Two strategies to help take inclusion in the workplace deeper

Confronting the challenges of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a strategic necessity for businesses seeking to thrive in a connected world.
By: | March 4, 2024

You may think you know what inclusion is, but you are probably thinking of it too narrowly. One of the biggest challenges for HR leaders is combating the common misunderstanding of what inclusion even means, let alone how to achieve it.

At its core, inclusion is not just about gender, race or ethnicity. It is much broader and encompasses numerous variables. Consequently, to truly approach and change the culture of your (or any) organisation, you need to start by promoting diversity of thought and the uniqueness of each individual within your company.

This strategy is almost completely opposite to the way most businesses operate their diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives. Too often, DEIB is seen as a metrics game—certain numbers to be reached and mandatory trainings to be completed. But to make sure inclusion really happens and people do not get bucketed into groups, companies need to make DEIB part of the everyday fabric of the organisation. Only then will people be able to bring their specialties, skills, voices, values and whole selves to work.

Ultimately, confronting the challenges of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a strategic necessity for modern businesses seeking to thrive in a globally connected world.

Challenges of fostering widespread inclusion and belonging in the workplace

The irony, of course, is that companies and HR professionals want to make sure their inclusion practices are effective. They do not set out to make DEIB difficult or ineffective. However, it can be hard to get to the right mix of strategies that result in true inclusion and belonging for each employee.

What makes it so cumbersome to achieve DEIB in otherwise exceptional businesses? A prominent problem is the lumping together of inclusion and belonging as if they were the same concept. Inclusion and belonging are words that are frequently used interchangeably but have distinct meanings.

Inclusion refers to the action an employer takes, such as enacting fair and transparent employee policies, creating a welcoming new-hire onboarding experience and ensuring all employees have their ideas and perspectives heard. Belonging relates to how the employer’s inclusive actions make the employee feel. In other words, belonging is the outcome of inclusive efforts and behaviours. When employees feel seen, respected and valued, they believe they belong. In turn, they forge stronger connections with their colleagues, their output and their organisation.

It is critical for HR leaders to acknowledge and distinguish the nuances between inclusivity and belonging. When you do, you can start to put measures in place that push inclusion forward in an effort to build individual belonging across your workforce.

Techniques to promote inclusion in the workplace

To begin driving more inclusivity in the workplace that goes beyond the usual DEIB metric tracking of race, gender, identity and salary equality metrics, try these two techniques. They are oriented to help your teams become more comfortable with embedding inclusive practices into their everyday workflows. As a result, you will achieve greater engagement as people start to bring their “whole selves” to everything they do.

1.  Use technology to fuel stronger internal communications.

When employees feel understood and respected by their managers and colleagues, they are able to work more confidently and effectively. One way to encourage this kind of positive interaction is to help your people learn how to communicate in ways that acknowledge and respect the receiver’s perspective.

Consider emails. Far too many emails cause friction and internal toxicity. Why? The sender does not use language that is geared toward the receiver’s needs. This disconnect happens during other person-to-person encounters, too, such as meetings. We have all sat through meetings where the speakers serve their own benefits (e.g., lecturing, not staying on topic, rushing through complex concepts) without taking into account what we would prefer as audience members.

In this case, technology can come to the rescue in the form of programmes and software that can help you write better emails by tapping into your workforce’s psychometric data. AI algorithms can interpret each person’s psychometric data and make language, tone and additional communications-related recommendations for emails, meeting interactions, presentations and other touchpoints. This opens the door to less confusion between employees and more collaborative personal correspondence and conversations.

2.  Ramp up your DEIB training workshop frequencies.

In tandem with improving employees’ daily interactions, you will want to continue to offer DEIB training to all staff. This is a considerable task. Ensuring all employees are aware of their biases or know what to do if they or a colleague is ever faced with inequality, exclusion or prejudice is not a simple process. Just be sure that you do not fall into the idea that yearly events will be enough.

According to one academically recognised study, annual workshops and training only temporarily improve DEIB. However, they are not enough to permanently move the DEIB needle in the right direction. Employees will quickly regress to how they communicated or behaved before the training. As pointed out in a Harvard Business Review article, another study showed “little evidence that diversity training affected the behaviour of men or white employees overall—the two groups who typically hold the most power in organisations and are often the primary targets of these DEIB interventions.”

READ MORE: APAC leads the way in creating workplace gender diversity

You cannot just cut out DEIB training, though. Making DEIB initiatives more frequent and ubiquitous is a better alternative than getting rid of periodic DEIB measures. Plus, giving DEIB more face time gets you closer to full-fledged participation in making your company’s DEIB goals come to fruition. Accordingly, share DEIB insights more readily and move DEIB from a siloed objective to part of your day-to-day culture. As a result, you will attract and hire more diverse workers and get all the benefits that come with a truly inclusive company.

It is understandable if you have felt like you have not quite hit upon the best practices for inclusion in the workplace. Many other companies are in your position and are struggling just as much to make DEIB a reality. By taking it one step at a time and tweaking your DEIB efforts in ways that go beyond traditional DEI, you will encourage employees to become more self-aware and aware of their colleagues, which will work to show everyone where and how their unique contributions can drive company success.

About the author: Juan Betancourt is CEO of Humantelligence. This article was first published on Human Resource Executive.