An inclusive and diverse work place is essential for people to feel happy and be productive. While it is easy to talk about inclusion, putting it into practice is a whole different ball game. The blog explains intentional inclusion, its benefits, challenges and how to achieve it.
We are all different and unique. This uniqueness is an advantage that when utilized properly will not only promote prosperity but also happiness.
However, diversity in people is not always appreciated. A bias towards people who are different from us is often an unconscious response to diversity. While organizations are realizing the benefits of a diverse work force and are working towards removing bias, what will be even better is practicing intentional inclusion.
What Is Intentional Inclusion?
Accepting diversity is indeed a good starting point but actively promoting inclusion in the organization would be better still. An inclusive environment is empathetic, encouraging and respectful. It means giving a thought to marginalized people and making the work environment more supportive to their needs.
Intentional inclusion refers to the deliberate actions that embrace underrepresented groups and make them feel valued and respected. Inclusion is not something that comes naturally – we have to make a concerted effort towards it and that is what intentional inclusion is.
To put intentional inclusion into practice, we first have to understand that a difference in opinion is not a challenge to authority or a setback but a chance to see an issue in a different light. Once this is understood, embracing and even inviting diverse opinions, and appreciating them becomes a lot easier.
How Intentional Inclusion Differs from Performative Allyship?
Performative allyship refers to an organization stating that it is all for inclusion without actually backing that claim with concrete action. For example, featuring marginalized individuals on company newsletters is meaningless if in reality hiring them itself is not stressed upon.
Intentional inclusion in such cases would be privileged individuals of the organization actively promoting hiring and inviting participation of people across identities. Intentional inclusion needs to start at the top levels of management. When leaders promote inclusivity, it will permeate through all the levels of the organization.
Leading the Way
Employees from minority groups often feel overlooked and as a result their productivity decreases significantly. It is up to leaders to provide employees with the resources and the environment that will help them thrive.
- Leaders should not just promote and practice inclusive behaviour, but they should also question and set right biased practices. In simple terms, just words are not enough. Follow through with action is needed.
- Listening to employees when they open up about biases in the organization is very important.
- Leaders should make it a point to invite opinions from under-represented employees when a new program is being implemented.
- Workplace culture can be enhanced by asking employees for suggestions on how to be more inclusive. When employees are asked rather than told, they not only feel valued but are also more likely to follow through on the suggestions made.
- Leaders should pay attention to hiring and promotions to make sure that everyone is treated fairly.
- By educating employees (and themselves) about the society we live in, its entrenched biases and their harmful effects, leaders can guide the organization towards an inclusive work culture.
- Diversity training can help people accept new cultures, practices and differences. Sometimes, the aim is never to exclude but it happens because people do not how to interact to those who are different from them. In such circumstances, diversity training will help people connect with others thereby promoting a sensitive and positive work environment.
- When leaders set the way, the employees will eventually follow.
Not Just Leaders, Employees at All Levels Can Practice Intentional Inclusion
Here are some small changes that will make a huge difference to underrepresented groups.
- Provide amenities to people from minority religions which will help accommodate their religious preferences. From having prayer halls to optional holidays, there is a lot that can be done.
- Make sure informal work gatherings include all employees.
- Spare a thought for people with health conditions – allowing work from home, giving them access to assistive technology and flexible working hours can make a world of difference to them.
- Educate yourself about mental health conditions. This will promote empathy.
- Use gender neutral language. For example, instead of welcoming a group of freshers with “Hello guys!”, it would be better to welcome them with “Hello everyone!”. A small change but it eliminates gender specificity.
- When conducting surveys, options to check more than one box, or giving blanks to allow employees to enter what applies to them would be welcome.
- Introducing language translation tools and educating all employees on how to use them (not just the minority language speakers) would be a gesture that promotes inclusivity.
Intentional Inclusion – Benefits & Challenges
Intentional inclusion offers a plethora of benefits:
- Inclusion brings forward many perspectives and it is always good to view a challenging situation through multiple viewpoints – creativity flows and innovative solutions follow.
- With a diverse work force, the company becomes more sensitive to people’s thoughts and feelings. As a result, messages to clients and customers are more thoughtful and considerate. Relationships improve in the long run and the company is also viewed as being socially responsible.
- Employees are happier in an inclusive environment – productivity improves, turnover reduces and the organization prospers.
However, any shift is not without its accompanying challenges and putting intentional inclusion into practice is no different. Yet with time, persistence and focus an inclusive environment is definitely possible.
- Most of us have an unconscious bias in us – we tend to choose what we feel comfortable with. This could affect hiring practices and decision making. Undergoing diversity training will help open us up to changes and new perspectives.
- When the top level of management lacks diversity, it trickles down to employees too. As a result, under-represented employees may feel that they will not be able to go beyond a certain level in the organization. Mentorship and diversity-focussed leadership programs will help overcome this mindset.
- Policies to implement inclusivity might face with resistance from some employees. The leadership will have to demonstrate its commitment to inclusivity and maybe even allocate resources to make sure inclusive policies are being followed.
In the Healthcare Industry
Healthcare policy leaders need to stress on diversity and inclusion in a healthcare set-up as diverse staffing will make patients from all backgrounds feel comfortable. It will also attract top talent and will ultimately lead to improved patient experience and outcome.