Six secrets to create an inclusive environment at work


There’s a lot of talk about diversity and inclusion right now. Diversity just means different. Every single one of us is a unique human being with different experiences, values and beliefs.

Any difference is diversity.

It might refer to gender, ethnicity, background, skills, age or experience. The list goes on and on. But simply ticking the diversity box and throwing a mix of different people together doesn’t mean your teams will perform. High performance, creativity and innovation require inclusivity. This is different to diversity.

We define inclusion as, ‘feeling, valued, trusted and safe. Having a sense of belonging such that you can be your best self and do your best work.’

Many organisations treat inclusion as a word to add on to the ‘equal opportunity and diversity’ agenda. Inclusion is not a tick box exercise either. Inclusion is about a culture where people feel genuinely valued, trusted and safe. Where people feel that they belong and that they can bring their best selves to work.

Research by Deloitte shows that inclusion directly enhances performance. Teams with inclusive leaders are 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. They also found that a 10% improvement just in the perception of inclusion increases work attendance by almost one day a year per employee, reducing the cost of absenteeism. Really making people feel valued, trusted and safe takes time, thought and effort.

Inclusion is a feeling

Have you ever been to a wedding on your own where you didn’t know anyone? You’re all there to celebrate with the bride and groom on their happy day. And whilst you were most definitely part of the celebrations, did you feel included?

Do you feel included in your working life?

Do you arrive at your place of work confident, ready to be your best self and do your best work? Or do you turn up at your organisation and feel you need to change to be like everyone else? For example, have you ever not spoken up, or modified your behaviour to fit in? If you feel like you can’t be yourself at work, that you’re pretending to be something different, then you’ve already experienced how it feels to work in an environment that’s not inclusive.

I believe that to do your best work you have to bring your whole self to work. If you leave a part of yourself at the door because you’re trying to ‘fit in’ or be something you’re not then its exhausting. It’s also very hard to be happy and do your best work when you’re trying to be someone you’re not.

What about innovation and inclusion?

Different perspectives are valuable for innovation as they can counter ‘groupthink’. And while you may feel more comfortable working with people who share your background or opinions, collaborating with people who don’t look, talk, or think like you stretches you to think more critically and creatively. However, this sort of diversity is only helpful to innovation when opinions can be genuinely heard. Getting a group of people in the room to develop ideas is pointless if only the loudest, most senior or most conventional people are heard. Diverse teams enable innovation but only when they operate in an inclusive environment where people are encouraged to be themselves, to solve problems, to generate different solutions and are genuinely listened to.

Bias is inevitable

We all have bias. Whether that’s consciously or unconsciously, perhaps you have a bias about gender, age, sexuality or ethnicity? Do you have affinity bias where you’re more likely to like people who are similar to you? Or a bias referred to as ‘halo or horns effect’ where you assume someone is great or awful in all areas, because of their performance in one? How about recall bias where you remember and place greater emphasis on recent events over past ones when making decisions? Or do you prefer conformity and have a bias towards agreeing with the rest of the group? Or confirmation bias where you look selectively for information to back up a pre existing view rather than treating all new information equally? Or what about a beauty bias equating beauty with competence and likability and lack of beauty with incompetence or being less liked?

If bias in inevitable, how do I create an inclusive environment?

  • Treat everyone equally well. Creating an environment of inclusivity is about being aware of the biases that exist and treating everyone equally well. That’s not treating people the same because the way I need to be managed is likely to be different to the way you need to be managed. An inclusive manager treats us both equally well and in a way that makes us feel valued, trusted and safe.
  • Believe in and commit to your people. To treat people well you have to believe in them and be committed to their success. Start with checking in what you’re believing about your work colleagues. Are you committed to them? If not why not?
  • Deliberately seek out difference. Ask people on the edge of your network for their thoughts on a work problem. For example, seek out opportunities to ask colleagues whom you don’t usually work with – the Lucidity Facebook Community is there for exactly this too.
  • Check yourself. We’re all guilty of ‘The Susan Boyle Effect’ – making judgements on someone’s talent based on our views of how they appear, sound or behave. Next time you notice yourself doing this, check yourself and challenge your assumptions.
Are they right – or not?
  • Commit to bringing your real self to work. Your greatest achievement to be your best self . Don’t change who you are to fit in, be proud and courageous in expressing your different opinions, perspectives and the value they bring to your organisation.
  • Build trust. One way to do this is to be more open about sharing failures and learning from them. You might do that in a team meeting or your next 1:1 and encourage others to do
the same.

Are you already inclusive in your approach? Do you have success stories about trust and value at work? Please share your tips and stories below.

2 thoughts on “Six secrets to create an inclusive environment at work

  1. Sadly, my first ideas in response to reading this excellent article on inclusion, were of seriously lost opportunities that I observed because an exclusive environment existed. How many such opportunities have passed me by because I have not been as inclusive as I might?

    In my opinion, inclusion is an especially important challenge in the workplace because of the focus on, and drive to achieve the goals of the organisation. Within any time-pressured environment it is difficult to allow and encourage serendipity to happen — it is often when relaxing and laughing with others who are significantly different that brilliant ideas emerge.

    Thank you Lucy for another great piece.

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