The Power of Inclusion

Research indicates that workforce diversity provides many benefits to employers; among them, an increased pool of qualified applicants with new skills to enhance innovation. However, diversity recruiting efforts alone do not maximize the potential effectiveness of diverse work groups. A Harvard Business Review article reveals that employees tend to segregate post-hire by gender (and possibly by race, ethnicity, age, etc.), nixing the potential benefits of recruiting a diverse workforce. The article, echoed by others reviewed for this article, urges employers to make concerted efforts to create inclusive workplaces that inspire employees to perform at higher levels.

So what is inclusion?

Ferris State University offers this powerful definition:

Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive university promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of living of its members.

Applying this expansive definition to the workplace, an intense degree of commitment and self-awareness may be needed on an organizational level to become a truly inclusive employer. Since inclusion is not legally mandated and requires effort and resources, why bother?

  • A recent Deloitte survey shows that the most talented employees value employers with an inclusive culture. In a tight labor market, authentically
    inclusive companies have a competitive edge to both attract and retain the best employees.
  • A Peterson Institute for International Economics study found publicly traded companies with women on their boards and in the C-Suite outperform those with few or none. Employers are more likely to unleash the contributions of female employees with inclusive practices and “creating a pipeline of female managers.”
  • Case law suggests non-inclusive workplaces are more prone to fomenting disgruntled employees and claims of harassment, discrimination, and unfair pay practices.

Steps to unleash the power of a culture of inclusion and improve organizational performance:

  • Evaluate current state
    • Review processes and practices: how does the organization make and communicate decisions, and are questions and opposing views tolerated
    • Observe meetings: are they dominated by the same few people?
    • Survey employees to measure their attitudes, feelings, and beliefs.
    • Seek evidence of tolerance and support for diversity during hiring and promoting interviews.
  • Identify and attack
    • Survey employees to identify problem areas and biases
    • Develop strategies to target those problems
    • Adjust processes as practical to be more transparent and inclusive
    • Seek external expertise and new resources as necessary
  • Train and celebrate
    • Define inclusive practices (e.g. communication, body language, word choice)
    • Celebrate diversity and the benefits of inclusion
    • Promote psychological safety
    • Foster civility: employees speak up when they feel safe to express their honest opinions.
    • Model inclusion at every level of leadership.
    • Address bullying or harassment of any kind, at any level, by anyone.
    • Enforce policies that communicate behavioral expectations.
  • Establish workplace decorum
    • Listen respectfully during meetings; studies show women are interrupted during business meetings far more than men.
    • Recognize contributions of all members of a team; give credit to whom it is due.
  • Assign a champion for diversity and inclusion
    • Empower them with direct access to Leadership and resources
    • Make efforts visible with frequent communications to employees
    • Set expectations and hold supervisors and managers accountable
    • Measure progress using post-intervention surveys, Stay/Exit interviews, etc.

For help with any of your inclusion or diversity strategies, leverage your membership to tap into the brain trust, experience and resources of Employers Council, go to EmployersCouncil.org or call 800.884.1328.