Feeling left out, overlooked or unsupported can negatively affect performance and productivity. It can also cause a disconnect between an organisation and its employees, and leave excellent staff feeling dissatisfied and disengaged with their jobs. How can we make underrepresented employees feel valued, included and heard?
The very first step is to realise that your organisation has an inclusion challenge. Most organisations are in denial when questions of inclusion come up. Others seem to make moves in the right direction, while some develop solutions that are not constantly reviewed, monitored and measured. (read: how to know if your organisation lacks an inclusive culture).
Inclusion: A deliberate Process
Creating a culture of inclusion should not be an initiative to be managed, but a strategic issue that should touch on core aspects of an organisation. Already, the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has completed rules that mandate regulated, listed firms to have at least 40% women at the board level, at least one woman in an executive position, and at least one board member from a Black or ethnic minority background, or explain failing to comply. This already calls for organisations to take deliberate steps to increase diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) among their workforces and take a holistic approach to issues of DEI. To this end, ethnically diverse professionals should be included in decision-making and placed on essential committees, particularly since the argument of the “pipeline issue” as a reason for a lack of underrepresented professionals at leadership levels is no longer a justifiable excuse. When there is a diverse representation at the management level, it pushes the fears of a lack of progression and instils a “looks like me” impression.
Programmes and initiatives that encourage inclusion should be organised and promoted- both internally and externally. For instance, ‘get-to-know event’, ‘rotate the workspace’ or ‘work with a teammate’ or a randomly selected ‘seat with me’- and be executed from the top-down and bottom-up to fill trust gaps that have already been eroded from diversity fatigue. Ask for their input in the presence of others, praise them publicly when a job is done well or suggest that particular employees rotate as meeting leaders to help them showcase their value to others.
The lack of buy-in by leadership is not a new challenge for Chief Diversity Officers (CDOs). HR leaders and CDOs are constantly being tasked with impossible quotas and allocated insufficient resources to make tremendous changes. It is no longer appropriate or adequate to hand the responsibilities to HR managers alone. Support from management is essential to have any meaningful result. Managers have influence, authority, and a great capacity to effect change, therefore, they have the most significant impact on whether any individual employee feels included. More than that, inclusive leaders model the behaviours of their team to create an environment where each person feels seen and valued.
Accelerating Inclusion Through Sponsorship and Mentoring
Black and underrepresented professionals often struggle to navigate their careers because they don’t have access to insider knowledge and may be unconsidered by those above because of conscious and unconscious bias. This is why sponsors are important- to use their influence and power to advocate for them at the table, putting their reputation and personal brand in line. Mentoring provides access to people with power and influence and helps develop the skills to speed up career growth. Pairing them with experienced sponsors and mentors who help them learn the ropes can make them better positioned to take advantage of opportunities and achieve their full potential.
Training to Both Leadership and Underrepresented Employees
An effective inclusion training programme should be multi-pronged to teach line managers and leaders how to recognise bias within themselves and others and guide underrepresented team members on how to navigate their careers and develop hard and soft skills. It can also encourage them to share their struggles and experiences.
The success of this training will depend on rolling out a series of programs to ingrain diversity and inclusion into the fabric of an organisation instead of one-and-done events, one-time workshops, or an annual day of training. This way, it becomes more about reinforcement of positive behaviour than an annual lecture on all the prohibitive rules. This training should also be tailor-made to address the unique challenges and align with the organisation’s vision, mission, values and goals.
While DEI initiatives have witnessed significant advancement over the years as more and more organisations continue to see the benefits of increased representation, there is still a lot that needs to be done with inclusion.
Want to find out more about how to create a more inclusive and engaged team? Click here to read our report on Uncovering the Overlooked Talent Pool.