The importance of inclusion

Creating a diverse workforce is only the first step to creating a successful workplace, you also need to foster inclusion

It’s no secret in the modern workplace that diversity is good for business. The evidence is that a diverse team is a more innovative team.

But the mistake that far too many businesses make, is believing the job is done once they can see that their team is diverse. In reality, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. For a team to truly achieve its potential, leaders must strive to foster a culture that’s inclusive, not just diverse.

Diversity creates the potential for different opinions and ideas, but it’s inclusion that allows that potential to be realised. To successfully create an environment such as this, there are four key actions that I believe must be undertaken.

Establish ‘psychological safety’

If team members are to feel they can share their thoughts and opinions, it’s vital that leaders establish a culture of psychological safety. To do so, they should consider how regularly they praise and recognise the skills that team members contribute to a session or a piece of work. It’s critical to ensure a leader knows their team well enough that they can connect with everybody, rather than just a select few people.

Another thing to consider is self-management. One of the biggest things that undermines psychological safety is a leader who shoots down a contribution in front of the rest of the team, regardless of how outlandish it might be. Likewise, losing their temper or talking to one team member behind another’s back can also jeopardise an atmosphere of psychological safety.

It only takes a leader to cross the line once to undermine several months, or even years, of creating a safe environment. If a leader does slip up, they have to acknowledge and own it straight away.

Discourage ‘groupthink’

Strangely, one of the worst things a recruiter can do if they’re keen to build an inclusive workforce is to think about ‘team fit’. Leaders may think they’re doing the right thing by recruiting someone who will gel with the rest of the team, but they’re essentially hiring people who will think in exactly the same way as the existing team.

Likewise, it’s essential to break up cliques that regularly work together. They might have a great understanding of how each other works, but there’s a good chance that they will have fallen into the groupthink approach, meaning they’ll think about things from the same perspective and their innovation levels will be lower.

Encourage ‘servant behaviour’

An inclusive environment won’t only encourage teams to make bold suggestions, but will also foster higher levels of servant behaviour, whereby team members work collaboratively on behalf of their colleagues. For example, an idea might be initially suggested by one person, but the rest of the team will work on behalf of that idea to bring it to fruition. Rather than the person who originally proposed the idea being competitive about the fact that it’s their idea, it offers a much more collaborative move towards achieving something great as a team.

Be honest

A leader won’t be able to create a truly diverse environment if they aren’t honest about the action that they’re taking to make it a reality.

For example, leaders will often believe they are being inclusive because they can point to some relationships where they have frank, open discussion and are happy for their team member to challenge them. However, you have to be able to say that about everyone in your team. If you can only say it about some of them, that is a classic indicator that you are generally not being inclusive.

I’d recommend that leaders regularly engage in self-reflection; especially on their relationships with their team. They can also invite feedback from the team. Frank, honest advice on how you perform against some of these indicators is crucial, as is using that information to determine how you should improve your approach.

The cornerstone of any inclusive culture is trust. It’s about bringing different people together and making sure that they feel safe enough to openly share the full wealth of their background, knowledge and opinions, both to each other and to their leaders.

Nic Hammarling is head of diversity at Pearn Kandola