When I discuss inclusion I admit to becoming just slightly more passionate – or even feisty. And I have history in so doing.
That shouldn’t really be a surprise for anyone – after all I have seen how close friends have been treated in the workplace due to being “different”. And at the age of 22 I was told by a boss that he’d sack me if the rumours about my sexuality were true. Without hesitation. In front of all my workmates. So I have subjective as well as objective reasons for feeling strongly about the topic.
Different times now. Or should that be a question? Different times?
Well probably they are different but our workplaces are still nowhere near inclusive enough, insufficiently welcoming of difference and too often dominated by people whose behaviours lead me to wonder about how seriously their organisations really do take those espoused values. I’m afraid too few managers or leaders genuinely understand what it can be like being different and working for a non-inclusive boss.
Example: I heard recently of a Director in a major business who, in a Town Hall meeting with all staff, encouraged attendance at an office party by showing a slide with a picture of the prettiest blonde who had attended in the previous year. “Worth coming along don’t you think?” No comment except: that is one way to make people present feel uncomfortable and excluded.
And this isn’t a man thing. Female dominated workplaces aren’t necessarily always a 100% positive experience for employees either. Women are not necessarily born more inclined towards inclusion than men. Indeed the worst examples of workplace bullying I have handled as an HRD have been pretty evenly split by sex.
Another example: a senior player in another corporate who wants all his direct reports to be the same. Actually hands them a piece of paper when they start working for him with a list of how he wants them to be. “Be like this please.” This seriously happens.
And as an overarching point: think about those companies who place such a huge reliance on winning diversity & inclusion awards, investing many thousands of pounds in so doing, yet within which the internal reality changes little (or insufficiently) for those in minority groups.
Great PR – until the Tribunal case hits. Great achievement that award – but we’re a bit surprised the staff turnover rate is 25%. And 35% in our BME staff. Oh and we don’t seem to have many gay employees. And our return to work rate post-maternity is through the floor. Still – we won that award so the traffic light on our balanced scorecard is at green.
I want anyone in a leadership position to grapple with equality, diversity and inclusion. To understand the difference. To be inclusive! And to prioritise this in the interests of doing the right thing and also because creating an environment which prioritises inclusion makes damn good business sense.
So I have a list. I know some people might navigate away if I become too ‘listy’. But here it is:
(1) Find ways through your competency model which allow for difference. Or change it. Or apply it differently. “Spikiness” is OK . You don’t want clones.
(2) Diversity is not only about gender – although many businesses have a long way to go on gender equality it’s right to demand better. It is about the whole spectrum of different people. And if you impose quotas for one group you risk disadvantaging another one. So think through the impact of your plans very carefully before you carry them out.
(3) Walk towards difference not away from it. The person who thinks really differently is the one to have on the project, to have on the team, to hire. Not easy. We are human and seek similarity. So learn to value what is unusual to you and to appreciate different points of view
(4) Set out to say Yes rather than No. Find reasons to do something rather than not to. Appreciate more.
(5) Challenge non-inclusive behaviour. Make it clear you will not tolerate anything less than fully inclusive behaviour.
(6) Be alert. We’ve come a long way but there are so many examples which prove that we have more to do
(7) Set the tone. With whom do you surround yourself?
If you are not doing some or all of this then you have a long way to go before you are truly showing leadership – no matter what your job title might be.
There. I said it.