This article explores how inclusivity and belonging are key to the success of the 21st-century business with practical guidance on what leaders can do to make it happen.
We tend to think of diversity a modern-day phenomenon. Yet, it was the primary reason that Europe forged way ahead of the rest of the world in the first industrial revolution. The monumental progress as we transitioned from horses, carts and straw roofs to factories, machines and urban living is more attributable to our differences than similarity. Change happened because we were less rigid and closed, less vulnerable to groupthink and narrow perspectives and better able to adapt to new ideas and technologies. Not because of work ethic, entrepreneurialism, ease of access to materials or better process. Our development as a society was accelerated by a shift to tolerance and openness to difference.
These days we understand that the feeling of belonging is a proxy for tolerance and openness in the workplace, and plays a vital role in business performance. It is one of the greatest personal motivations for our everyday behaviour. We need to feel accepted and valued, to be part of something bigger than ourselves. Exclusion affects performance – we are literally unable to fully access the parts of our brain that take care of creativity, collaboration and critical thinking. The feeling of belonging is what tells us we are safe to be in full social engagement with all of our abilities.
When we truly appreciate that inclusivity has a tangible impact on the pace and quality of growth in our businesses, it feels different. Quotas and diverse representation are just the foundations with it a no-brainer that leaders would invest in creating cultures to fuel growth.
It also is fundamental to attracting talent. In today’s world, people expect their workplaces to make space for them to bring their diverse self to work. They look for organisations that actively support their personal development, enrich their lives and help them to bring their best to the world. To them, diversity of thinking is exciting and is fundamental to who they are.
When you realise that culture is the business of work, you appreciate how critical it is to business success in today’s world. At Within, we define this stage as Cultural Maturity. Inclusivity and belonging are what makes culture an asset for growth. They create the conditions for everything a 21st century business needs – adaptiveness, readiness for change, enhanced creativity, better collaboration and stronger innovation.
But, the feeling of belonging doesn’t just happen within a business. It has to be created. It needs a whole company to be collectively guided by authentic purpose, to have values embedded in the day to day of work that guide our process and inform relationships. And most vitally, leadership that appreciate they are key to Cultural Maturity. In our experience, companies can only grow as fast as their leadership develops.
Take British Land, who have put their stand for inclusivity right at the core of their business, with their purpose of ‘Creating Places People Prefer’. As a property and placemaking business, they rightfully see belonging as a commercial issue and have put it at the heart of how they design and develop real estate solutions. It’s a mantra that is supported by their values, one of which is ‘Bring your whole self to work’. They have invested in initiatives that make this feel possible for people. By this time next year, 20% of their workforce will be Mental health First Aiders.
‘Diversity is critical to the success of our business. By creating an environment where people can come to work and feel fully supported, we allow our people and therefore the whole organization, to be more productive’, Chris Griggs, CEO, British Land
One & Only are one of the world’s leading hospitality brands, pioneering their way to service excellence. We helped them develop meaning around their purpose of “We Create Joy”, which became the foundation for their new service philosophy. Here employees from a myriad of different cultures are trained so they can own the joy they create for guests. The business encourages this with great emphasis on recognition and reward for what they each uniquely bring.
This celebration of unique contribution makes for an authentic client experience and leaves the team feeling really valued. Operationally, they have put in place wellbeing initiatives (including on-site clinics with health care extended to family members) and every colleague receives training on how to create joy for themselves too. This is how their culture fuels their growth.
Sustainable business growth relies on getting it right with workplace culture. Here’s what we think 21st-century leaders can do to create inclusive cultures that promote belonging.
1.Know your diversity profile
Run a diversity audit so you know what you’re working with. Where is diversity vs. homogeneity showing up in your business? Notice what you see and pay attention to what’s not there. Whilst there’s age, gender, race there are also less obvious contributions – class, education, religion, life experience, personality types.
2. Show your people they belong
Leaders set the tone for inclusivity, so if they are not role modelling the change they seek, initiatives just won’t stick. So much of belonging is implicitly and non-verbally communicated. Details matter and everything you do communicates a message to others. In a meeting, who do you acknowledge first? What that might say to others in the room? Doing the work on you to raise awareness is an important first step for any leader looking to elevate inclusivity in the organization.
3. Build stronger connections
Belonging comes from trusting, human relationships. How well do your people know one another? We cannot appreciate the fullness of one another’s offer if we don’t take the time to connect and learn about one another. Try this – everyone in the business gets a budget to go have lunch with someone they don’t know well in the company and they spend an hour finding out new things about one another. See what a difference that makes after a month.
4. Celebrate the contribution our differences make
In the quest for shared identity, we can become resistant to change. The magic of diversity is only unlocked when its treasures feel welcomed. As leaders can make space for new perspectives by celebrating the unique perspectives that we all bring to the party by calling out the difference they make. Hearing challenging or uncomfortable perspectives is a sign we have diversity in our business, and it will help us grow. How can you start to show your teams that you value different ways of seeing?
It is the way we work together that creates value and drives growth, and culture needs to be at the heart of the strategy. Addressing the blockers in how we lead, how we make decisions and how we manage the energy in our businesses will fuel us to scale.
Within People are a global partnership helping leaders grow the company they love through purpose-led, values-driven cultures and leadership. If you are ready to accelerate the growth of your culture you can join them at their event ‘Grow Up to Scale Up’ to learn first-hand how your business can fuel new growth.