There’s a new business buzzword in town and it’s here to stay: inclusivity. The issue has been dominating headlines for a while now, as society and organizations realized the wasted potential that results from conscious exclusion or exclusivity by design and refocus their efforts on making what they do and how they operate more inclusively. It’s rightfully high on everyone’s agenda, and so as a business leader, it should be an area of focus for you too.
How we think about gender, race, disability and other factors is being radically reshaped as technology shifts the boundaries of the possible and cultural movements make an impact. But inclusion isn’t just a zeitgeist word for human resources to bandy about. It’s an attitude which is part of your business vision and values and permeates everything you do. The value of diversity in business is something not to be underestimated – giving everyone a voice and a chance to contribute strengthens your business and avoids the pitfall of homogenous thinking where opportunities are easily missed. As much as you want your company to have a culture, if the culture isn’t inclusive you’re really missing out on a lot. There are lots of ways that you can engage, collaborate and challenge your ways of thinking – and the insight you gain can be transformative.
So, how can you ensure that the workplace culture you create is an inclusive one?
Ask For Feedback
When we say ask for feedback, we often picture a very formalized survey with set responses, but that’s not the approach that will foster inclusivity at all. Begin by getting into the habit of micro-feedback – asking employees for their perspective regularly and on all sorts of matters, from the content of a memo email to a new digital marketing campaign. And don’t just ask the usual suspects either. Often people working in other capacities, especially if they are customer facing, will have a unique insight into what will work best. Start with the attitude that everyone has something to bring to the table and that everyone’s viewpoint is valid – it doesn’t mean that you have to take action on everything. Make it a point to leave your desk and get out and about around the business, engaging people in conversation – often, people are way more forthcoming when the interaction is a casual chat rather than a formal meeting request. Share your ideas and your challenges and ask for theirs. Start seeking out people who wouldn’t normally come into your orbit – you’ll be surprised at the value of the insight you can gain with a few communication skills.
Design Inclusivity Into Communications
Make sure that all of your company communications have a remit to be inclusive and accessible. No matter what industry your business is in, your website is usually the main port of call for customers, investors, staff and suppliers and is often the public face of what you do, so you need to ensure you spend enough time, resources and budget on making it accessible and inclusive to all – or you could be missing out on a huge lot of revenue, contacts and goodwill. A lot of the steps you can take to make your website more inclusive will actually help with search engine optimisation as well, so it’s a win-win situation.
Millions of web users with disabilities find it difficult or impossible to access lots of websites due to poor informational structure, or bad design choices which have not been thought through with the requirements or screen reading software or special hardware adaptations in mind, like alternative keyboards or Braille terminals. Slowly but surely, countries across the world are introducing accessibility standards as a part of the law, so if you don’t design inclusively, you may soon find yourself in legal hot water as well. It’s a way of thinking that needs to permeate all considerations, from the contrast of the text against the background, to alt-tagging all the images through to writing in plain English terms and avoiding jargon or providing a website translation service. Think about accessibility not only in terms of design but also around the content you create as part of your marketing strategy – something as simple as using audio description companies to add captioning to your videos can open your content up to a whole new market.
Create Employee Steering Groups
Ensuring diversity in your hiring policy is one thing, but you can’t stop there with your efforts to create an inclusive business. It’s all about using that mix for the good of the company,using the power of differences to create stronger solutions to issues and make better decisions for you. Inclusion doesn’t happen simply through employing diverse staff – it’s about a conscious effort to use that diversity as a real strength. Make space for people with different connectors to meet and discuss challenges – this could be anything from single working mothers to LGBTQ+ employees. This should be supported and enabled by your human resources provision, who can also advise on how to ensure equality of treatment. Don’t dictate all changes in a top-down manner – ask your employee steering groups for their views and contributions on matters which affect them. If you show that you truly value someone for who they are, they are likely to be very loyal to you.
Make Inclusion Part Of The Vision
A commitment to diversity and inclusion should be a part of your company mission statement and embodied in the vision, values and goals of your organization. Putting out there publicly ensures that your business has accountability for standing by its beliefs and working proactively to advance them. It’s a natural follow-on then to foster a working environment which is reflective of these values. Allow your people to invest time in causes which matter to them and consider a company volunteering scheme where staff of all levels are supported to give back or highlight causes which are important to them. Consider what you can do to make life easier for those who have a particular obstacle to overcome, such as caring responsibilities for children, elderly relatives or other loved ones, or those who are studying or working with a medical condition. Often, the things you can do are really small but can make a world of difference to someone – it could be as easy as introducing a flexible working policy, allowing remote working, or having some simple adaptive equipment to hand to make them comfortable at their desk.
Invest In Diversity Training
No matter what our experiences in life, all of us, no matter what, are subject to unconscious bias that we don’t even recognize because of its ingrained nature. That’s why it’s still so important to make the investment in workplace diversity training and continue to address topics such as cultures, stereotypes, barriers to work, and respecting and celebrating differences. It’s not only individuals that matter here, but more the relationships between people and the cohesion of the company as a whole on hot topics that are part of the national awareness. Recognize that this is always going to be a work in progress and keep it firmly on the agenda.
Reward Empathetic Leadership
Understanding your leadership style is important when you’re running a business, but you also have the power through hiring and training, to welcome others on board who share a particular mindset and will set the tone for the organization as a whole with their values. People who are naturally empathetic are a great choice for creating a strong, diverse organization that is welcoming to all, as they will take the time to understand individual challenges and give support to overcome them. People have to feel that their leaders care, and that comes from being authentic and living the company values you’ve decided to promote. Everyone has experience of being excluded or made to feel ashamed, so using these experiences as part of an improvement process is essential.
Leave ‘Fit’ At The Door
Often power structures and social norms can become embedded quite insidiously, without us even realizing, and that tends to happen where we pay too much attention to cultural ‘fit’ with the company and don’t open ourselves and our businesses up to be challenged. Sometimes people who seem on the surface not to be a great match can bring something new to the mix, as long as they do connect with the values you have established. Never be afraid of a challenge or some fresh thinking, because ultimately this is what will reinvigorate what you do, drive higher achievement and ensure that you don’t slip into automatic ways of doing things. To benefit from the fullness of different perspectives, you need to understand what experiences and voices you are missing from time to time. Learn to see challenges not from a fear perspective – which tends to narrow our focus and make us more judgemental – but frame them through the lens of new possibilities instead. Create moments of celebration for your differences and you normalize different ways of thinking and allow inclusion the space it needs to grow and flourish.
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