Building an Inclusive Workplace in a Divisive World

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Organizations are increasingly global. To work effectively with customers, partners and employees around the world, we need to interact with and build relationships with people who may speak a different language, celebrate different holidays, or have different ideologies. To succeed in our jobs, we need to work effectively in culturally diverse environments.

Visit any organization’s website in corporate America and there is bound to be a section on diversity and inclusion. While forward-thinking organizations are stepping up their efforts to recruit a diverse workforce, every organization defines diversity and inclusion differently. For most organizations, diversity means ensuring their workforce is comprised of a healthy mix of gender, ethnicities, age, backgrounds, and thinking. While that’s a step in the right direction, it’s just a tiny step as diversity transcends these parameters.

To me, a culturally diverse workplace is one that comprises a multi-generational workforce, different personality types such as introverts vs. extroverts, and employees with varied emotional quotients as part of the diversity mix. Above all, a culturally diverse workplace is one where everyone feels included and belongs. To quote diversity advocate Vernā Myers, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

As an entrepreneur and CEO of a technology company, I firmly believe in hiring employees on their merit — not on their sex, race, color, nationality, personality, religious beliefs or sexual orientation. I also believe that the responsibility to provide a work environment where every employee feels included is on the organization. To me, an inclusive workplace is one where every employee regardless of nationality, color or race is empowered to have a voice, feels respected, has a strong sense of belonging, and is comfortable bringing his or her whole self to work.

In today’s socially charged climate, the need to build an inclusive workplace where diversity of thought and personality is respected has never been more important. Companies need to recognize that individuals have an identity – their true self. Employees have a life outside of work as much as they have a life inside of work. Unless organizations cater to the employee as a whole person, that employee will tend to have a deficit in their heart — a deficit of connections and friendships within their organization, which can lead to disengagement and disenchantment.

So, what can organizations do to foster social connections that ultimately drive belonging?

The answer is simple. Organizations need to make a conscious effort to bind employees together with colleagues by giving positive reinforcement, appreciating their good work, and encouraging them to recognize each other’s contributions and hard work. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, esteem or self-worth is a fundamental human need. Research shows that once you satisfy core human needs, people are freer to be more creative and innovative. As a result, employees are more energized, inspired to do the best work of their lives and, most important, the aggregate work of the employee base goes up.

Authors Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid correctly point out in a Harvard Business Review article titled “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion,” that “part of the problem is “diversity” and “inclusion” are so often lumped together they’re assumed to be the same thing.” The writers further elaborate, “In the context of the workplace, diversity equals representation. Without inclusion, however, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen.”

According to a Deloitte report, organizations give much more weight to diversity than inclusion, yet the research points out that diversity and inclusion combined improve business performance. The report further explains that people feel included when they have perceptions of fairness and respect, as well as value and belonging. “Employees look to whether they are part of formal and informal networks — this second level of inclusion is about having a voice and feeling connected.”

Pat Wadors, senior vice president of global talent organization at LinkedIn and a past speaker at WorkHuman, is a huge proponent of inclusion and belonging in the workplace and is making strides to create a culture where everyone can belong. She wrote in Harvard Business Review that, “Our brains are hardwired to motivate us toward connection and belonging — it’s how we survive and thrive, and findings show that belonging and attachment to a group of co-workers is a better motivator for some employees than money.”

Steve Pemberton, another WorkHuman speaker and the chief diversity officer and divisional vice president for Walgreens, says, “When different perspectives are recognized and supported, advocated, and most importantly, expected, I think it creates a more inclusive environment. When you are recognized for bringing a different perspective, it leads to higher degrees of engagement.”

There is enough research to support that inclusion leads to innovation and provides organizations with a competitive advantage. An inclusive workplace helps attract and retain talent as well as acquire customers and business partners critical to an organization’s success. It enhances a company’s reputation and corporate brand. It inspires creativity and fosters a culture where a range of perspectives and ideas are valued.

As human beings, we want to contribute in workplaces that are positive, joyous and inclusive. Therefore, it’s important to appreciate and recognize the good work of your employees. Build a more human culture that gives people a voice and makes them feel connected to your organization’s mission. Respect diversity of thoughts and views. Treat employees as human beings. Allow employees to bring their whole selves to work. Put the human needs of an individual first and provide positive reinforcement. Blanket your company with good will and see for yourself how the energy levels of your employees rise up as a result. Cultivate a culture of trust.

I firmly believe that culture makes all the difference in business. Culture is what helps to manage employees when managers are not around. Culture is what makes employees feel happier, more productive and more motivated to do great work. Culture is what makes employees want to stay with a company. It’s culture that ultimately drives business success – so nurture it, build it and, most importantly, diversify it. A healthy culture recognizes diversity and inclusion and opens its arms for an employee to bring his or her whole self to the workplace.

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