Thought for the week

Design for Inclusion: Demystifying the Building Blocks of an Inclusive Workplace

Knowing that D&I is a necessity for businesses to succeed and thrive – where does one actually begin when it comes to designing an organisation for inclusion?

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Without inclusion diversity is not enough; diversity is the first and easier step but inclusion is the key to leveraging diversity. A diverse team is one that carries differences and similarities in identities, perspectives and points of view. This, when combined with a collective sense of belonging and interconnectedness helps to create a shift from I to We. These inclusive elements create an environment of safety, and that’s when teams really shine.

The business case for inclusion and diversity continues to remain strong. According to Diversity wins, the third report in a McKinsey series investigating the role of D&I in business performance and overall success, it was revealed that the most inclusive and diverse companies are more likely than ever to outperform those less diverse organisations when it comes to profitability. This is because when we bring different people with different ways of thinking together in collaboration, creativity spikes and positive change happens. Research produced by Deloitte revealed that high performing teams are both cognitively and demographically diverse. Cognitive diversity refers to the diversity of thoughts, values and personalities and can enhance team innovation by 20%.

Knowing what we know – that D&I is a necessity for businesses to succeed and thrive – where does one actually begin when it comes to designing an organisation for inclusion?

What does design for inclusion mean?

Design for inclusion refers to the way in which inclusion has been embedded into an organisation's culture and overall business strategy – from its promotional systems to its HR policies. Inclusion in this case, refers to our need for social belonging and acceptance – one of the most basic human needs hardwired into our DNA. Inclusion is more than just looking at what makes us positively different from each other – it is also about what brings us together and makes us the same.

To begin with, we look at 4 key foundational elements that are common to us all. These act as an entry point for organisations seeking an inclusive design.

1.     Empathy: We need to be able to understand how someone else experiences our environment, including the invisible parts, too. These range from power systems and team dynamics to general employee morale.

2.    Psychological safety: More than trust – psychological safety is about providing and accepting candid feedback. It is the process of being able to come as you are, feeling safe enough in your interpersonal relationships to healthily challenge things in the system.

3.    Co-responsibility: This refers to accountability of who is responsible for what and involves taking a step away from fear-based blame culture toward greater courage and autonomy.

4.     Collective Vision: COVID has shown us that we all need a purpose bigger than our resume, however there is no point sharing a vision with people who are the same as us. We need to go and find people who have different perspectives to us, so that they can contribute to building a greater collective vision with us.

If we look at the above building blocks from a practical point of view, what does it look like to practice these foundational elements in real-time? How can we tangibly move from a culture of fear to one of courage and compassion, where inclusivity is acted out in different ways?

Below are 3 key areas that outline practical ways to move from exclusion to inclusion:


What does exclusion look like?

·       People who have a valid reason to attend either not being invited or being left out of relevant communications.

·       Fearing to challenge employers and supervisors or being spoken down to as an entity rather than as an equal.

·       Not expressing true emotion because you don't believe it will be accepted or heard, resulting in disengagement.

·       Allowing physical barriers such as access to adaptive technology or the inadequate internal design of workspace which prohibits employees from attending meetings.

What does inclusion look like?

·       Creating a safe environment where people know their voices will be heard.

·       Doing a check-in at the start of a meeting to set up the space for everyone's voice to be heard.

·       Asking around the room to gain multiple perspectives on a given topic and ensuring there is space for those who do not easily volunteer opinions.

·       Leadership being transparent when they do not know the answer to something.


What does exclusion look like?

·       A leader who is territorial over their talent, because they define themselves by results and ROI.

·       Assumptions and implicit bias embedded in hiring assessments.  

·       Leaders taking the credit for other’s work.

·       Marking individuals down in appraisals because they don’t ‘fit in’.

What does inclusion look like?

·       Removing assumptions and implicit bias from hiring assessments.  

·       Encouraging members to move around teams during projects.

·       Investing in a diverse hiring process that ensures new onboards are chosen for their skill and unique. perspective, not because they are familiar and comfortable.  

·       Openly communicating values and strategies on equality, human rights and inclusion to attract a wider pool of applicants and talent.


What does exclusion look like?

·       Reducing diversity, the more senior one looks up the career ladder.  

·       Positions being filled before employees even know they are open.  

·       Lack of transparency and communication regarding incentive schemes and workplace opportunities.

·       Failure to promote as a result of some form of conscious or unconscious discrimination.

What does inclusion look like?

·       Promotions are not about any particular person climbing the career ladder, but rather people being rewarded for striving to reach their potential and contributing the most towards the organisation’s purpose.

·       Using data / people analytics to provide transparency across all processes so that employees are always aware of promotions and incentives and how they can acquire these.

·       Allowing all employees to learn new skills and advance their careers whilst providing the proper resources to do so.

·       Women (and men) coming back into the workplace after maternity and being fully credited for past experience.

Now we know what inclusion looks like and what it doesn’t, it’s important to note that you won’t know if your inclusion strategies are working unless they are being measured. Measuring inclusion can be as simple as asking people how they are experiencing their environment. The Forbes Insights survey found that the most popular metrics for diversity and inclusion are:

·       Employee morale

·       Employee turnover

·       Employee productivity

As Suzie Lewis, our guest speaker said in our most recent online dialogue event in which we explored ‘Design for Inclusion’: “We all have a responsibility in an inclusive environment to be an agent of and for change”.

Diversity and inclusion efforts are much more than just a feel-good corporate policy. They attract and engage top talent whilst advocating “moving to a culture of change, not fear”.

Remember “Diversity Drives Business Forward”.

To book onto our next event, Optimising for Inclusion: The LGBT+ Lens, use the Eventbrite link here:

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021
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by Serenity in Leadership
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