The Power of Inclusion

By Rina Goldenberg Lynch

Diversity and Inclusion are inextricably linked.  So much so that any organisation that wants to benefit from the power of inclusion must ensure it has a culture that values and welcomes the diversity of thought of its people – that’s an inclusive culture. Put differently, if you don’t have a sufficiently inclusive work environment, you’re unlikely to benefit from any of the diversity that you’re working so hard to increase.

That’s why we have distilled Inclusion into 8 Inclusive Behaviours(SM):  four Inclusion Behaviours that help us be more inclusive (Empathy, Listening, Mitigating Bias and Personal Values), and four Diversity Behaviours that help us invite difference into our lives (Humility & Vulnerability, Valuing  Difference, Use of Language and Speaking Out).

Sure, most  organisations believe that they are already inclusive.  But of course, it’s easy to be inclusive with people who are like us.  What about those others who aren’t like us?  Do they feel as included?  Would they feel welcomed to join your organisation and then contribute with their difference or experience?

To ensure that they do, it’s important to continue to develop our inclusive behaviour.  From the newly-hired graduate right up to the CEO, each one of us has room for improvement.

How do the 8 Inclusive Behaviours make use of the power of inclusion?

Each one of the 8 Behaviours is designed to help us improve in the way we connect with others – be it our colleagues, suppliers or customers.  Understanding the behaviours and improving in them increases our performance, engagement and connection with the world around us.

What exactly does this mean?

Let’s take Empathy, for instance.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus Finch captured the essence of empathy in these words:

You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.

In order for us to be inclusive, we need to be able to understand our colleagues and customers – what’s important to them, how they interact with their environment, and how we can improve this for them with our conduct, services and products.  How else can we design products for the elderly, for instance, if we cannot empathise with them?  Or build social housing that meets the needs of the people who are meant to live there? If we don’t know how these people experience the world around them, how can we deliver to their required needs?

Similarly, in our teams, we need empathy to understand what colleagues are experiencing, so that we might get their best contribution. When we asked a team (in one of our Inclusive Behaviours workshops) to explain why empathy is needed at work, they said things like “to create a space where everyone feels safe and included, regardless of who they are’ and ‘to bring people together’ and ‘to understand that people from different backgrounds are going through different things in life’.

Using Empathy for Success

Most people appreciate the importance of empathy in the workplace, but not everyone is aware of the fact that they need to develop their own empathy in order to benefit.

Before we embark on any project, therefore, we need to develop greater empathy.  And that should start now.

Just think of the many business decisions taken without sufficient empathy that created big losses for companies. You may have heard of the Chevrolet Nova – a car that never made it in the Spanish-speaking market (comprising most of Latin America, and beyond) because the word Nova was heard as ‘no va’, i.e. ‘no go’ – a bad name for a product that’s supposed to take you places.

Other prominent examples include:

  • Google Glasses – the people behind this product massively overestimated the market’s interest in this new technology,
  • RJ Reynolds’ smokeless cigarettes – the team behind this product misjudged smoker’s emotional connection to the familiar elements of traditional cigarettes (the smoke, the burn and the flick), and
  • New Coke – the creators of this product that was intended to reinvigorate sales of the drink, misinterpreted their customers’ strong preference for the traditional flavour of Coca Cola Classic.

All these flops have one thing in common: the people behind them failed to improve their levels of empathy – better listening skills, greater social awareness and greater desire to understand their stakeholders, including their customers.  Using a little more empathy might just prevent your next project failing.

Empathy is just one of the 8 Inclusive Behaviours; imagine what business gains – with peers and customers – we could make if we were to improve in all 8!