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5 Reasons Why Your Company Should Be More Inclusive

March 02, 2021 Leadership
scott clark
By Scott Clark

Many businesses today embrace diversity in the workplace but are still unaware why inclusion is equally important. While diversity is a vital core value, it will not thrive without inclusion.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are not just buzzwords — they are a way of life for many companies and should be a core value for all businesses. Google has a page devoted to diversity, and like other other tech companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Apple, it files an annual report that details the increase or decrease in the diversity of its employees. Google’s most recent report shows strides in diversity and inclusion, but white males remain the largest demographic group in leadership (66%).

Clearly, more progress is needed and inclusion is key to success. But what exactly is inclusion and why should companies support and develop it? Here are five reasons to prioritize inclusion.

Inclusion Enhances Employee Engagement

Gallup research showed that employees in an inclusive workplace are more engaged, demonstrate higher advocacy for their company, and have a higher retention rate.

Yet, according to Gallup, only 34% of employees consider themselves to be engaged in the workplace. They are doing the work but are putting in little additional effort and their connection to their employer doesn’t go much beyond a paycheck. That presents a significant opportunity for organizations to boost productivity and results via inclusion.

"Every major study of employee engagement (Glint, Qualtrics, Glassdoor) last year found that the No. 1 issue in engagement right now is belonging," said Josh Bersin, an industry analyst and founder of Josh Bersin Academy. "This means giving people a sense that they are included, they fit, and their personal style and differences are honored at work. So ‘inclusion’ or ‘belonging’ is a tremendously important measure of engagement, retention, innovation and customer service."

Related Article: How Companies Can Bake Diversity and Inclusion Into Their DNA

Inclusion Creates a Sense of Belonging

Accepting and embracing each employee’s differences and individuality creates a sense of belonging. From this point of view, inclusion and belonging are really the same thing. “Inclusion in the DEI context means including people regardless of differences," Bersin said. "This is the essence of belonging, and it clearly also implies being fair, equitable and transparent — with job hiring, promotion, pay and other rewards.”

Surprisingly, given the HR implications Bersin noted, only 6% of HR leaders believe lack of diversity is a threat to a positive company culture, said Amy Mosher, chief people officer at isolved, a human capital management software company. That's according to a recent survey her company completed. “If I were to take this same survey, I would have rated lack of diversity much higher on the threats to a positive company culture,” she said. 

Mosher sees that as an opportunity to redouble efforts to create a belonging, particularly when employees are working in a distributed environment.

“When we work across time zones, we need to find creative ways of bridging that distance with engagement programs. When we dig deeper into why someone feels like they belong, however, we must highlight that representation matters,” said Mosher. “There is no sense of belonging without every single employee feeling like they belong. That’s real equity and inclusion.”

Related Article: Embrace Diversity and Inclusion for an Improved Employee Experience

Inclusion Improves the Employee Experience

How does inclusion improve the employee experience? “It lets people speak up, innovate, share new ideas, and obviously help others without risk,” Bersin said.

An inclusive work environment also shows employees their employer is interested in their ideas and perspective, which enhances satisfaction and boosts loyalty to a business. Inclusive companies are more likely to recruit and retain top talent, and those employees are more likely to become advocates for the company. 

Inclusion is an important piece of successful business, said Chris Savage, CEO and co-founder of Wistia, a video marketing software company. “It’s one thing to strive for equity, but inclusion takes it a step further and makes everyone feel valued, respected, fulfilled, and welcome," he said. "Being empathetic and building an inclusive culture is more than a nice-to-have … it has real strategic value.”  

In a recent post on Wistia culture, Savage wrote that the company is committed to approaching everything they do through a DEI lens because it impacts how they grow and build teams, cultivate leaders and create a company that fosters a sense of belonging for everyone. 

An inclusive culture enables every individual to say they belong, are valued and can be themselves at the company, said Teresa Hopke, CEO, North America at Talking Talent, a global inclusivity coaching firm. "People who feel this way are motivated to take part and contribute, knowing that their perspectives and contributions are valued and make a difference,” she said.

“There are a wide variety of benefits when diversity and inclusion are truly a part of the fabric of an organization — from unlocking true potential, driving innovation to increasing retention.”

An Inclusive Workplace Enhances Innovation

Innovation is inherently risky, and a sense of belonging encourages employees to feel comfortable taking such risks. “Innovation requires risk-taking and people who don’t feel included will stay quiet and avoid giving new ideas, feedback or suggestions," Bersin said. "So companies with high degrees of belonging are more creative and innovative.”

Amber Corrin, director of content and diversity and inclusion at Sage Communications, an integrated communications agency, said diversity and inclusion in the workplace provide greater opportunities for more effective problem-solving and decision making. “Workplace diversity improves innovation, decision making, revenue generation, and probably every other aspect of an organization," Corrin said. "This is true because, at least in part, diverse backgrounds create diverse ways of thinking, diverse approaches to problem-solving and diverse experiences that shape performance.”

An inclusive workplace means that each employee is free to walk their own pathway to solving problems. Corrin said each of us thinks and work in ways that are heavily influenced by our life experiences and these differing perspectives provide opportunities for innovation and problem-solving that a homogenous workforce lacks. 

“These journeys are all incredibly different for each person," Corrin said. "That’s invaluable in the workplace because it means the members of the same team all interpret, process, strategize and respond differently even when facing the same challenges and objectives." 

Related Article: The Future of Work Requires Inclusion

Inclusive Leaders Are More Effective Leaders

What leaders say and do makes up to a 70% difference in whether an employee feels included, according to the authors of a recent Harvard Business Review article. Therefore, leaders need to be visibly committed to diversity and inclusion and aware of personal and organizational biases. They should be humble enough to acknowledge their vulnerability to bias, and not be afraid to ask for feedback on those vulnerabilities. 

“Leaders set the example so the more they listen and accommodate different ideas and styles, the greater inclusion and diversity for everyone," Bersin said. His firm's DEI study shows that companies with a high degree of leadership focus on inclusion are 3-4 times more profitable and financially successful than their peers.

At this point, business leaders shouldn't need convincing, as they already recognize the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We already know companies benefit from more diverse workplaces, whether it’s McKinsey finding that racially and ethnically diverse companies outperform national industry medians by some 35%, or Glassdoor reporting that 67% of job-seekers prioritize a diverse workforce in prospective employers,” Corrin said. 

“For a generation that watched George Floyd die in the palm of their hand, a diverse workplace isn’t a perk — it’s a requirement,” said Corrin. “It’s where they know their particular strengths will be recognized and valued. And it’s where employers and employees alike understand exactly how and why inclusiveness benefits the entire workforce.”  

Diversity and inclusion should be core values that every company encourages throughout the organization, from hiring practices to internal policies to leadership positions. Inclusion enhances employee engagement and innovation, creates a sense of belonging, improves the employee experience, enhances innovation and improves leadership skills and abilities. 

“An inclusive culture is essential for recruiting and retaining the type of talent needed to succeed as a business,” said Savage. “It also helps navigate big change more effectively. Without the trust we’ve built through our culture at Wistia, 2020 would have been impossible to navigate. Instead, our team was able to do some of their best work regardless of the pandemic struggles.”

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