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How To Create Inclusion In The Workplace


Let me know if this sounds familiar…

  • You want a workplace that truly values diversity, inclusion and equality, but it feels like an uphill battle
  • You’re busy in your job and wearing all the hats, but if you’re honest, actual progress toward a more inclusive workplace feels excruciatingly slow
  • You want a truly diverse and eclectic team, but the scales are unbalanced and you’re not sure how to (really) change it

What if there were a key that could unlock curiosity, teamwork, engagement, motivation, pro-social behaviour and wellbeing in your organisation?

There is such a key, and the amazing news is that it’s been under our noses for some time!

The power of Belonging

In their excellent book, Belonging, Kathryn Jacob, Sue Unerman and Mark Edwards paint a compelling picture as to why there must be zero tolerance of sexism, racism and exclusionary behaviour in our workplaces.

Globally, organisations are recognising that lasting change needs to happen, and the pace to date has been frustratingly slow. Too many workforces are still full of inequality, unfairness, discrimination and prejudice.

In the current brutal BANI environment, disruption is everywhere. There’s compelling research that diverse, inclusive ‘Belonging’ cultures give organisations a clear advantage. Boston Consulting Group found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. There’s also plenty of evidence about the impact diverse boards can have on profits.

We need to create working environments where the growth of self-awareness and awareness of our environments (emotional intelligence) is prioritised at every level.

No easy task, when we humans are so notoriously bad at self-awareness. Very few of us see ourselves in the same way that others experience us!

We need to create environments where every person feels their identity and contribution is respected and valued. A culture where micro-aggressions, like the ones below, are named and not tolerated.

#1 Grow a robust feedback culture

Empower people to catch unconscious bias in real time. This takes being prepared to work through the uncomfortable truths that may emerge through anonymous surveys, to truly explore how people are feeling… and acting on it. There’s no point saying we want honest feedback, then not taking proactive steps to show up differently. We need to normalise and be a role model for vulnerability… that includes skilling people up at every level to have tough conversations, in ways that build trust.

Look critically at the diversity of your team and explore patterns. For example, are females are leaving your organisation in greater numbers than males, as they rise further up the ranks? Why might this be? Are people from a range of backgrounds applying to your organisation? Why or why not?

Invest in skilling up your people to stay curious for longer, ask good questions and develop coaching habits – starting with the most senior leaders! People at every level of the organisation need to be skilled at listening in ways that go ‘under the water level’ of the iceberg.

#2 Make psychological safety a priority

Psychology safety requires both empathy and boundaries. Encourage everyone to set up ‘if – then’ plans: “If I find myself agreeing with everything a dominant, charismatic person is saying in a meeting, then I will privately ask a third person (not the presenter or the loudest person) to repeat the information, shortly after the meeting, to see if I still agree.” Encourage a healthy relationship with mistakes by regulating your own emotions, before responding, so you can frame them as learning opportunities.

Use micro-affirmations; small and daily acts of deliberate inclusion, opening doors to opportunity. Foster a culture where every person looks out for each other. Is someone feeling left out? Then it’s the responsibility of those aware of this to do something about it. It’s everyone’s job to make sure that everyone belongs.

Encourage a Speak Up culture that involves everyone in the organisation, to hold people accountable for living into values of inclusivity and belonging. This means supporting people to speak up in ‘bystander moments’; to never miss the opportunity to bravely call out any behaviours that cross boundaries, making people feel ‘othered’ or excluded.

#3 Shake things up!

Implement ‘reverse mentoring’ programs, where senior leaders are able to learn from the experiences of junior employees. Explore ‘sponsor’ programs, enabling people to promote talented junior employees into the upper echelons of leadership!

Diversify the “how, where, who and when” of your meetings (agendas, locations, virtual and in-person, guest speakers, varying who takes minutes, get creative with ways to share ideas, encouraging dissenting views to spark new conversations). Try the Courageous Leadership Hub VEA at the end of each meeting – inviting each person to share:

  • One thing they Value
  • One thing they’re Excited about
  • One thing they’re Anxious about / Aware of

Lastly, don’t undervalue social mixing! You want bring people together whenever possible, share the joy of each other’s lives, in order to foster teams that complete each other, rather than compete with each other. This is essential for overcoming the potential for silos to develop within the organisation.

As a manager or leader, you must take ultimate responsibility for shaping a Belonging culture. The way you talk, the way you behave in meetings, the way you write emails, your body language as you walk through the workplace all communicate powerfully what kind of company you want to work in and will determine the culture in which the people around you function.” Jacob, Unerman & Edwards

None of this is easy. It takes vulnerability, courage, effort, consistency, and commitment.

And will be so worth it, as you start feeling your culture shift towards one of greater Belonging.

Want to know more? Book a free Discovery Call with me, where we can explore ways in which the team at Courageous Leadership Hub may be able to support you on your growth journey!



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