Encouraging your whole workplace to engage in inclusion conversations

The murder of George Floyd led to a wave of conversations on how to challenge racism in different contexts, and how we become actively anti-racist both personally and professionally. The murder of Sarah Everard, and even more recently Sabina Nessa, has led to a wave of conversations on women’s safety, which in turn means more discussions on gender equity in the workplace. Equally, the rise in elite athletes speaking up about mental health at the Tokyo Olympics created a buzz of discussion on mental health at home and at work.

Ask any Diversity, Equity and Inclusion manager, or strategic leader and they’ll confirm that major events around the globe have the power to steer conversations in boardrooms as well as across social media. 

However for real change to take hold, these discussions need to escape the walls of boardrooms, and begin to cascade through to every level of a business. This is how you begin to change cultures and the experiences of minority groups within your organisation.

For National Inclusion Week, this blog looks at how to encourage whole-company participation in inclusion and belonging conversations, and overcoming the barriers to engagement.

What do I do if my employees don’t recognise an inclusion problem?

Sometimes employees don’t recognise inclusion problems because they just don’t see the wider issues that impact people in society. This may be due to lack of exposure, or it may just be wilful ignorance. Other times, employees will know there are issues in society, but they don’t think they happen in your business. 

Whichever is the problem, the answer is awareness. Sometimes a lack of closeness to an issue can create ignorance, and what you shouldn’t do is condemn individuals for this, that usually just creates a bigger divide. Instead, accept that some individuals have the privilege of not being close to the issues that impact other people within your organisation, and do what you can to raise awareness of the issues among these groups.

You can do this by sharing data, statistics, and testimonials of how disparities in experience impact people from diverse backgrounds. 

What about when employees don’t believe that they’re required to engage in inclusion conversations?

Last year led to the popularisation of the phrase ‘it’s not enough to just ‘not be racist’, instead we must be actively anti-racist’. This sentiment is true in nearly all inclusion and belonging based conversations. If we aren’t actively challenging people, institutions and systems that exclude groups of people, we’re part of the problem.

One way to overcome this attitude is to increase training on the impact that a lack of inclusion at work can have on different groups of people. Training on privilege and inclusion can open up important conversations about power imbalances and allyship.

Another way to make the need for change feel more relevant to your team is to encourage people to speak up about what makes them different. This doesn’t need to focus on minority employees, or minority stress. Try broadening the scope of thinking to include all elements of a person’s character that differentiates them from the group. Looking at things such as introversion/extroversion, socio-economic status, or family style can help to highlight that everyone’s individuality is important. 

This last point also requires you to have a diverse team of people, so it’s important that you are consistently looking at your employee base, identifying diversity gaps, and considering how your talent pipeline is looking to address that.

What about working with colleagues that see Diversity & Inclusion as a threat to their own progression?

A common myth is that improving your diversity and inclusion credentials means giving minoritised candidates opportunities over existing staff who don’t bring the same level of diversity. 

This is token hiring, or sometimes referred to as a ‘diversity hire’, and is not an acceptable form of recruitment. Jobs should always be offered to the best candidates, once bias and barriers to entry have been removed. It’s about levelling the playing field, which will naturally lead to a more diverse workforce.

Overcoming this is about education and transparency in your hiring process. Employees that are ever claimed to be a ‘diversity hire’ need to be supported. This can be considered a form of harassment and needs to be challenged. A reporting platform can assist your employees in speaking up should this occur.

How about employees that want to engage, but don’t have time on top of their regular job responsibilities?

Most employees aren’t measured on inclusion focused metrics, so getting employees to think about inclusion alongside their job isn’t always simple. Even those who do agree that creating an inclusive work environment is a good idea might not have the capacity to actively contribute to conversations, attend training, or demonstrate in a measurable way that they are supporting change.

This is where senior leaders can support. By getting top down support for inclusion initiatives, you can introduce processes that assist employees in increasing their involvement by:

  • Making involvement with the inclusion and belonging function a measurable target within employee development plans
  • Encouraging middle managers to support team members who are investing time into inclusion plans 
  • Building in time to discuss inclusion topics more widely, for example in company updates, team building sessions, and regular communications.

Conversations on diversity, inclusion and belonging aren’t going anywhere, so making them a part of business is time well spent. It’s important to take your team on the journey with you, explaining the benefits of engagement, and identifying the barriers that are stopping them from engaging in the first place.

For advice on getting senior leader buy-in to your inclusion work, take a look at this blog.

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