naturally) defer to habit. This could be when we’re dealing with an unknown, highly pressurised, sensitive, or stressful situation.
So, to help leaders thrive during these times, I propose that we simplify things by decoupling inclusion and diversity – just for a moment!
One of my favourite ways to explain inclusion is using the famous quote from Verna Myers, which goes like this: “Diversity is when you’re invited to the party. Inclusion is when you’re asked to dance.”
Inclusion doesn’t just happen because diversity exists.
A conscious human interaction needs to take place for someone to feel included, and conversely, to feel excluded.
So, to support leaders understand the importance of inclusion, I want to help them understand how their human interactions impact inclusion – and to then make small, consistent improvements to these interactions.
Once leaders get really good at including everyone in their team, they can then move onto understanding each individual’s dimensions of diversity and then managing that diversity.
What are dimensions of diversity?
Here is the first of other frequently asked questions.
The dimensions of diversity are the different traits, backgrounds, and abilities displayed in a diverse workplace. While there are many components, traditionally the dimensions of diversity at work relate to age, gender, race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, language, etc.
If you feel different then you are diverse and you likely align yourself with a particular dimension of your difference. And because you are different your experiences, ways of working, problem solving abilities, levels of creativity and innovation are unique and all come together to contribute to the outcomes of the organisation.
Issues arise for leaders however, when they feel unsure about how to manage someone who is different from them. In some organisations, leaders are expected to have all the answers, never fail, and stick to the status quo.
So, it is understandable that some leaders shy away from dimensions of diversity that they don’t understand or resonate with.
The issue however is that when this happens leaders aren’t harnessing the full power of an individual’s talent that comes because of their diversity. All their different experiences, beliefs, understandings, and ways of being are lost because they are expected to just do things ‘the way they’ve always been done’. Or to ‘fit in’ with the way the team has always operated.
In this way, the diversity exists, but the inclusion element does not.
I’m not saying focusing on inclusion is easy, it takes time and perseverance and resilience. Leaders aren’t going to be successful all the time and they may get knocked back or stone walled during the process.
So, why bother: why is inclusion important?
Inclusion is important because the size of the prize is greater than you think.
As an employee if I feel included, I feel like I belong, like I’m a part of the greater whole. That could be my immediate team or the organisation.
The key here is that when inclusion is prioritised the impact is felt on the individual and that creates waves throughout the organisation and directly felt on the bottom line.
So, when you focus on increasing inclusion and creating a sense of belonging, you also increase:
- Psychological safety
- Employee engagement
- Talent pipeline
- Workplace safety and wellness
What is a sense of belonging?
Here is that second frequently asked question I spoke of earlier in the piece.
As an employee when I feel like my uniqueness is valued and that I am fully accepted as a member of my team or unit or organisation, then I feel included and that I belong.
Research from Better Up found that workplace belonging leads to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% reduction in turnover risk, and a 75% decrease in employee sick days.
It is clear that there is value in belonging at work and it is the key to inclusion. When I feel safe to be my authentic self, I am more productive, engaged, and mentally well. I bring issues to the table without fear of repercussions. I work to support my team and I am focused on getting a result for the wider organisation.
So, it’s clear that we need to create a sense of belonging, but how do leaders go about doing that?
Start by embedding new inclusion habits
I mentioned earlier that we default to habit when the going gets tough – at home and in the workplace.
One of the ways that we can set our leaders up for success is by teaching them new inclusion habits. These habits are the small – but mighty! – ways they can interact with their team members to go about making them to feel a sense of belonging.
I have developed the habits during the course of almost 20 years’ work in the inclusion and diversity space and through the implementation of my Inclusion Habits for Leaders Program I have helped organisations reap the benefits of focusing on inclusion.
Because when leaders know what good inclusion looks like then they are in a better position to implement change.
What does ‘good’ inclusion look like?
Here is that third question I get asked a lot – and to be honest, it’s a difficult one to answer.
Well, ‘bad’ inclusion (ie exclusion) is easy to explain because we’ve all been there at some point or other in our working lives.
Exclusion in the workplace looks like the person who’s never invited to coffee, who’s never asked to contribute to the roundtable conversations, who isn’t involved in the team Lotto draw, who’s singled out in emails, whose name is never pronounced correctly, who doesn’t have a designated place of worship, who’s expected to always work late because they don’t have a young family at home.
So, is ‘good’ inclusion the opposite?
According to this article on Forbes, “an inclusive workplace is cooperative, collaborative, open, fair, curious, accountable and so much more.”
Leaders who work hard to build an inclusive workplace support their team members to be honest, vulnerable, communicate as one team, challenge the status quo and are okay with failing and learning. They harness the power of the team and they’re not afraid of getting curious about their team members. Team members are given everything they need to be successful, on their terms – fairness isn’t equality, it’s adapting the rules for the unique benefit of the individual.
Above everything ‘good’ inclusion makes me feel like I am valued and I belong and because of that I give my all to the greater good of the team.
It’s human nature.
It’s time to prioritise inclusion
This free resource will help your leaders understand the ‘how to’ of inclusion by giving them ideas and provocations of how they can be more inclusive in their everyday interactions.
If the resource resonates, read about our inclusive leadership program.
Then see if your organisation qualifies by telling us a little bit about your goals for inclusion and diversity and we will be in touch directly to talk next steps.