Diversity and Inclusion Key to Healthy Culture
“Diversity is inviting people to the party. Inclusion is asking them to dance.” V. Slavich
No longer just an HR program, diversity and inclusion are key elements of an organization’s business strategy. The “why” is no longer in questions. Diversity and inclusion play a major role in developing and maintaining a healthy workplace, which is becoming an integral part of organizational culture.
Today’s workplace is rapidly changing with demographic shifts and labour market restructuring, as well as new technologies and cultural trends that affect the way we learn, collaborate and use employees’ skills. Jobs are constantly shaped by economic and social trends. Management practices are evolving. These changes are not only transforming work, but also affect the health of the organization and its employees.
Inclusion Defined by Actions
A major challenge many organizations face is the preconception that diversity and inclusion have the same meaning. Too often, diversity and inclusion are used interchangeably.
Diversity is found in the mix of people who make the organization unique, and represents many types of people. In today’s workplace, diversity can include personality type, thinking style, and experiences, as well as the traditional traits of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
Inclusion, on the other hand, involves how strategies and behaviours can create, welcome, and embrace diversity. The goal of inclusion is not to put employees in boxes, but bring them together in their differences. An inclusive workplace is one in which employee differences are fully utilized and that everyone feels accepted.
Inclusion Integral to Innovation
Kristin Bower, manager of diversity and inclusion, people solutions at Vancity Savings Credit Union, says, “The point being that without inclusion, diversity doesn’t necessarily mean very much. Inclusion, when employees feel seen, heard, respected and valued for all they bring to the workplace, is the key to helping an organization reach new heights in terms of innovation, employee engagement and customer satisfaction.”
As a result, there is a growing significance on creating an inclusive environment where the focus is on meeting individual needs. In turn, employees feel that their skills are utilized.
However, unnecessary hierarchies and occupational segregations where employees are boxed into certain areas are still practiced by some organizations.
Bower says, “We are starting to see a shift in organizations away from that. Gone are the days when employees are required to leave their personal lives at the door. Now we encourage them to bring their whole selves to the workplace. With that comes a need to be more flexible in how we get our work done in order to achieve organizational goals. And when employees are doing work that is a good fit for their skills and passions, they are more engaged—and that translates to a healthier, more productive workplace.”
Negative Impact of Non-inclusiveness
An inclusive culture enhances innovation and creativity, strengthens teams, and increases organizational effectiveness. Unfortunately, the flip side holds equally true. lacking an inclusive culture may lead to cultural misunderstanding, xenophobia, social isolation, and discrimination, which in turn leads to bullying and harassment.
Studies also show there are links between non-inclusiveness and illness. Non-inclusiveness can create an unhealthy workplace where there are tensions within teams and the organization, reduced productivity, higher turnover, increased stress levels and increased absenteeism. It impacts both mental and physical health of employees.
Factoring Inclusivity at Work
Every organization’s diversity and inclusion initiatives are different. It is important to develop initiatives that address the organization’s industry, strengths and weaknesses, and the geographic areas it serves.
In order to develop and implement a diverse and inclusive culture, it is important to:
- adapt flexibility in work arrangement to individual needs;
- implement a diversity and inclusion policy ensuring equality, human rights, work conditions, employee welfare and fair treatment practices;
- implement an anti-bullying/harassment policy ensuring expected standards of conduct, outlining what is acceptable and unacceptable, and offering employees who feel they have been bullied an effective method of resolving issues;
- develop and implement education and training programs to raise awareness of policies and improve understanding of different cultural groups and people with disabilities;
- develop effective internal and external communication channels such as newsletters and information sharing networks;
- use language that is respectful of all age, cultural, and other groups;
- ensure work is shared fairly so all staff have opportunities to develop their skills without assumptions on personal circumstances;
- acknowledge and accommodate employees with diverse backgrounds, needs, and priorities;
- raise awareness of biases, generalizations, and unconscious assumptions by identifying how they influence the recruiting process and treatment of employees;
- ensure fair recruitment and promotion practices; and
- acknowledge employees’ accomplishments.
Tipping Towards Inclusive Futures
“We are starting to reach a tipping point with regard to what is acceptable in the workplace and how certain behaviours impact individual’s mental health as well as that of a team’s,” Bower says. “Campaigns such as Bell’s Let’s Talk Day, Pink Shirt Day, and the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are reinforcing this message.”
An inclusive workplace culture increases trust by encouraging individualism in which employees share ideas thereby increasing knowledge and collaboration. Diversity and inclusion are key elements of business strategy, no longer seen as the icing on the cake. There is still work that needs to be done. The key to transforming to an inclusive culture is understanding that it is ongoing work.
Lindsay Macintosh, CPHR has over 20 years experience in payroll and benefits in the retail, food service and logging industries.
(PeopleTalk Spring 2018)