The Era of Inclusion: How to Help Your Team Thrive

by Jamie Barnes on May 6, 2019

Your workplace is rich with diversity – a mix of races, ethnicities, genders, generations, and personality types. But diversity is not the same as inclusion. Leaders would be shocked to know the resources that go untapped and the ideas that go undiscovered simply because certain people are consistently excluded from the conversation.

As the single, white mother of a mixed-race daughter, I’ve spent a couple of decades privately thinking, talking, learning, and teaching issues of race, exclusion, privilege, and gender norms. My daughter is now a young adult and an award-winning social justice leader working in Chicago’s education system.

Appreciating differences and advocating for people with less power is a major theme in my life — both personally and professionally. But despite all of my efforts and experience, I still get it wrong sometimes, and my daughter loves to tell me about it. So when she tells me I’m off-base or my perceptions are out-of-date, I don’t let shame crumble my effort. I take those opportunities to have the conversation — to learn, grow, and do better next time.

As a middle-age and middle-class communications expert, I seek out the latest developments in diversity and inclusion (D&I) and stay up-to-date on the ever-changing vernacular (woke). Most of my communications work focuses on healthy workplace cultures and employee engagement, and often for diverse and dispersed audiences.

Personally and professionally, appreciating differences and advocating for people with less power is a major theme in my life — both personally and professionally. But despite all of my efforts and experience, I still get it wrong sometimes, and my daughter loves to tell me about it. So when she tells me I’m off-base or my perceptions are out-of-date, I don’t let shame crumble my effort. I take those opportunities to have the conversation — to learn, grow, and do better next time.

I understand why organizations, leaders, or managers hesitate to address inclusion in the workplace. It’s not that you don’t agree it’s important and the right thing to do. It’s probably because embarking on an inclusion effort feels complicated, risky, vulnerable, and maybe a bit hopeless.

It may feel like doing nothing is safer than opening up to the scrutiny of an inclusion initiative. That’s a fixed mindset and temporary comfort. The much bigger risk is doing nothing to equip your team to move forward with this era of inclusion.

Inclusive teams perform better

In terms of time and energy, inclusion is one of the most effective drivers of engagement. Teams that focus on inclusive behaviors are more successful… in a lot of ways.

  • People are happier with their jobs and more loyal to colleagues, managers, and the company.
  • People are energized and productive.
  • The company culture feels good, so morale is high.
  • People are creative and innovative, open to fresh ideas.
  • Knowledge-sharing works better.
  • Diverse skills and perspectives lead to better problem-solving.
  • Because of all these things, companies and teams are more competitive in the marketplace.

The reason why we’re biased

It’s human nature to gravitate toward people we easily relate to – people who look, think and act like us. Often, unconsciously and unintentionally, we avoid people who are different. That means our differences become barriers instead of being the assets that they truly are.

Race, gender, religion, sexual identity, age, political perspective, and even the differences between introverts and extroverts can foster exclusion. It’s vital for healthy teams to break down the barriers, and despite human nature, collaborate and connect with the whole team. The first step to combat exclusion is to understand the barely detectable ways it begins and activate the counter-behavior.

Bias sneaks in. Counteract with inclusion.

First, you gravitate toward people you easily relate to. You typically interact with those who think and act like you. Instead, try to interact and grow relationships with people who are different than you.

Next, you become culturally naive. And when you don’t understand others’ core values, you’re more likely to say or do something offensive. Instead, try to practice cultural curiosity. Search for outside influences. Be aware of and respect differences.

Then, you see the world from one point of view. Surrounded by sameness, you can’t understand or empathize with other points of view. Instead, try to surround yourself with diverse types of people. Seek input from people with differing points of view.

3 simple inclusive actions your team can start today

Inclusiveness is a cultural trait. It’s the actions we take, day in and day out, to nurture and harvest the best ideas from every person on the team. Download a PDF to share with your team.

  1. Prioritize face-to-face communication to foster better conversations.
    1. Instead of a phone call, initiate a video call. Instead of an email, walk down the hall.
    2. Occasionally, schedule lunches for the whole team in a common room. It can be informational or purely social.
  2. Get to know people personally and professionally for stronger connections.
    1. Go outside your typical circle for input or advice.
    2. Ask others about their personal lives. If you have kind intentions, most people won’t mind sharing.
    3. Invite a colleague for lunch, coffee, or a walk around the campus.
  3. Think twice about who has more access to development opportunities.
    1. Delegate new responsibilities to the less-familiar choice, so others are exposed to development opportunities.
    2. Keep in mind that having lower expectations for some people can negatively influence otherwise good performance.

How you communicate is important

Businesses grow strategically – so should your communications. Driving behavior change, strengthening teams, and improving culture is possible with inclusive and consistent messages that are delivered through multiple channels. Tell employees your intentions and equip them to participate. Share the value and satisfaction that result from small efforts. The result can be a workforce that is more collaborative, productive, and engaged.

Download a PDF to share with your team.

Jamie Barnes is a consulting partner with Workforce Communication. With a focus on change management communications, her approach is rooted in proven practices. She has worked in global firms and creative agencies, and she studied behavior change with behavioral scientist BJ Fogg PhD, the neuroscience of learning with the NeuroLeadership Institute, and change management with Prosci. Jamie studied organizational communications at the University of Chicago and has a BA in social science from National Louis University.

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