Inclusion eats diversity for breakfast in the workplace

evosis' founding director Alison France explains why mastering the art of inclusion is a powerful skill to have.

Inclusion is a CEO priority

In 2017, Deloitte reported that over two-thirds (69%) of executives rate diversity and inclusion an important issue (up from 59% in 2014) and Thirty-eight per cent of executives report that the primary sponsor of the company’s diversity efforts is the CEO, but why?

Inclusion is essential for team performance

From a purely business perspective, research demonstrates that inclusive teams perform better. They make better, faster decisions with fewer meetings (Forbes), they are more innovative, engaged and creative in their work (Deloitte), and they produce better financial results (Bain & Co.). Furthermore, companies with inclusive practices generate up to 30% higher revenue per employee than their competitors (Deloitte).

However, inclusive teams can also be more challenging to manage. Diverse groups are more likely to encounter operational friction when executing business decisions (Forbes). Also, diverse teams perform less well than homogenous teams, particularly in the early stages, because of their inherent conflict (Korn Ferry).

In our experience, connecting through similarity happens quickly and efficiently but can sometimes create limited or ‘surface’ level connections.  Connecting through difference (required in inclusive teams) takes time, attention and skill.  Everyone needs to be able to hold multiple realities as truths and the team need to be able to deal with conflict and decision making. These skills aren’t often naturally present.

Inclusion isn’t just about ‘protected characteristics’

To achieve the business results mentioned, inclusion needs to be about the ‘whole’ of every person.  It also takes courage to address the key issues and achieve truly courageous teams.

For this reason, we have defined ‘Courageous inclusion’ as:
“The act of integrating the differences of a group of people into conversations, decisions and team activities. These differences may include ‘protected characteristics’ such as gender, age, disability, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. However, they should also take into account the intrinsic differences of personality, performance strengths, professional expertise and approach, which are a result of that diversity.” (France 2018).

“Allies are people who recognise the unearned privilege they receive from society’s patterns of injustice and take responsibility for changing these patterns. Allies include men who work to end sexism, white people who work to end racism, heterosexual people who work to end heterosexism, able-bodied people who work to end ableism, and so on.

Part of becoming an ally is also recognising one’s own experience of oppression. For example, a white woman can learn from her experience of sexism and apply it in becoming an ally to people of colour, or a person who grew up in poverty can learn from that experience how to respect others’ feelings of helplessness because of a disability.”  (Anne Bishop, On Becoming An Ally: Breaking the Cycle of Oppression in People).

Begin with inclusion, diversity will follow

How many of you I wonder have spent a lot of time, effort and money on recruiting a diverse workforce based on population characteristics?  What was the result?  Many of my coaching clients would say they have been recruited only to feel ignored, side-lined, and at worst experience bullying and discrimination.

To back that up with a small selection of statistics, Stonewall’s 2018 LGBT in Britain – Work report found almost one in five LGBT staff had been the target of negative comments or conduct from work colleagues over the last year because they are LGBT. Six times as many trans people report being physically attacked at work than LGB people who aren’t trans. Nineteen per cent of black, Asian and minority ethnic LGBT staff and 16% of LGBT disabled staff report being denied jobs or promotions because of their identity, compared to 10% for LGBT staff in general.

The role of allies 

To be a truly inclusive leader we need to be aware of structural inequalities within the societies in which we operate, understand our privilege and disadvantage and use our power to enable others who may be excluded in any way.

If you need to force diversity, likely, your culture won’t support the real benefits it can bring. However, if you begin by enabling homogenous teams to become aware of their diversity, they experience the benefits of including the different opinions, expertise and solutions.  Once the business benefits of this become a tangible part of their experience, the leaders and teams will search out and include other forms of diversity.

Experience is essential

Inclusion is not an academic and theoretical fact; it is a whole person, embodied experience. Leaders and teams only develop the skills of inclusivity by navigating challenging conversations and experiencing the difference it makes to their current business priorities.

Is your team inclusive?

At evosis, we suggest inclusive team climates are characterised by:

  • Safety such that everyone feels able to share their authentic experiences, opinions, feelings and beliefs as appropriate to the organisational setting
  • Space which enables everyone to express their perspective on the work topic and have it honestly heard before a decision is agreed
  • Clear and co-created decision-making processes in which the boundaries of responsibility, authority and collaboration are clear
  • The ability to recognise a conflict of opinions and give them space to be resolved
  • Conflict caused by power, politics, inequality and other factors can is uncovered and addressed in a way which honours the influence of the team’s external environment and organisation structure.

Alison France

Alison France is the founding director of inclusion specialists evosis.

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