Why you must embed inclusivity into everything you do
Opinion: Career Leaders
With the talent crisis dominating our industry, it’s never been more important or timely to reflect on your team culture and ask yourself whether it’s truly inclusive.
Inclusive cultures benefit your people and your business, creating an atmosphere in which everybody feels heard, understood and valued for themselves.
Inclusivity helps people to thrive, to do their best work and ultimately stay with you, grow with you and help to propel your business forwards.
With attraction and retention at the top of our collective talent agenda, inclusivity is hugely important. The price of not being inclusive is an exclusive workplace, and exclusive cultures are shunned by the next generation of talent coming through as well as those working within it.
It’s not hard to understand why. In exclusive cultures, people can’t speak up or be themselves. Those who work hard to fit in to some old-fashioned ideal may experience major mental health challenges as a result.
It’s adlanders from marginalised groups who are affected the most by exclusive cultures.
NABS’ Diversity in Focus research reveals the depressingly all-too-common stories of a number of individuals working in our industry, all of whom hail from minoritised backgrounds. People who have to hide themselves to fit in feel othered, undervalued and exhausted as a result. This is the kind of culture that makes people leave not just their companies but the industry.
It is an ethical and business imperative to meaningfully embed inclusivity into everything you do. It should be at the heart of your organisational values, be demonstrated through expected behaviours, and supported through policy and process.
Diversity in Focus revealed that performative DE&I policies without matching behaviours do more harm than good, as they’re seen as disingenuous. Ask your staff how included they feel. Listen, understand their perspective and ensure your policies and processes provide genuine, actionable and meaningful support.
Here’s some actions you can take to create an inclusive team.
1. Welcome accountability
Inclusivity is a key part of being an effective leader; it shouldn’t just be considered an HR responsibility.
2. Build trust as a foundation
Start with empathy, curiosity and a focus on building trust and rapport with each team member. Get to know each other as individuals and how you work best together, valuing strengths.
3. Develop essential skills
Build on your growing D,E&I knowledge with simple and effective techniques to support psychological safety for all. For example, practice non-judgemental, active listening.
Consider how you can create the conditions for each team member to speak openly and to contribute and challenge with confidence.
4. Value uniqueness
Know that in order to belong, we don’t all have to be the same. Uniqueness can be our superpower, bringing huge benefits to individuals, teams and organisations.
Inclusive teams foster both belonging and uniqueness. These qualities create a collective intelligence that can help to achieve shared goals.
5. Role model authenticity
We hear the word ‘authentic’ so much, but it really is key. When leaders show up authentically and have the confidence to show vulnerability, this encourages others to do the same.
6. Facilitate equitable opportunity
Being fair does not mean providing the same support to everyone. Each person in your team will be at a different starting point.
As an inclusive leader, figure out how you can reduce any inequalities that exist in order to enable a level playing field for all team members to contribute, develop and progress.
7. Focus on incremental change
Start small and build up rather than trying to tackle everything in one go. In our fast-paced and busy industry, making change can seem difficult.
But doing things incrementally and often can lead to really impactful and positive changes if you’re consistent.
8. Commit to continuous learning
There will always be something to new to take on board when it comes to being inclusive. Be brave and open to learning, ask for feedback and don’t beat yourself up too much when you make a mistake.
Apologise if required and think how you’d do it better next time. No matter where you are on your journey to inclusive practice, this openness to learn will be fundamental in supporting you and your colleagues.
Developing all this can be daunting at first. Taking on some professional training and/or coaching can help you and your managers to take those first steps towards inclusive leadership.
As an example, NABS has just launched its Inclusive Leader training programme which aims to do just that.
Whatever you decide, create a safe and supportive space for learning and growth, and most of all — take action on behaviour change, because this is what will make the difference be to individuals, teams, your organisation and the industry at large.
Sara Piddlesden-Whalley is transformation director at UK industry support charity NABS. She is also a learning and development specialist and executive coach.
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