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Diversity and Inclusion 2019

Empowering employees to champion inclusion at work

iStock / Getty Images Plus / Sushiman

Jake Young

Research Adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)

There is a clear moral and business need for developing a diverse workforce. However, efforts to build a diverse workforce won’t be effective if an organisation fails to create an inclusive environment for its people. Why is inclusion so important, and what can businesses do to push for positive change?

At an individual level, consider whether you feel like you belong, have a voice and are valued for your unique skills. More widely, think about the opportunities your organisation gives you: valuing difference and encouraging development, irrespective of your background, are all key indicators of an inclusive workplace.

So why should businesses aim for this? Recent CIPD research finds that feelings of inclusion are linked to greater commitment and lower absenteeism, encouraging a healthy, collaborative climate for employees. Furthermore, an inclusive environment has strong links with innovation, creativity, and wider knowledge sharing within and between teams.

Everyone in the organisation has a role to play

Employees at all levels are vital in ensuring that everyone feels welcome at work. Being aware of how we relate to others helps contribute to a positive environment. Even small gestures, such as having a chat over coffee, help everyone feel involved.

Employees must also display willingness to support their colleagues by calling out exclusionary behaviour, particularly if it is from someone influential in the organisation.

Feelings of inclusion are linked to greater commitment and lower absenteeism, encouraging a healthy, collaborative climate for employees.

The importance of being an inclusive manager

Being inclusive has parallels with being a good manager – appreciating employees’ differences, ensuring they have a say and supporting their development. What’s important, however, is that managers take time to reflect on their own behaviours, questioning their bias and whether their own assumptions about people are a basis for success.

Senior leaders are role models

Senior leaders need to actively role model inclusive behaviour because they set the tone of what values and behaviours are expected at work. These begin with leaders and funnel down – if those at the top don’t practice what they preach, why should anyone else? Leaders must do this in an authentic way – believing it is the right thing to do, rather than an opportunity to simply tick boxes.

Policies and practices support inclusive behaviours

Fair policies and practices, when supported by an inclusive culture, will enable employees to develop and contribute to the organisation’s success. Creating such practices ensures that inclusion is ‘institutionalised’ and taken seriously as a workplace commitment.

Creating an inclusive culture

In building an inclusive organisational culture, workplaces need to reflect on their current norms and values, thinking about how these need to be changed to move towards becoming inclusive. Creating new management practices while adapting current ones in accordance with these values is an effective place to start.

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