What does Inclusion mean and how can organisations achieve it?
Katie.Dix / 06 Mar 2020
The first in a series written by our guest contributor, Jacqueline Kingham - Diversity & Inclusion Advocate | Consultant | Treasury Professional
Jacqueline Kingham has over 10 years Banking and Management Consulting experience. Jacqueline is very passionate about Diversity and Inclusion and has recently launched a blog where she hopes to help governments and organisations understand the financial and non-financial risks associated with not being diverse and develop solutions to mitigate them.
What does Inclusion mean and how can organisations achieve it?
Inclusion is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “the action or state of including or being included within a group or structure”. In the context of diversity and inclusion within an organisation, what does this actually mean?
To me, inclusion within your workplace means comfort. That you work in an environment where you are 100% comfortable bringing your whole and true self to work, you can freely challenge ideas without the fear of being ridiculed or persecuted. Inclusion also means support. You work for an organisation that understands the you and creates a culture through encouraging and demonstrating a collaborative and supportive environment that starts from the top and spans the whole organisation, including every individual from the CEO to the cleaners, security staff and other support staff. In addition, the implementation of policies and benefits that place employee wellbeing on par with profitability. Lastly, inclusion means pride. Employees are proud to work for an organisation, are vocal and visible in promoting the firm driving from their own job satisfaction and the belief in the firm’s core values.
So how can we achieve this and how can more established businesses adapt?
1: Tone from the top
Sending out emails every month and hosting townhalls just doesn’t cut it anymore. Gestures that demonstrate inclusivity don’t need to be complicated or extravagant, it can be as simple as the head of a division learning the names of the people who work from him / her or greeting someone when you pass them by in the hallway. I was once waiting for a lift and recognised the head of my division who had recently started. I was on holiday when he was introduced at a team meeting so I thought I’d take the opportunity to introduce myself. My heart rate sped up and my voice started to shake slightly but I mustered up the courage to say hello, introduce myself and outline what team I worked in. The response was the look of disdain, like why on earth is this person talking to me. Thankfully the lifts arrived and we were going in different directions. It’s one thing sending out gushy emails and standing up at team meetings saying we are all ‘one team’, it’s another thing to actually embody what you preach. On the other hand, at another organisation there was a senior executive who knew the name of all the receptionists, security staff and the majority of his 100 strong team. Even if he didn’t know your name, he’d talk to you as if he really knew you. Needless to say, he was one of the most liked and successful individuals at the firm.
2: Know who your workforce is and what drives and motivates them
Millennials currently make up 40% of the global workforce and by 2025 this will rise to 75%. The reality is that Gen Z and Baby Boomer population who make up the bulk of senior leadership are shrinking in numbers as they approach retirement and it's the Millennials who are now starting to break into these ranks.
Millennials grew up in the world of digitisation, we saw the creation of the internet and rode the wave to having access to information 24/7. We are the generation that made the mobile phone what it is today, a product once targeting corporate professionals, we as teenagers embraced the technology and turned it into a product which is accessible to everyone. We grew up with the internet and saw the advancement of technology. We have seen how technology has broken down geographical and socioeconomic barriers and how it has revolutionised the way businesses provide services to its customers via digital platforms, therefore we ask they question, why can’t the same be provided to us as an employee. Flexible working, virtual teams and remote working is the future of business and its time that firms start redesigning their operating models to maximise benefits.
3: Support your employees just as much as they support your organisation
Assuming your average employee works 8 hours a day, they are spending on average 50% of their awake time at work, in addition to the possible ~1-2 hours a day of commuting. I don’t believe we were put on this earth to spend the majority of our lives sitting in an office in front of a computer screen for 40 years of our lives, however in order to support ourselves and our families it becomes a necessity. Therefore, it is important that you spend your time in an environment where you are happy and motivated to be there and contribute. This can be achieved through policies and benefits as well as social events in and out of office hours to build team spirit and create a sense of community. Companies leading the pack in terms of employee benefits are firms such as Mollie, a financial services firm based in Amsterdam who recently announcing they will be providing all employees 5 ‘baby days’ in addition to parental and annual leave to be used in the first 12 months of having a baby or adopting a child. Everyone knows that the first year after having a baby is the hardest and Mollie has identified who makes up the bulk of their workforce and adapted their business to provide that additional support. Other firms are following suit by providing 6 months of full salary on maternity leave and 4 weeks of paid paternity leave. Countries like Sweden and Finland offer between 6 and 8 months paid parental leave for each parent acknowledging this has a positive impact on wellbeing and supports gender equality.
4: Understand the external environment
Campaigns designed to raise awareness of the importance of mental health have seen a rise in the number of people diagnosed with a mental illness, increasingly in young adults. An American Psychological Association study highlights this is partly due to the rise in the use of digital media. It has led to depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and mood disorders. We have seen the impacts of this with some recent suicides and attempted suicides of celebrities and high-profile individuals. The impact the advancement of technology and social media has on the younger generations is growing exponentially. As much as technology comes with its benefits, there are also some negatives, the expectation that you are contactable 24/7, online bullying, the barrage of perfect photos of people jet setting all over the world or celebrities and influencers living these seemingly perfect lives causes rise to anxiety and self-esteem issues.
Millennials, Gen Y and Gen Z are typically more engaged with environmental and ethical issues. Issues such as climate change, the meat and dairy industry and food consumption and the ethics and values on which a firm operates. We are the generation that will suffer the consequences of the inaction of governments and corporations but currently have limited power to have any meaningful influence. In order to attract and retain talent, companies need to visibly demonstrate how they are going to contribute to addressing these issues. A ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ programme is not enough, customers want to know that the factory workers who make their shoes and clothes are paid a fair wage, individuals want to know whether the company they work for receives money from or gives money to organisations with questionable ethical practices. Ethics and sustainability should be at the forefront of a company's values and needs be visibly demonstrated.
The way to achieve an inclusive company and work environment is through education and understanding. Knowledge is power and understanding how supporting your employees can unlock potential in the individual and in the firm.
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