Are we really Inclusive at Work?

Team IIBP Anveshan, Emotional Intelligence, General Psychology, Mental Health, — Issue 10

The moment we hear conversations about Inclusion at work, our first thought goes towards the Inclusion of Women. Whether you look around in most organizations or even at a more granular level within your teams, meetings, you will find women being represented at different hierarchical levels –as peers, juniors, and sometimes as leaders. Moving away to a more general scenario, you board a flight or check into a hotel and you are likely to be greeted by a woman.  

Given these interactions and the exchanges with women in a professional environment, our mind is often perplexed with the question – is there really an Inclusion issue in our workplaces?  

The issue is much deeper and more complex than these visual imprints. The recent Global Gender Gap  Report 2021 by the World Economic Forum, saw India drop 28 places to rank 140 out of a total 156  countries!! 

At an Organizational level, there could be several reasons. One generally witnesses several companies who believe that by running a women’s day program, felicitating women on Women’s Day, or by extending maternity benefits, they are encouraging culture and an organizational environment that is more inclusive. However, as most of us in the learning and behavioral sciences know, change does not happen overnight. The result of these tick box activities is an optical illusion that companies build around themselves – proclaiming to be inclusive and even brandishing themselves as Equal  Opportunities Employers.  

While the gender gap is only one facet of the inclusion aspect, let’s not forget the other major piece on Inclusion – Persons with Disabilities (PwD). The 2011 Census classified around 2.21% of the  Population as PwD’s, about 26.8 million (WHO estimates are at 15% = 181.9 million) of which 64% are unemployed. This is a massive number, which surmounts to a massive loss in GDP as well and a fallout of this which results to an economic dependence impacting their families. The only ray of hope is that the Public Sector seems to be doing better than the Private sector in this instance – employing 0.54%  as against the meek 0.28% by the Private sector.  

And what about including an unclassified segment into the workplace – returnee women, veterans,  laid-off senior executives, acid victims, people who took breaks to care for family members or themselves (cancer survivors, road accident survivors), or people who have simply taken a break due to a mental breakdown. How likely are we to hire them, retain them or promote them to higher roles?  

Inclusion is undoubtedly a tough task to act on. But not an impossible one!  

Several organizations are doing some brilliant work in this space making conscious efforts to celebrate the mix of the uniqueness that is reflected in embracing the diverse workgroups.  They have figured their secret recipes to making this agenda successful & in turn, reaping the benefits of an Inclusive Culture. To name a few, organizations such as Lemon Tree, Yum! Brands, Intuit, Google,  Microsoft, etc. have been at the forefront of building truly inclusive organizations.  

While there are a few who have demonstrated success in this journey, the reason why most organizations struggle with this crucial topic is a lack of focused agenda. Most organizations that I have What’sForumacross during my consulting role, have initiated this agenda because it’s being driven by their International HO or a senior leader wanting to focus on this agenda. The thought is great, but the plan is missing. The quick-fix solution used by most organizations portraying to create an inclusive culture is to hire more women to scale your numbers reflecting a better diversity ratio or simply copy best practices of successful organizations. But most of these initiatives eventually fizzle out because the agenda becomes the sole responsibility of the HR or D&I Teams leading it.  

In order to make Inclusion a part of the Organization’s Culture, it requires the involvement of people across the organization and board. Key Stakeholders need to become an integral part of this group,  own the agenda, drive and sustain this agenda. The first step to kickstart this journey would require them to Identify the overarching Business Case for Inclusion – Why Inclusion matters for your Team/  Business Vertical/ Organization, and accordingly curate Custom and relevant solutions to meet those needs. From driving Inclusion Labs to Biases Training for the Recruitment Teams, Line Managers, to simply using more Inclusive language in your Communication – both internal and external, to rewarding those demonstrating inclusive behaviors and institutionalizing a promotion criterion across all managerial levels to foster this cultural adaption are key. Once you start putting together processes that foster this culture have frequent pulse surveys to understand the Inclusion pulse within teams – do people feel included, are their ideas, opinions being heard or included in the decision-making process? Is there Psychological Safety within Teams? How do we look at failures and mistakes as a team and as an organization? The answers to these questions will help throw light on whether you are steering the ship in the right direction and will help you to take actions to timely course correct.  

Practices that are in sync with the organization’s agenda or vision and that stem from the buy-in of key people are more likely to be successful since more people are held accountable for this change. You will automatically see an effort to drive the same and witness a workplace whereby stakeholders pivot on building on the success and momentum of each other – thereby driving Inclusion in the wider setup.  The way to create an Inclusive Culture is to drive a multi-pronged approach with success in each factor adding up to making the Culture Inclusive rather than only focusing on hiring from certain diversities or having a one-off event such as a Women’s Day celebration or one-day training on Inclusion.  

In my role as a consultant, and in being a part of the change agenda of several organizations to imbibe a more inclusive culture, here are a few simple steps to start your journey If you intend to build  Inclusive Teams – 

  1. Start with hiring people from diverse backgrounds, socio-economic, experiences, ages, etc. Do not restrict this process to the gender facet. 
  2. There is no point hiring talented folks and not valuing their viewpoints. Create opportunities for them to be heard. 
  3. Be Empathetic – their view may not match yours and it’s fine. Don’t be dismissive, instead try and understand them.  
  4. Form relationships with them – genuine ones, and you will start seeing the various abilities  they bring into the game 
  5. Become more aware of your biases. Pay some more attention to yourself and your actions.  Work on identifying them and then reducing these biases. 
  6. Look at the data. It could stem from your hiring data and practices, promotion figures, or even simply the number of meetings you schedule with different people, it may share some surprising insights.

Inclusion doesn’t happen overnight; one has to constantly strive towards it. Start with yourself and you will see the result of celebrating the different hues across the palette unfolding to create a  beautiful masterpiece. 

 

References

Sinar, E., & Wooll, M. (2021, February 18). What makes an inclusive leader? BetterUp. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from https://www.betterup.com/blog/what-makes-an-inclusive-leader-and-6-ways-to-up-your-game

Whats New. (2021, September 30). Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from http://disabilityaffairs.gov.in/content/page/whats-new.php

World Economic Forum. (2021). Global Gender Gap Report 2021. World Economic forum. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GGGR_2021.pdf

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

  • Sunith Kunder is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist, having completed his Master’s in  Psychology from Mumbai University. He is also a trained Counselor having completed his Post  Graduate Diploma in Counseling Psychology.  
  • Sunith has over 9 years of experience working in various roles in the HR domain from Talent  Acquisition to Talent Management, Talent Development, Employee Engagement, Talent  Analytics and Psychometrics, Organizational Development, HR systems, etc. Throughout his career, he has partnered with several Startups, especially in the Digital Media space and  SME’s to help set up their HR systems, processes, and functions and support them to establish best HR practices in a consulting role.  
  • Sunith was also part of the Young Professionals Officer (YPO) program of the Commonwealth  Secretariat (London, UK) and worked as part of the Organizational Development & Systems  Team, where he managed the entire gamut of Learning & Development for the organization,  including establishing the online learning system, managing Learning Weeks and other developmental activities.  
  • Post his stint in London, Sunith has been working as a consultant for various startups, and also part of the project group for a Corporate Trust’s program as a Psychologist and Monitoring &  Evaluation role.  
  • He is currently working as a Senior Consultant at Capstone People Consulting, handling Key  Accounts in the Leadership & Change practice and actively works on Client Projects dealing with  Gender Empowerment and Leadership, Gender Sensitization Journeys, Conscious and  Unconscious Biases, LGBTQ Inclusion and Generational Diversity