In this age of transformation, diversity and inclusion cannot be looked at through the same lens. While they must go hand in hand for any organisation to be successful, using them interchangeably isn’t the right approach. To drive business outcomes, organisations must internalize the concept of D&I correctly. Let’s understand how companies can build an inclusive culture the right way.
Once upon a time, a group of tribal boys set out to climb the mountains in search of food. As they climbed higher, they found something slithering on the ground. One of them took a closer look and found a rattlesnake. The poor reptile was struggling on the slopes and freezing in the cold. The boy who discovered the snake had an ability to communicate with snakes and wanted to hide it under his shawl and take it home.
The group obviously not knowing about his skill, resisted this and refused to let the boy accompany them. The leader of the group understood the boy’s unique ability. He knew that the path downhill was infested with dangerous snakes and the boy could be the best way for the group to be safe. He also felt that it is important to respect everyone’s views and insisted on having him stay in the group, but on one condition. The boy shall be accountable for the safety of each group member. And so, the group descended down towards home.
In order that he remain included in the group and its activities, the boy kept strict vigil on the snake and ensured that no one is harmed. He also enjoyed demonstrating his skill of talking to the snakes along the way – folklore from an unknown source but has left something for us to reflect upon. Just imagine, what could have happened differently! The group would have lost the boy with a niche skill and faced the danger of getting stung by snakes on the way home.
Let’s take a cue from this story. The leader of the group in the above story apparently believed the strength in building a group that has diversity. But also took care to see that the boy with the exceptional skills knew that he had a place in the group, provided he exercises his skill for the benefit of the group. Just a group with diverse skillsets is not enough, but the appropriate utilization of the skillsets for the collective growth of the group is as important. So, actually, Diversity and Inclusion, go hand in hand as the new age mantra. Unfortunately, we notice that the two are often used interchangeably. It gets even worse when Inclusion is often clubbed and confused with Diversity.
Inclusion is about creating a workplace where everyone feels “included” or feels “at home”. This feeling is manifested by each member of the group taking up responsibilities commensurate with her / his skills and is accountable for the outcomes. organisations that have internalized the concept of D&I correctly are actually using D&I to drive business outcomes.
Inclusion is not just about employing people with different religion, faith, gender, sexual orientation etc. In fact, that is just Diversity. Inclusion is about creating a workplace where everyone feels “included” or feels “at home”. This feeling is manifested by each member of the group taking up responsibilities commensurate with her / his skills and is accountable for the outcomes. Organisations that have internalized the concept of D&I correctly are actually using D&I to drive business outcomes.
With every great idea comes some confusion too. Organisations that only see the surface of the subject probably need to go way beyond just appointing a Chief D&I Officer. Being inclusive is an integral part of how organisations work and hence cannot be a single individual’s job. An inclusive workplace typically has high levels of ownership and engagement among employees. With survey after survey showing that engagement levels in organisations are coming down, this is a serious issue that requires attention by CXOs. This is a culture that needs to be driven from the top because it is important to lead by example. Many times, people down the line may not be able to appreciate the power of inclusion. The leader, just like the one in our folklore would have the vision on how and whey someone or a group of people should be included as part of the organisation.
We have tried to capture our collective experiences on what inclusion really looks like as seen in our respective journeys across geographies and industries. What makes a workplace truly inclusive? A typical explanation would read something like this, “An employee feels included when she feels that her views, aspirations, interests and actions matter to the organisation”. Let’s deconstruct this loaded sentence. Does the organisation really understand what her / his aspirations are? Is an effort being made to explore alignment between her / his aspirations and the organisation’s aspirations? Is there space for her/him to speak about personal interests without fear and explore roles in the organisation that can further these interests? Even if a tight alignment is not possible, the very fact that the manager makes a sincere and genuine attempt to elicit and explore alignment goes a long way in making an employee feel valued and included.
A truly inclusive organisation would redefine SMART as Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Relevant and Timed. When goals are cascaded top-down, inclusivity is demonstrated only when the employee is heard before the goals are finalized. Any organisation that cannot stand for the new definition has to rethink its status on inclusion irrespective of the high diversity that it may have
We often come across interesting conversations during goal setting for individuals. We talk of Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Relevant and Timed goals. A truly inclusive organisation would redefine SMART as Specific, Measurable, Agreed, Relevant and Timed. When goals are cascaded top-down, inclusivity is demonstrated only when the employee is heard before the goals are finalized. What may be achievable for the manager may not be for the team member. Are her views sought when setting goals for her team or when policy decisions are taken that impact her work? Does she have an opportunity to and does she feel safe to share her views and make suggestions to improve company policies that have an impact on her performance? A discussion for consensus and practicality leads to the ‘Agreed’ part of the SMART Goal. Any organisation that cannot stand for the new definition has to rethink its status on inclusion irrespective of the high diversity that it may have.
Treating employees as people is not achieved by just cutting a birthday cake or sending an anniversary card. While doing so would be really nice, it will at best be an icing on the cake and not the cake itself. The real cake is in communicating the feeling of “being wanted” in a manner of authenticity in professional relationships.
The consensus in goal setting and inclusion, oh yes! But what about accountability? How the two to integrate is where we go next as we pick up pieces from our journey. Successful teams have managers that clearly articulate how a team members’ contribution impacts the team’s and the company’s performance. Managers would not just evaluate but also help introspect how individual outputs are impacting organizational objectives.
If this is not done, D&I would just sadly hang on the wall.
We have deliberated so much on D&I driving business outcomes, so what about the aspect of human touch? Does being inclusive also have something to do to bring the human back into Human Capital Management? It is equally important for employers to feel that personal needs are not just considered but also supported by the organisation. New age organisations are increasingly looking at technology to support flexible work arrangements including staggered work hours to remote working etc. In fact, if we look back into history, organisations across the globe that were ahead of their time have actually experimented these ideas and have emerged as the best employers. Treating employees as people is not achieved by just cutting a birthday cake or sending an anniversary card. While doing so would be really nice, it will at best be an icing on the cake and not the cake itself. The real cake is in communicating the feeling of “being wanted” in a manner of authenticity in professional relationships.
For accountability to set in and the employee to feel inclusive in the business, it is important to show transparency in the simplest and most comprehendible manner. Sharing of financial performance in simple easy to understand layman terms will go a long way in driving improved ownership. Who wouldn’t want to contribute to better financial health when he/she is convinced of being an integral part of the organisation?
There can’t be a simpler methodology of demonstrating inclusion than what Ricardo Semler, Brazilian businessman and author of Maverick states, “We have absolute trust in our employees. We are partners with them, Growth and profit are a product of how people work together”.