What It Means and How to Make It the Strength of Your Organization
October is Global Diversity Awareness Month, and while most of us are familiar with and believe in the importance of differentiation in creating a more compassionate society, there’s much more for many of us to learn about inclusion in the workplace.
Diversity and inclusion are now colloquially common terms – complementary concepts we reference to support and promote equity in the neighborhoods where we live, fairness in the culture we create, and equality in the opportunities we share – but there are distinct differences between the two. In simple terms, think of diversity as the mix and inclusion as getting the mix to work together. Taking it one step further, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development defines inclusive diversity as a set of behaviors that promote collaboration among a diverse group.
“Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.”
– Jesse Jackson, Civil Rights Activist
Inclusion means that people across varying identities are and feel valued, welcomed, respected, included, represented, and heard and that they fully belong, can be authentic, can contribute to the collective, and have a voice. Inclusion requires actively, persistently, and systemically engaging diversity and fostering equity and social justice across all aspects of the institution, including actively identifying and removing systemic and other barriers.
What Is Inclusion in the Workplace?
Inclusion in the workplace creates a sense of belonging among co-workers that can translate to greater productivity, more innovation, and better decision-making. Team performance improves when employees feel more connected. Get everyone pulling on the same side of the rope, and the possibilities for growth and success increase exponentially.
Dr. Thomas Stewart, vice chancellor for the office of S-JEDI at National University, is committed to building a forward-thinking culture: “We are adopting the ‘Inclusive Excellence Framework’ to empower students, employees, and other vital stakeholders to help us co-create a vibrant and inclusive culture. Through a variety of working groups, professional development opportunities, and other initiatives, we invite all members of the NUS community to join us in creating a wonderful place to learn and work.”
Why Is Inclusion Important in the Workplace?
Creating an inclusive workplace starts with strong leadership, and to amplify the power of positivity, having a dedicated design team with specialized knowledge and expertise in market-current workplace policies can pay dividends for all involved. According to Forbes, these teams are better at innovation, recognizing and stopping exclusion, and attracting and retaining top talent.
Best Practices to Help Empower an Inclusive Workplace
There are many proven strategies and methods for creating workplaces where employers and employees thrive together, but most follow a similar roadmap. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), whose mission is to empower people and workplaces by maximizing human potential, advocates for this six-step process:
Educate Your Leaders
It should not be taken for granted that people who are leading the company understand the importance of creating an inclusive culture. Once educated, they need to be held accountable, says Erin Thomas, a diversity researcher and partner of San Francisco consulting firm Paradigm: “Employees need to see that inclusive behavior is a core competency.”
Form an Inclusion Council
Passionate mid-level company influencers should be recruited to be the conduit between upper management and the rank and file. These individuals form an inclusion council comprised of different ethnicities, genders, business functions, and even geographic locations.
Celebrate Employee Differences
We live in an ever-diverse, culturally rich workplace, and respecting everyone’s backgrounds and traditions can go a long way toward establishing an inclusive environment. An example of such recognition and celebration would be to create groups or spaces within an organization that actively promote cultural diversity.
Eva Bak, VP of People at Bak USA, created a mediation/prayer room where Muslim employees would have a dedicated place for reflection: “It’s well-known that diversity in teams leads to better decision-making, greater innovation, and ultimately higher returns. But inclusion is what connects people to the business, and we believe it’s one of the core reasons they stay.”
Listen to Employees
Once deployed, an effective inclusion initiative requires an ongoing assessment of an organization’s demographics followed by forward-thinking strategies that acknowledge and embrace change. This can include everything from conducting surveys and town hall-style meetings to holding separate holiday parties for teams with nontraditional work hours.
Hold More Effective Meetings
Distributing meeting materials in advance can be especially helpful for workers for whom English is a second language, and rotating meeting times can make a real difference for work-from-home employees in different time zones.
“Determine the moments of truth in the workplace where any individual can impact diversity and inclusion,” says Danny Guillory, head of global diversity and inclusion at Autodesk, a global software company. “What is most impactful is not what the CEO says, not what I say, but the experiences I have with the five or six people I work with every day.”
Communicate Goals and Measure Progress
According to SHRM, it’s imperative to establish and clearly communicate specific, measurable, and time-bound goals as you would with any other strategic aim. Cross-referencing your people processes with your workforce survey data will give you an accurate measure of the inclusive climate you’ve created.
How to Measure Inclusion in the Workplace?
Putting an inclusion plan in place is one thing; gauging its efficacy is something else again. While measuring and tracking diversity throughout an organization is straightforward enough, finding meaningful numbers to define success for an inclusion initiative can be fraught with gray areas and pockets of exclusion.
In a recent survey by Gartner Research, it was found that for leaders of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), setting goals and tracking progress through metrics was one of their two top priorities, but the challenge was determining what “good” looks like in terms of representation. Gartner polled 10,000 employees around the world and distilled their responses into a series of seven statements that now comprise the Gartner Inclusion Index, which determines whether an organization’s employees are experiencing inclusion in the workplace. As discussed in the Harvard Business Review, these statements are:
- Fair treatment: Employees at my organization who help the organization achieve its strategic objectives are rewarded and recognized fairly.
- Integrating differences: Employees at my organization respect and value each other’s opinions.
- Decision-making: Members of my team fairly consider ideas and suggestions offered by other team members.
- Psychological safety: I feel welcome to express my true feelings at work.
- Trust: Communication we receive from the organization is honest and open.
- Belonging: People in my organization care about me.
- Diversity: Managers at my organization are as diverse as the broader workforce.
The Impressive Results of an Inclusive Work Environment
The NeuroLeadership Institute is a New York City-based think tank whose focus is to bring a more concrete, science-based approach to growing soft skills that would not just resonate with business leaders but also make any change initiative more effective. In 2016, they identified six key benefits of inclusion that help support all the teamwide benefits of building inclusive habits, such as increased creativity and greater engagement. When employees experience these six effects, they can more fully commit to their work and their team:
- Intelligent thought and reasoning: Inclusion actually makes us smarter. A handful of studies have shown that people lose some of their ability to think clearly and perform given tasks when they’ve been made to feel excluded. Importantly, these results don’t hold when people were made to feel merely misfortunate; it was the experience of being left out that produced cognitive declines.
- Self-care and improvement: People who feel included are more likely to practice healthier behaviors and make it a priority to improve themselves. By contrast, people who feel excluded tend to prize short-term gain and take more risks.
- Pro-social behavior: When people were told that everyone in their group wanted to work with them, researchers saw people donating more to charitable causes, being willing to volunteer for other tasks, helping others after a mishap, and acting cooperatively.
- Self-regulation: People made to feel included more often tolerate unpleasant experiences, resist unhealthy temptations, and persist longer on a frustrating task.
- A sense of purpose: Inclusion bolsters people’s larger sense that life is meaningful and things are worth doing. People who feel excluded are more likely to agree with the statement “Life is meaningless,” choose fewer emotional words, turn away from a mirror, and overestimate time intervals.
- Well-being: Increased social exclusion correlates with social anxiety, jealousy, loneliness, decreased self-esteem, and depression. When we feel left out, we may conjure elaborate stories of how others plot against us, how we don’t have value, and so on. But when leaders actively try to include others, they create the conditions for people to feel socially connected, which greatly improves people’s moods and overall health.
“A lot of different flowers make a bouquet.” – Muslim Proverb
Creating an inclusive culture is not a linear process. There will be starts and stops and turns along the way, but committing and adhering to a consistent effort will codify a workplace environment where everyone feels included, heard, recognized, and appreciated.
Jimmy Carter, 39th President of the United States, once stated: “We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams.” By weaving together the intricate threads of our cultural diversity, we can create a stronger, healthier, more productive work environment for all.
How NU Facilitates Inclusion in the Workplace
The National University System (NUS) was an early adopter of serving the underrepresented and underserved. We established our Office of Social Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (S-JEDI) to shape our culture and uphold our core values, abiding by our principles to achieve excellence in all aspects of the student, faculty, and workforce experience.
Also at NU, our Office of Institutional Equity strives to provide leadership, guidance, and oversight of the University’s equity and inclusion framework. We advocate for shared responsibility in addressing systemic inequities for faculty, staff, and students. We strategically and proactively foster an institutional culture of inclusiveness that, in turn, nurtures a climate that imbues diversity as an asset.
For more information about the office of S-JEDI, please contact us at [email protected]. To learn more about the National University System or to inquire about partnership opportunities, please contact us at 855-773-9444 or [email protected].
How Can Your Organization Benefit From an Inclusive Education Partner?
Your employees are your most valuable asset, and offering them equal opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive can strengthen your organization from within. Workforce Education Solutions Training and Development at National University offers a range of personal, professional, and academic learning opportunities by providing innovative and relevant programs in an evolving global environment. Our team of education and industry experts will partner with you to help diagnose the challenges, skill gaps, and opportunities specific to your company.
Our mission is to improve organizations’ dedication to inclusion by opening doors for all employees who may not have had the opportunity or means to pursue degrees in the past. To accomplish this, we offer:
- Tuition Reduction – NU makes earning a degree more affordable by providing significant tuition savings for employees
- Targeted Solutions – We will help you create a customized development solution that targets your current and future needs.
- Customized Cohorts – Use our state-of-the-art facilities for conferences, training, or events at preferred partner rental rates.
- Specialized Courses – Our team will design courses that complement your business strategy and align with industry competencies.
To learn more about National Workforce Education Solutions, or tuition reduction scholarships available at your organization, connect with the NU corporate partnerships team at [email protected].
Since 1971, National University has been breaking barriers in education. As a veteran-founded Yellow Ribbon school and San Diego’s largest private nonprofit university, we’re dedicated to meeting the educational needs of hard-working adults. We proudly educate a diverse group of students from across the U.S. and around the globe, with over 45,000 students and 190,000+ alums worldwide.