4 Ways Leaders Can Promote Inclusion In Teams
If your organization is investing significant resources into diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I), then you're on the right track, but unless your top-level executives are prioritizing the success of these initiatives, the sad truth is that you're unlikely to see much impact.
Indeed, the entire leadership team needs to actively promote a culture of inclusiveness if it takes hold. As a key pillar of DE&I, inclusion often falls by the wayside, receiving less attention than diversity and equity.
Merely recruiting talent from underrepresented sectors isn't enough. As a business leader or HR professional, you need to drive the change in culture and processes to make sure everyone on your team feels heard and valued.
If you know where to look, it's relatively easy to recruit people of color to your team, for example, whereas transforming your workplace into one that's truly inclusive is far more challenging. This calls for an organization-wide and highly intentional effort.
The good news is that when senior leaders make inclusion a business priority, it sends a message to the entire company. That's why it can't be the sole preserve of HR – if it is, your DE&I is likely to remain just a box-ticking exercise that doesn't drive real change.
In this post, we will share top tactics businesses can adopt to drive genuine inclusivity in their day-to-day processes and sustain diverse workplaces.
1. Lead by Example
Your top leadership has to set the tone by showing that DE&I is important to them and not just not just mouthing along with the words. Doing this encompasses two elements: championing DE&I efforts and ensuring that the leadership team is diverse.
"Diversity and inclusion should always start at the top," asserts Frank Vang-Jensen, CEO of Nordea. "We know that diversity and inclusion make us better, in our aim to deliver great customer experiences, in our efforts to create the best workplaces, and long-term to deliver the best financial performance," he adds.
At the same time, if your executive suite is white, straight, male, and homogenous, your DE&I initiatives will struggle to resonate. Employees and candidates will feel that you are paying lip service to popular ideals but aren't committed to helping diverse talent advance.
2. Encourage a Culture Where Everyone Feels Heard
Inclusion requires a company culture that empowers all employees to contribute while being their true and best selves. They should not feel pressure to conform to the existing culture and should feel safe enough to speak up both to report microaggressions and to share their ideas and suggestions.
Your culture creates a feedback loop that can be either positive or negative. Employees who feel they are taken seriously when they report a lack of inclusivity are then more likely to feel confident enough to speak up in meetings, put themselves forward for new roles, and volunteer for responsibility.
Likewise, the inverse is also true. Deloitte reports that only 31% of harassment instances are reported overall, while 93% of women believe that reporting non-inclusive behaviors will negatively impact their careers – and most feel that their employers won't take action even if they do speak up.
This phenomenon is supported by a recent BuiltIn survey, which found that 39% of women and BIPOC employees don't feel that their voices and perspectives are considered in the decision-making process at their jobs.
3. Educate and Empower Your Middle Management
Inclusivity leadership begins at the top, but it mustn't end there. Unless the entire organization receives inclusivity training, your employees will not feel like they are valuable team members.
For example, Joonko's Naomi Loewenstern writes about her experiences as a trans woman in high-tech. She explains that from her perspective, it's not just about whether people from all sectors can find employment, be open about their identities, or access promotion opportunities.
"Harassment, biases, and transmisogyny need to be eradicated from workspaces so trans women can maintain job security and financial freedom," she says, adding that organizations need to "start by educating your workforce on what it means to be transgender."
"Minor" harassment like misgendering and bathroom discrimination add to intolerance, exclusion, and prejudice. These practices will only cease if the entire workforce is educated about trans people, not just the C-suite or HR department.
BCG research found that employees who see consistent support through all leadership ranks are 25% more likely to feel included than those in organizations where only senior executives, not direct managers, are committed to inclusivity.
4. Measure the Progress of Your DE&I Initiatives
"You can't manage what you can't measure," as the adage goes, and it applies to DE&I as much as it does to any other issue.
Measuring DE&I progress shows that you take it seriously. Applicants increasingly look to diversity metrics, especially younger Gen Z workers who are more concerned about the ethics of their employers. If you aren't reporting on your DE&I progress over time to the general public, candidates are likely to (rightly or wrongly) take that as a sign that DE&I isn't important to you.
Additionally, without data, you can't do anything to improve DE&I. An Aptitude Research report found that 57% of companies don't have the data they need to make decisions on talent – including how to improve diversity or how inclusivity levels impact hiring choices.
Mykaela Doane, head of people and talent at Denver-based OKR software company Gtmhub, says that transparency is "integral to creating an environment of trust, which in turn empowers people to do their best work." She adds that "internal alignment allows for accountability and trust and opens the door for conversation, powering future initiatives and fueling deeper understanding."
Ideally, you'll have baseline pre-intervention data to track progress, but if not, use benchmark data from others in your industry.
Metrics to consider include:
- Recruitment funnel performance (applicants, interviewees, which candidates dropped out at which stages)
- Promotions within the company
- Retention and turnover
- Employee engagement (through surveys, focus groups, and ERG discussions)
- Compensation, how bonuses are awarded, who receives bonuses
- Supplier and vendor diversity
Inclusive teams aren't a pipe dream.
Although true inclusivity can feel like a distant goal, it's within your grasp if you take the right approach. By starting at the top, educating the entire workforce, building a culture where everyone feels safe to speak up, and implementing practical methods to track your DE&I progress, you'll be able to actualize your vision of a diverse, equitable, inclusive, and above all, vibrant organization.