This article elaborates on less-often discussed ideas related to creating more inclusive workplaces.
When have you felt like you didn’t belong? Or didn’t feel valued for your views or your unique, authentic strengths? What impact did these have on you? How did you feel?
You do not need to belong to a traditional minority group to have experienced these or to value inclusion.
Yet there is some sentiment that inclusion is a compliance issue that affects minorities. It seems disconnected from some people’s daily reality.
Inclusion is important and relevant for everyone.
As mentioned in “Building Inclusive Workplaces” (2019) by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development: 1
At an individual level, workplace inclusion relates to feelings of belonging, having a voice and being valued for your unique and authentic individual skills and abilities…At an organisational level, workplace inclusion involves valuing difference, allowing all employees the opportunity to develop, participate and use their voice to effect change, irrespective of their background.
Certain minority groups face additional barriers to inclusion. So we need to take extra care to facilitate their inclusion.
Being inclusive is part of ethical leadership. It brings more meaning to your leadership journey. And inclusion is linked with team innovation, job commitment, and performance.
Here are less-often discussed ideas on making inclusion efforts work for all.
Connect the Dots
Many in the Singapore workforce are overworked, stressed, and sleep-deprived due to work. 2, 3 Rates of workplace bullying in Singapore are about three times more than in the UK. 4 We are not showing people the very empathy we are asking them to extend to their colleagues as part of being inclusive. If we truly want more inclusion, leaders need to role-model it and support people to have the bandwidth to extend it to others.
There is research showing that people who feel more positive emotions see past racial barriers. 5 Strengths experts have reported that an understanding of strengths encourages people to value difference. 6 When people feel psychologically safe, they are more likely to share what is true for them. Inclusion and acceptance of identity are elements of dignity, which Dr Donna Hicks from Harvard University shares is “our inherent value and worth as human beings”. 7 She says when leaders do not respect the dignity of others, distrust and conflict result. 8
It would help to facilitate inclusion in a more integrated and holistic way for real results and relevance for all. We need to see how it links to other key concepts and how it can be part of core strategy, operations and culture, and leadership development affecting everyone’s wellbeing and sustainable business growth.
Focus on Behaviour Change
- A 2019 report 9 based on a review of diversity and inclusion practices published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development concluded:
While unconscious bias training is hugely popular, its effectiveness is questionable, especially when done as an isolated activity… Indeed, in some cases this has been seen to make people more comfortable with their biases and lead to greater observed bias. Instead, emerging evidence suggests that a perspective-taking approach, which promises to raise awareness and empathy, has the potential to create buy-in for D&I strategy.
The report also warned against cursory diversity training done for compliance reasons.
- The field of behaviour design is important to learn from. It non-intrusively helps people change behaviours, taking into account how they are influenced to act at the unconscious level. The Influence Framework™ 10 which I am trained in, for example, asks us to consider people’s pains, gains, anxieties, and habits when designing solutions.
- Meetings are “hotspots for culture”, according to positive culture expert, Marcella Bremer. 11 You can design inclusive staff meetings that allow people’s questions, ideas, and perspectives to be gathered, regardless of whether they are introverts, divergent thinkers, or people who need more time to think. Action Learning may also be useful to embed into your organisation. Facilitated by an Action Learning coach, this is a powerful process that leverages the power of questions and diversity for a business challenge in a psychologically safe atmosphere. 12
Actively Choose Leaders Who Serve the Greater Good
Nobody from under-represented groups should face discrimination on their leadership journey. Still, there is another point to be made when it comes to inclusion and leadership.
Looking at the social and environmental crises we are facing, and the rising need and demand for businesses to be more purpose-driven and ethical, 13, 14 we urgently need leaders who embody empathy, emotional intelligence, collaboration, and serving the greater good. These are traditionally seen as feminine strengths and often exiled from boardrooms and workplaces. We need to actively choose leaders with such strengths and be open to seeing them in any gender. And we need to include such strengths in leadership development programmes if we want sustainable business success and a better life for all.
1 Mel G, & Jake Y, 2019, Building Inclusive Workplaces: Assessing the evidence, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, United Kingdom. . Accessed via https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/building-inclusive-workplaces-report-sept-2019_tcm18-64154.pdf
2 Neo R W, 26 March 2019, Sleep-deprived Singaporean workers among most stressed globally: Survey, Today Online. Accessed via https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/sleep-deprived-singaporean-workers-among-most-stressed-globally-survey
3 Singapore ranks 32 out of 40 for work-life balance, second most overworked city, 08 August 2019, Channel News Asia, Online. Accessed via https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/singapore-bottom-ranks-work-life-balance-second-most-overworked-11789264
4 Andrew J, 13 September 2017, The price of success for Asia’s workers: The region’s economies may have prospered but the health of its employees is in somewhat poorer shape, The Financial Times, Online. Accessed via https://www.ft.com/content/3e27eae2-3fa9-11e7-82b6-896b95f30f58
5 Kareem J J and Barbara L F, 2005, “We all look the same to me”: Positive emotions eliminate the own-race bias in face recognition, Psychological Science, 16, 875-881, Association for Psychological Science, United States of America. Accessed via https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2005.01631.x?journalCode=pssa&
6 Strengths White Paper, CAPP, United Kingdom. Accessed via https://strengthsprofile.com/en-gb/resources#
7 Donna H, 2013, What Is the Real Meaning of Dignity?, Psychology Today, Online. Accessed via https://www.psychologytoday.com/sg/blog/dignity/201304/what-is-the-real-meaning-dignity-0
8 Donna H, 2018, Leading with Dignity, Yale University Press, United States of America.
9 Jonny G, Mel G and Jake Y, and Peter U, 2019, Diversity Management that Works: An evidence-based view, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, United Kingdom. Accessed via https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/7926-diversity-and-inclusion-report-revised_tcm18-65334.pdf
10 Sue Behaviour Design, Influence Framework™. Accessed via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjqrfv72X-0
11 Marcella B, 2018, Developing a Positive Culture Where People and Performance Thrive, Motivational Press, Inc., United States of America.
12 Peter C, 2019, Building high-performance teams through action learning, Action Learning: Research and Practice, 16:1, 68-76, DOI: Accessed via https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14767333.2019.1562693
13 Anna S, 12 December 2018, Consumers Do Care About Retailers' Ethics And Brand Purpose, Accenture Research Finds, Forbes, Online. Accessed via https://www.forbes.com/sites/annaschaverien/2018/12/12/consumers-do-care-about-retailers-ethics-and-brand-purpose-accenture-research-finds/#3f784f1f16f2
14 Hannah K, 2018, Half of Singaporeans want sustainable brands, Eco-business online. . Accessed via https://www.eco-business.com/news/half-of-singaporeans-want-sustainable-brands/
Vadivu Govind is Director of Human Unlimited Pte. Ltd (humanunlimited.sg). The consultancy enables high-performance, life-affirming leadership and workplaces. Vadivu holds a Masters in Public Administration (Columbia University) and certifications related to topics such as team psychological safety, strengths, and behaviour design.
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