This article was originally published in The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland.
I was on a panel at the CIPD Scotland Annual Conference last month where the topic was “From action to awareness: What does it mean to create a truly inclusive culture in your organisation?” Some attendees commented that it can be overwhelming knowing where to start in this area. As someone who embarked on this journey not all that long ago, I agree 100%.
There has been a huge shift in the dynamic between employers and employees in the workplace of today. As I wrote in my last column, individuals are increasingly interrogating their employer’s ESG (environmental, social and governance) focus. Intertwined with the “social” piece of this is the concept of inclusion, which, in my view, should be a fundamental pillar of every organisation’s culture. For while it is now well established that diversity is good for business, the job isn’t done once you have a diverse team. Instead, employers should try and lead with inclusion – diversity will naturally follow. Only by being inclusive can you ensure that employees are happy, engaged and productive.
But how do we create workplaces where everyone feels welcome and individuals feel they belong and are valued? After all, any workplace is only as good as the people within it.
“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
Different organisations will have different resources, people power and budgets to help them build an inclusive culture – it is a simple fact that there is no “one size fits all”. And while it can be tempting to jump right in with “let’s implement this initiative, hold that event and introduce ALL the policies” (all important things, by the way!), it may be better to stop and take stock of where you are: what does your organisation currently look like (literally and otherwise), and where would you like to be? Ask yourself what your workplace culture feels like – does it feel inclusive? From recruitment to retention to daily working practices, are your processes fair, accessible and open to all?
For example, do your meetings allow everyone to input and share thoughts, or is it always only the same people that are engaging? If it’s the latter, consider why the others aren’t contributing – it may well be that they don’t feel included and that their opinion isn’t worth anything. One of my fellow panellists, Lutfur Ali, summed it up perfectly when he said: “Culture is how employees feel on a Sunday night about coming into work on Monday.” The ultimate measure of your organisation’s brand is what your current, past and potential employees, as well as your clients and competitors, say about you in casual conversations with their friends and colleagues.
The first step towards building a truly inclusive culture in our firm was information gathering, and this is where our biggest assets – our people – were invaluable. Communication is key, and asking those who work for an organisation what they think about the culture will provide an honest assessment of the areas a business is performing well in and where improvement is required. Using surveys (anonymous if necessary), holding round tables and asking for feedback is all vital intel that will highlight where the focus should be going forward.
Once the vision, strategy, budget and goals have been formulated based on that feedback, organisations should consider sharing those openly with staff. Not only does that make employers accountable, it provides a great opportunity for employees to input, share their thoughts and concerns as well as celebrate the wins and educate their colleagues. Providing space for employees to be heard, seen and valued as individuals, and to share their lived experiences, helps to develop an authentic, inclusive culture even further.
These micro moments of inclusion are just as important, if not more so, as rolling out big, fancy initiatives.
Inclusion: not just for others
It is also necessary for managers and leaders to take individual responsibility on these matters, investing their time and energy to establish what is necessary and sustainable in their teams.
Far from being an “HR thing”, diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI”) is an everyone thing. Ensuring that leaders are vocal supporters of DEI work drives home the message that building an inclusive culture is a serious priority.
There is no shortcut to building a truly inclusive culture – it’s a continuous journey and many mistakes may be made along the way. However, the rewards from creating an authentic, inclusive workplace far outweigh any bumps in the road – happier employees, better retention rates, fewer absences, and increased productivity and profits are absolutely worth it.