10 ways of improving employee inclusion at your organisation

Inclusion is essential for high performance but too many organisations only pay it lip service, writes Lee Russell of learning consultancy OnTrack. But there are 10 steps companies can take improve inclusion, and thus productivity.

The great irony of organisational diversity and inclusion initiatives is that the "inclusion" aspect is often "excluded".

Typically, diversity initiatives will focus on the need to provide equal opportunities, employment law compliance and the merits of diverse recruitment. These are of course highly important. But attracting and recruiting a diverse workforce is only half the battle. You then have to create an inclusive workplace in which people are accepted as individuals, regardless of their differences and where they feel their contribution is valued.

If any of your employees do not feel part of the organisation, their personal performance will decline. Exclusion acts as a psychological distraction. It plays on people's minds and can even lead to paranoia as individuals wonder "what's wrong with me?" Their stress levels can rise, they'll avoid collaboration with others and their engagement will plummet. Absenteeism and attrition will increase.

Consequently, productivity, innovation and agile working - the ability to adapt quickly to changing circumstances - can all suffer. Put simply, if your diversity and inclusion initiatives are focusing primarily on the need for diverse talent, rather than how to make people feel included, aspects of your business are under threat.

Diagnosing inclusion

You can assess your organisation's inclusivity by examining three areas:

  • Culture. Does your culture support inclusion? What are you doing that makes your employees feel included? What makes people feel excluded? Your culture is influenced by the behaviour of your senior managers, the stories they tell, the way they manage people and the example they set. What behaviours are driving your culture?
  • People. Do your people really feel included? Engagement surveys will provide a general temperature check but what are people actually saying about their jobs, and the organisation, around the coffee machine and on social media? That's where they'll express their true feelings.
  • Processes. Do your processes, including compensation and bonuses, support inclusion? Are they fair? Do they encourage the right behaviour? Could they be inhibiting inclusion?

What to change

If your organisation has an issue with inclusion, here are 10 approaches that might address the problem:

  1. Mission and values. If your employees are not aligned with the overall purpose and values of your organisation, they'll never truly feel part of the business. Your mission should showcase what you stand for - and your employees should feel inspired to achieve it.
  2. Recruitment. While supporting diversity, your recruitment process should target candidates whose personal values match those of the organisation. Training for hiring managers should be broadened from equal opportunities and employment law to include the interviewing skills needed to identify candidates who are likely to feel included in your organisation.
  3. Onboarding. Instead of simply giving new recruits a diversity policy to read, create a training intervention on inclusion. This should highlight why it's important to value people's differences - and how to do this.
  4. Communication. Share details of your operational performance and your plans for the future with employees. Let them feel included in the direction of the business and in the decisions that underpin the organisation. Initiate "town hall" meetings, where employees can meet and question senior managers.
  5. Leadership. Your leadership team should role-model inclusive behaviour. Consider creating a module for your leadership development programmes on inclusion. The challenge here is that your leaders will think they're inclusive. No one wants to be seen as sexist, racist or homophobic. But their role in shaping the culture of your organisation must be emphasised. The attitudes they display are also important. If your employees look at your leaders and think it's never going to be possible to be one of them, they'll feel excluded.
  6. Line managers and HR business partners. Managers at all levels - including first-line managers, supervisors and team leaders - have a responsibility to look for signs of exclusion (or not participating fully) in their teams. They should help each person to understand how their work contributes to the organisation's mission. They can ask people directly: do you feel included in what we do as a team? If people are fundamentally against the values of the organisation, they'll probably leave (and they should leave). But there may be issues or blockers which are making them feel excluded that can be easily addressed. HR business partners have a similar role in enabling inclusion in the organisation.
  7. Performance management. Inclusion can be integrated into your performance review process. This should be a forum where employees can openly discuss any issues they have around fairness, transparency and equality of opportunity.
  8. Succession planning. Some employees feel inhibited from applying to management roles in their organisation, because they believe these are restricted to certain people, for example those of a certain gender or a certain background. The HR challenge here is to ensure that all employees feel that their internal applications (for roles they're capable of undertaking) would be welcomed.
  9. Exit interviews. When people are leaving, they're more inclined to be honest about any issues that have prompted their departure. Ask them if they are leaving because they felt excluded or held back in some way?
  10. Development. Inclusion awareness training should be integrated into your existing diversity training programmes. It can even be added to team development programmes. A team may not be achieving high performance because one or more of the team members feels excluded either from the team or from the organisation. Development interventions should ensure that individuals are equipped with the right mindset, toolset and skill-set to be effective in their role. This is key to helping them feel part of the organisation.

Diversity and inclusion shouldn't be about positively discriminating by setting targets and quotas. It should equip your organisation with a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, so you can better understand and meet the needs of diverse customers. Yes, your organisation can benefit from recruiting a diverse workforce - but you'll only realise those benefits if your people actually feel included and valued enough to contribute.

We all deserve the opportunity to work in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment where we can achieve our potential. Is anything inhibiting this in your workplace? If so, strive to address it.