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Workplace Inclusion: Cut the Fluff!

3 Practical Ways to Move the Needle on Inclusion in the Workplace..

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Business Leaders are tired of hearing about the “D” word. Tired of hearing about diversity initiatives, forums, unconscious bias training, statistics. We get it; leaders are probably tired because all of the hype is on the problem.

As D&I (Diversity and Inclusion) Practitioners we are tired also of the “fluffy” responses to inclusion that are labelled as solutions. We’ve all participated in some of the fluff: Cultural Diversity Week, Harmony Day, International Women’s Day, Gay Pride Marches, coin collections for paralympians!

The reality is that by and large Australian businesses already have diverse workforces. Walk into most workplaces, and you will see some form of workforce diversity: age, gender, physical ability, sexuality, culture, thought. Although these staff members are “celebrated” with seasonal activities like Harmony Day, we are just not including these diversities where and when it counts in business.

Why?

  • Australian leaders who hold the power are not from diverse groups
  • There is no real business motivation to drive inclusion
  • There is a lack of know-how on launching and driving sustainable change to move the needle on inclusion.

AUSTRALIAN LEADERS & DIVERSE TEAM MEMBERS: “Feeling like an onlooker at work”

Inclusion can’t happen if we continue to have a distance in structure and relatability between Australian leaders and diverse team members. Figure 1 shows the distance in structure – Australian businesses are still run by Anglo-Celtic men who may have little relatability to people from diverse backgrounds.

Figure 1: Australia’s Anglo Celtic Men still hold the power

How do people from diverse backgrounds feel? It is ‘feeling like an onlooker at work, or more like an invisible spectator than part of a team’. This is the experience of ‘otherness’, or exclusion in the workplace, that might be subtle but is pervasive (Research by Catalyst).

My experiences … have made me far more aware of my “Blackness” than ever before. I have found that … no matter how liberal and open-minded some [people] try to be toward me, I sometimes feel like a visitor … as if I really don’t belong. – Michelle Obama

The impact of exclusion can affect everything from morale to career advancement. Diverse individuals report being more likely to withdraw from full participation and contribution (engagement) to the business. At a business level, this typically means lowered productivity or at the very least, less discretionary effort. The problem is Anglo-Celtic male leaders may not even be aware that this is happening.

 

How do we get the attention of Anglo-Celtic male business leaders?

Unfortunately, we will get their attention mostly with business statistics that link to financials. So here are some compelling statistics:

Gender diverse and ethnically diverse companies return 15% and 35% better financial performance than their competitors. 

Sounds like a no brainer to get motivated to do something, right? However, Australia has got to have the diversity represented first and in the right senior roles. At present, every diversity category you pick is under-represented and our lagging shows on a world-stage, especially with women: Australia is only at 14th place worldwide for women on large, publicly listed companies; and 17th place for women in parliament. Once we improve this, then we can talk about leveraging inclusion to get Fig. 2’s financial success stories.

Figure 2: Diversity Matters 

3 steps to cut the fluff and make inclusion matter

Do we wait to get representation first and then work at inclusion? No, start now – here is how: If you are at the top, the middle or indeed in any leadership role, here are three steps to cut the fluff on inclusion:

  1. Understand the diversities you are dealing with (MBWA)

Listening to the unique experiences of diverse employees (MBWA: management by walking around) and adopting inclusive behaviours will reap immediate benefits for your employees and your business. Do not fall into the trap of forming a view about the current state by using data based on outdated personal experience, assumptions and anecdotes or by talking a merit approach.

  1. Translate the potential business impact of continuing exclusion

For example, if you continue to have low levels of women or CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) women represented across your organisation, what does that mean for your reach with customers (51% of Australia’s population are women and we are one of the most multicultural nations in the world). Do you know how your engagement scores translate across diverse groups? Are your staff feeling like onlookers and are these hidden within a 70+ average engagement score?

  1. Commit to act with transparency and accountability

At a senior level, engage the right stakeholder to develop policy, set targets and then make the right leaders accountable for communicating and embedding the policy and the targets into the organisational operating rhythm. All other levels: start with simple acts of inclusion: don’t talk over someone, learn to pronounce someone’s name, encourage an opinion and be open to listening fully – basically invite an onlooker in and keep the door open.

So, cut the fluffy celebrations, events and festivals – instead, take some concrete steps to make inclusion happen on an organisational and individual level, in ways that allow people to be valued and encourage others to step up.

This article was written by Div Pillay & Michelle Redfern, Co-founders of Culturally Diverse Women.

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