Is inclusion the missing ingredient in your business?
In 2012, Google embarked on an internal project to understand what made its most exceptional teams perform so well together. It uncovered a very specific set of group norms that had naturally evolved within those teams – the behavioural standards and unwritten rules that underpin every organisation.1
Those exceptional teams shared a very strong sense of psychological safety. One team leader was described as being “direct and straightforward, which creates a safe space for you to take risks.” Another leader used a team off-site to discuss, openly and honestly, personal things that mattered to each team member in turn – creating a very human bond within the group.
This idea of psychological safety – of being able to speak openly without fear of ridicule and feel confident your effort will be acknowledged – is fundamental to an inclusive workplace.
Employees who feel a sense of belonging at their company are 5.3 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
But while much is being done to foster diversity, unless you address fundamental habits and biases all its collaborative potential could be stifled.
“Embracing diversity does make for a more cohesive, collegiate environment where people do want to work together and strive for success together,” notes Zrinka Lovrencic, Managing Director with Great Places to Work Australia, a high performance workplace research, consulting and training firm. “But while diversity is a plus, inclusion has become a must.”
The business case for inclusion
According to Salesforce’s recent report into equality and values-driven business, employees who feel a sense of belonging at their company are five times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.
Those who feel their voice is heard are more than four times more likely, and those who feel they’re able to be their authentic self at work are also more than four times more likely.2
An inclusive culture needs to be cultivated intentionally. So where do you begin?
1. Know who’s in your team, and what matters to them
“Effective leaders are aware of people’s identities,” says Lisa Annese, CEO at Diversity Council Australia. Gather data from payroll and onboarding forms, and work out what aspects may impact their feeling of inclusion.
“They’re also aware of when people need more support. Mental health is an issue, and some people need space to pull back without being judged as lazy,” she said.
Genuine leadership makes people happy – knowing you go to work every day and you’re valued and respected.
Surveys can also help you uncover potential issues. Ask staff to rate items like ‘I feel safe speaking up’, ‘My manager ensures ideas and work are attributed appropriately, and ‘I feel like I’m part of the team,’ and you’ll see priorities for manager training and development, or culture gaps.
2. Be genuine
Does your leadership team show they really care about staff as people – or are they just seen as ‘human resources’? “I think a lot of work has to happen in this area,” comments Lovrencic. “If zero tolerance of discrimination is the practice, then you can’t simply excuse poor behaviour in senior people.”
Annese emphasises leaders need to be proactive about calling out biased or discriminatory behaviour. “It’s about taking a stand, not tokenism. That means modelling a flexible mindset, and being open to difference. Organisations that are inclusive have a culture of valuing people as individuals.”
Exceptionally inclusive managers are open to communicating their own mistakes and what they’ve learned. This builds trust and respect – and can empower others to push themselves and be willing to fail.
3. Don’t leave communication to technology
“Face to face conversations are actually the most effective, but too often we leave it to tech to take care of communication,” says Lovrencic. “That leads to a lot of assumptions like ‘surely my team read this on the intranet...’ You need scheduled one on one time, weekly or monthly – especially with people who don't work from the office every day.”
4. Set expectations across the team
Annese says smaller businesses tend to manage maternity leave and return to work well, as they are “like a family and know their staff so well.” More complex personal issues require emotional support from across the business – which means making sure everyone is comfortable with what is expected of them.
Lovrencic’s firm has recently worked with a few clients on gender reassignment programs, and says this is an area where it’s important to communicate clearly with everyone.
“If, for example, Brendan is coming back from a holiday as Brenda, there are practical things you need to do about toilet facilities. But you also need to train their team about what Brenda is experiencing, and make sure everyone is comfortable with what is expected of them,” she explains.
5. Celebrate difference
Lovrencic says that when software developer Sitback Solutions discovered its team of 35 spoke 12 different languages, they created ‘Language of the Week’ – morning meetings begin with a greeting in that language.
Other organisations celebrate different cultural holidays or make time to connect offsite with structured social activities. Or they may take a stand on issues that matter most to their staff – whether it’s same sex marriage or education opportunities for Indigenous youth.
“At the end of the day, money doesn’t make people happy,” says Lovrencic. “Genuine leadership makes people happy – knowing you go to work every day and you’re valued and respected.” These are things that make people feel included – and empowered to do their best work.