3 things inclusive workplaces have in common

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

I’m sometimes asked about what makes a workplace inclusive.  The short answer is that inclusive leadership brings greater Inclusion.  As I have said in a previous blog, a leader’s whisper can have the effect of a shout, so what leaders do and say really matters. The example set by leaders – and the measures they put in place – fundamentally affect workplace culture and can have a big impact on its Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI).

I’ve been thinking about what most inclusive workplaces have in common, and here are the 3 things I think are most important:

1. Inclusive Leaders
Strong, inclusive leaders who are committed to driving EDI forward are essential.  These leaders actively create leadership and visibility opportunities for members of underrepresented groups, from asking people to chair meetings as part of a rota, to nominating them for a sector award to improve their profile and create that all-important recognition.
On a daily basis, inclusive leaders will disrupt any pattern of interruptions in meetings and allow the interrupted person to finish their thoughts once the person who has interrupted them has finished speaking; they will also ensure that credit is given for ideas that may have been hijacked by someone more confident or dominant in a meeting.  The most inclusive leaders also have the courage to show their humility, vulnerability and fallibility so that leadership seems attainable to everyone.  Modelling and encouraging sharing stories of mistakes or examples of feeling excluded creates a stronger team bond and an atmosphere of Inclusion.
Above all, an inclusive leader is an ever-learning leader. They learn about themselves, their level of self-awareness, their biases and preferences. An inclusive leader also understands what circumstances (such as stress, fatigue or time pressure) causes their programming to revert to their ‘old’ way of thinking; they will minimise exposure to such circumstances or opt out of making decisions during those vulnerable moments.

2. Open conversations about EDI
Frequent and open conversations about EDI help to make it clear that improving Inclusion is an important business challenge, something everyone stands to benefit from and has a part to play in.   When leaders can express in their own words why EDI is important to them as a leader and as an individual, as well as its role in business success, it encourages others to do the same.  Inclusion then becomes part of the daily conversation and becomes embedded in the workplace culture.

Not everyone thinks of EDI as something that happens on a daily basis.  By articulating in simple terms what it means and what it looks like, it makes it easier for team members to understand how they can incorporate Inclusion into their daily work routines.  This in turn makes for a more inclusive workplace.

3. Everyone is treated with equal consideration
A truly inclusive workplace requires equal consideration for everyone that we work with – employees, customers and clients alike.  This includes evaluating the impact of any proposed workplace changes – including measures to boost Inclusion – on all our stakeholders, both internal and external.  To make decisions or changes more inclusive, it helps to develop a checklist that helps us to consider how any decision might impact staff or clients of different age groups, cultures, roles, etc.  In this way, decisions become more inclusive and changes support rather than undermine Inclusion.  Once this practice becomes second nature, the services and solutions we provide to our clients will be more considered and helpful, and our workplace environment will be more inclusive for our colleagues.

Part of treating everyone with equal consideration has traditionally involved the old adage, ‘Treat others as you would like to be treated’. A Harvard Business Review article has argued however that ‘in our modern workplace, treating others as you would like to be treated isn’t always the best option. It’s time to adopt a “New Golden Rule”: Treat others as they would like to be treated. All it takes to put this new mindset into practice is understanding, curiosity, and compromise.’  This is why an understanding of inclusive behaviours, including empathy, listening and vulnerability, will help to build more inclusive workplaces.

The way we act has an impact on all our colleagues, and that is why the introduction of simple Inclusive Behaviours training can be a great help, talking about bias and how to be more inclusive of everyone.  But leadership is key, and that is why we developed our Inclusive Leadership Programme. People managers follow a 6-month modular leadership development programme, honing the skills and mindset to enable them to drive and role-model EDI, and tap into the collective intelligence of their teams. Developing a more inclusive workplace is not difficult. What it does require is patience, perseverance and a little bit of courage. So, if you need support in creating the right environment to nurture Inclusion, don’t hesitate; act now to establish the right foundation for growth and development.

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