Co-Founder WeThrive
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A diverse and inclusive workplace
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The questions you need to ask employees to ensure real inclusion in the workplace

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Fostering inclusivity and equality means ditching the culture of averages to discover what’s really stopping people from thriving at work.

24th Nov 2021
Co-Founder WeThrive
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One of the most common benchmarks for inclusion in today’s organisations is that every employee can ‘bring their whole selves’ to work. Many companies ask the question as part of their wider engagement surveys, boasting about their inclusive culture when the percentage edges a few points higher. But what does that really mean, and is this something that can be measured and acted upon? 

Finding a sense of belonging

The focus on diversity, equality, equity and inclusion (DEEI) intensified during the pandemic. Hybrid and remote working polarised people’s experiences at work, and it was well documented that certain groups such as women and ethnic minorities suffered the impact of job losses and budget cuts more than other groups.

There’s nothing wrong with getting a steer on numbers for diversity purposes, but it is involvement and engagement that creates business value

As we return to something closer to pre-pandemic normal, it’s no surprise that businesses want to create a better sense of belonging. They’re seeking more intelligence on how different under-represented groups experience the workplace, but also evidence on how they can improve it. 

What are the workforce demographics?

For many this starts with looking at the demographics of the workforce: what areas of the business lack gender or racial diversity, for example? They may then get the ball rolling on initiatives designed to improve representation by hiring more people from those groups, only to find they leave six months down the line because the culture’s not quite right.

There’s nothing wrong with getting a steer on numbers for diversity purposes, but it is involvement and engagement that creates business value. The Human Givens approach sets out that when we get our human needs met, we are mentally well, and this should be the starting point rather than a certain recruitment target. 

Diversity on its own means little and inclusion can’t happen without equality and equity. So rather than asking whether someone feels that they can bring themselves to work, why not find out what influences their ability to do so?

Bringing together diversity, inclusion and wellbeing can drive real results compared to keeping them in silos

We argue that there are a number of elements across diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion that businesses can delve into to really uncover what’s making employees feel included or otherwise. Some examples might be: “I feel my individuality is accepted”; “I feel I can raise ideas in meetings”; or “I am invited to social occasions”. What are the barriers in the way of them achieving their goals or feeling happy at work?

Further questions on what they might need to get that all important psychological safety will then help managers to support individuals to feel comfortable every day. 

How to identify red flags 

That data can also reveal whether there are specific problems in certain teams or for different groups of employees. So, if data shows ethnic minority employees are struggling to progress their career, what actions can the business put in place to address this? If the marketing team shows more employees not feeling safe to report concerns, this can prompt a discussion about how that team is managed.

A business can have unlimited support mechanisms and diversity initiatives, but these won’t have any impact if people in those groups feel discriminated against by a manager or are the subject of microaggressions every day. Their mental wellbeing will suffer, they become less productive, and the end point is often that they leave - and the culture of the organisation fails to change. 

A disabled woman trying to work towards a promotion will likely have a very different experience to a woman working part-time and dealing with childcare issues

Bringing together diversity, inclusion and wellbeing can drive real results compared to keeping them in silos. Whether we feel safe being ourselves at work is influenced by our background, of course, but is also down to multiple human factors such as whether we are respected, whether we feel our voices are heard, or how open our leaders are to new ways of thinking.

Getting more granular information on everyone’s sense of belonging will not only inform targeted initiatives for particular groups but can improve engagement at the organisation as a whole. 

Data needs to be specific

Furthermore, anonymous engagement surveys will give a broad view of how different groups experience work but will lack specifics. They may also only give a two-dimensional view of that experience, rather than an intersectional one. Very few of us are “just one thing”.

A disabled woman trying to work towards a promotion will likely have a very different experience to a woman working part-time and dealing with childcare issues. Individuals are more than just their race, sexual orientation or disability and should be treated as such. 

It’s time to move beyond catch-all diversity initiatives that look good on paper but fail to move the dial on inclusion

Crucially, asking the right questions turns around accountability for creating an inclusive culture. If under-represented groups in your organisation feel that they’re not able to progress or can’t see role models they can identify with, it’s not up to them to ‘fix’ themselves to fit in. Gathering better intelligence about the factors that make people comfortable or uncomfortable at work means the organisation can act.

These responses may seem small (putting people forward for special projects; asking more questions in meetings; listening to concerns), but all together they amount to a greater sense of belonging and inclusion. This isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ either. A recent study by LinkedIn found that 47 per cent of professionals value working at a company where they can be themselves. 

It’s time to move beyond catch-all diversity initiatives that look good on paper but fail to move the dial on inclusion. Ask your employees what’s stopping them thriving at work, listen and act. 

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