The modern workplace depends on successfully unifying the efforts of a wide array of individually motivated workers to achieve collective goals. At the basic level this is partially accomplished by defining work responsibilities; creating physical & technical infrastructure to accommodate needed collaboration; and providing a clear plan to meet a motivating group goal. By investing in these aspects of employee experience, organizations help bridge the distance between individuals so that they can successfully coordinate their efforts in their common interest. Without some capacity to accommodate and leverage the diversity presented by even a relatively homogenous group of individuals, the modern organization would be devoid of any utility whatsoever. Put another way, organizational efforts that focus on an appropriate strategy to accommodate differences between employees are nothing new, and in fact is a vital part of any organization’s ability to develop and improve.
Diversity at Work: A Strategic Approach
Organizational diversity refers to the scope of biographical differences represented in an organization’s workforce. Although a wide range of personal differences may factor into an organization’s diversity strategy, areas of personal difference that many companies focus on are race/ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, and religion. The reason these forms of personal difference serve as focal points for an organization’s diversity strategy is that they are historically and contemporarily related to set of underlying social and political conditions that disadvantage those who fall outside of existing norms.
Organisational diversity then is the reality of the biographical differences between members of an organisation’s workforce. A Diversity Strategy determines how well the organization establishes a context wherein people across the entire of breadth of human differences within the organization can thrive at work. One component of this is ensuring that employees have the necessary support to be fully engaged in their work. Measuring how effective the organization has been in inspiring employees to feel a greater degree of a commitment, and willingness to act on organization’s behalf serves as an excellent way to get a gauge on how employees in general are reacting to their experiences within the workplace. An approach so effective we built an entire company around it.
The most important component of a strategy aimed at managing the fact of human diversity, however, involves addressing the specific challenges experienced by individuals who fall outside of the demographic norms that predominate within the organization – challenges that often manifest in day to day working experience, and that produce the unspoken sense that those outside of the predominant group are not fully legitimate members of the organization.
Inclusion at Work: The Outcomes
If the outcome of failed diversity strategy is that members of key groups feel they are excluded and held apart from their counterparts in the predominating group, the clearest indicator of a successfully implemented diversity strategy is the degree that everyone, and especially members of minority groups, feel drawn in and encouraged to participate by the social dynamics within the organization. Inclusion is the extent to which employees feel that they can be meaningfully involved in work that is valued by the organization, are allowed the necessary information and resources for accomplishing that work, as well as the ability to influence the decision making process. Experiencing inclusion is the outcome of a work environment and social context that is designed to empower and establish trust with employees.
Critically, the experience of employee inclusion is not the outcome of the individual choosing to try and push themselves into an unwelcoming circumstance, or to try to solve their problems individually. Rather, Inclusion is the result of an intentional collective effort on the part of the everyone in the workplace to ensure that everyone is provided the opportunity to share in the mutual respect and responsibility that accompanies working together as equal members of the same organization. By removing the barriers to a workplace that is both socially and materially open to all workers, employees are able to fully appreciate how they are able to effectively function because of the diversity of experiences and identities they each bring to their work.
Inclusion@Way-of-Work: Measuring the Indicators (Outcomes)
Interventions focused on Inclusion centre around developing a productive social context that allows the variety of backgrounds and experiences each employee brings to support common goals and interests. Alternatively, interventions focused on Employee Engagement centre around how experiences within the workplaces influence one’s commitment to the organization and their willingness to engage in discretionary effort on behalf of the workplace. Both are important ways of understanding how day to day experiences within the workplace influences workers’ ability to do their very best work. Where engagement focuses on the employee’s relationship to directly to their work, inclusion focuses on the structure of relationships between employees that either enable or hamper performance. Each is an important component of improving the effectiveness of an organisation’s human capital.
Interventions capable of measuring and addressing both have the unique opportunity to not only address any prior gaps in an organisation’s diversity strategy, but also provide buy-in to employees who feel diversity initiatives are likely have little bearing on their personal work experience. A joint approach allows the opportunity to meet each employee where they are at in their own experiences of the workplace and then speak to the issues that they are personally experiencing. The result being a system for organizational development that both ensures employees are fully engaged with their work, and fully bought in to engaging with their co-workers in a productive manner. One that returns diversity strategy back to its central role in creating a valuable workplace for all parties.
Indicators for the Inclusion@Way-of-Work instrument:
- Inclusion: Inclusion is the extent to which employees feel that they can be meaningfully involved in work that is valued by the organization, are allowed the necessary information and resources for accomplishing that work, as well as the ability to influence the decision-making process. Experiencing inclusion is the outcome of a work environment and social context that is designed to empower and establish trust with employees.
- Diversity: A successful diversity strategy should also extend beyond the individuals personal experience of the organization, however. Employees should also come to see their organization as a whole embraces diversity and appropriately accommodates the differences across their workers so that everyone can do their best work. At the end of the day, workers are not only focused on their personal experience of the workplace— they are also concerned about the perceived conduct or image of the groups they associate themselves with. To that end, seeing their organization as one that acknowledges and supports the diversity is a central component of an effective diversity strategy.
Inclusion@Way-of-Work: Drivers of Diversity and Inclusion
Where Indicators provide information about the state of inclusion and engagement within the organization, Drivers are the factors that are the likely causes of those results. They represent both the challenges that employees are facing regarding feeling fully included in the organization, as well as the opportunities to create meaningful improvements. If indicators are there to indicate what is happening vis-à-vis the effectiveness of the current diversity strategy, the drivers are there to answer why and how those results likely came to be.
In the context of these surveys being used as part of diversity initiatives they address: 1) whether employees experience unfair treatment at work due to their differences from the predominant group, 2) the extent that individuals are confident that there are reliable internal systems of accountability that can be used in the case something goes wrong while on the job, 3) whether the organization has a known history of treating employees in a fair and consistent manner, and 4) whether employees feel confident that they can safely express themselves and be heard when they do so.
If employees are treated in a discriminatory fashion at work, lack confidence in the mechanisms in place for addressing issues they may have within the workplace, receive consistently unfair treatment, and do not feel safe to speak up; the chances of developing an inclusive work place are quite low. Alternatively, an employer where people are unlikely to experience discrimination based on their background, where there are well known systems in place that reliably address conflicts at work, where there is an established history of the organization making decisions in a fair way, and where people feel confident in sharing their perspectives without fear of reprisal or reprimand.
Experience of Equitable Workplace Treatment
Being treated as a respected and fully accepted member of the organization is first, and most clearly seen in whether one is being treated in a discriminatory fashion. Ultimately, for projects that focus on Inclusion, worries about a failure to provide a workplace that is free of differential treatment based on demographic background, serve as the primary motivator to begin work. Not only does a failure to provide equitable treatment often correspond with the violation of legal and ethical standards, it saps the organizations ability to serve as an attractive place to work for the diverse pool of applicants that are the reality of modern talent management efforts.
Equitable treatment not only involves the lack of overt discriminatory treatment, it also entails the careful consideration of how procedural and customary structures within the organization may create differential barriers to employees whose background differs from the predominant group both organizationally and socially. For example, topics such as work life balance take on a different inflection, when compared against the reality that to this day women perform the bulk of the labor required by family obligations. As such, reports of equitable treatment serve as a diagnostic tool to see if the organization has gone through the process of reviewing and considering existing policies and working conditions to ensure that every employee, regardless of background, experiences a workplace that is open and accepting.
Confidence in Redress
No system or set of policies can ever provide a complete guarantee that workers will experience a conflict free workplace. Just as every person has the capacity to affect one another within the workplace, so too does every member of your organization have the capacity to potentially disrupt or transgress workplace policies established to provide equitable employment. To that end, employees must have confidence in the HR team and its established procedures for addressing circumstances where an employee feels that they have been discriminated against or similarly experienced a transgression against their personal dignity.
Creating the circumstances that produce this confidence among workers involves a variety of elements. The first however, is having a clearly established and internally communicated system in place. If these processes for redress exist on paper, but do not serve as commonly understood process, they will ultimately fail in the task of emphasizing to workers that your organization take seriously matters of non-discrimination within the workplace.
In designing systems for addressing breaches of policies aimed at preventing discriminatory behaviour within the workplace, a balance must be struck. First, upon receiving communications from the effected employee, the HR team must promptly communicate that the issue has been heard and is being followed up on with urgency. From there, the response team should first check with available legal resources to ensure that there does not exist legislation that legally proscribes responses on the part of the organization. If the reported event falls outside of specific circumstances with legally mandated responses, the team should proceed to set up an opportunity to hear/receive in text the full description of the event from the employee. Careful documentation of information received, including dates of collection and parties named is critical. If at all possible, confidential corroboration from third parties to the event should also be sought. Crucially, the accused party must also be given a chance to share their side of the story. If it is found that there was indeed an instance of discriminatory behaviour which falls outside of events covered within a legal framework, a facilitated conversation between the two involved parties should be arranged where the nature of transgression and the expected future behaviors from the transgressing party are clearly outlined. Creating, implementing, and internally marketing a process as outlined above, provides a context where all parties are given equal protection from the organization, and a pathway to forgiveness and growth can be established.
A driving component of inclusion that cuts across all backgrounds is a workplace that is perceived to treat its employees fairly across the board. This means that employees feel that decisions central to their employment relationship with the organization, such as responsibilities associated with the role and hourly pay, are determined in a fair and consistent fashion. Establishing this consistency in turn creates the conditions for trust to be extended to the organization as a whole. Without trust, the avenue of viewing undesirable outcomes as the result of a discriminatory or exclusionary character within the organization becomes much more feasible.
In a similar fashion to engagement, supervisors play a central role in establishing the workplace as a foundationally fair environment. This stems from their direct involvement in many of the promotional, disciplinary, and other administrative decisions that workers will be subject to. Given that in many ways one’s supervisor serves as the primary personification of the organization, their ability to create a sense of trust with their subordinates serves as a key factor in creating a sense of inclusion for their subordinates.
Mutual Inclusion & Support
Although policies and supervisors are key features of providing a sense of inclusion to all employees, an employee’s immediate team or co-workers serve as another source of feeling included by the organization as a whole. In many ways, employees come to understand their standing within the broader organization, based on the treatment they receive from, and relative to, their colleagues. Feeling denigrated or disrespected by those one works with day-in and day-out can be a major barrier to feeling included in the group as a whole.
Beyond this aspect of appropriate treatment however, an employee’s immediate co-workers also serve as a key resource for addressing issues one faces while at work. A helping hand, supportive words in a time of difficulty, and other such experiences serve as the basis for seeing oneself as a member of a team working toward a collective goal. Without this sense of camaraderie between colleagues, employees are left with a totally isolated way of viewing their relationship to the organization. Thus, it is critical for inclusion that employees experience both a lack of disrespectful treatment from their co-workers, and also a sense of trust and shared interest in achieving team goals. Without this experience, the prospect of feeling a fully included in the organization as a whole become a difficult one.
Working for an organization entails more than what is outlined within the contract of employment. One critical area where this is true, and particularly important for organizations seeking to establish an effective diversity strategy, is the ease with which one comes to meaningfully identify with the organization. By having a strong sense of belonging or identification with the organization, the individual is able to take pride in accomplishments of the organization as a whole, and to see their status as a member of the organization as congruent with their personal values. Just as individuals often experience a greater sense of meaning from their occupation by their personal identification with it (e.g. describing oneself as a waiter or engineer in personal conversations), they also do so with the organization where they work. Feeling comfort, ease, and lack of reservation when considering themselves as a member of the organization is a central aspect of feeling included and believing that the organization is creating workplaces that are accepting people from a variety of backgrounds.
Creating an organizational culture and identity that strengthens feelings of belonging among employees is strongly supported by the presence of the other drivers described above. That said, there are also aspects of employee experience that directly influence the ease with which employees identify with the organization. These aspects are impressions about the organization not formed concerning one’s supervisor, coworkers, or upper management in specific. They include, 1) increasing the attractiveness of the organization, 2) celebrating collective wins, and 3) championing shared values. People’s perceptions of the reputation of a company, both internally and externally, have an impact on how desirable the organization in question is. Thus, a component of this driver is partially conditioned on opinions and perceptions made concerning a company, sometimes developed years prior to the time of survey. Although prevention of developing such a reputation is optimal, setting about to ameliorate the effects of a bad one can only done in the here and now.
Similarly, finding ways to emphasize what members of the organization hold in common, involves focusing on what the organization accomplishes on a collective level and the basic values shared by all of the members of the organization. Talking about shared accomplishments can be as simple as discussing the performance of the organization on its KPIs or talking about successful charity efforts. While doing so, making sure to highlight the efforts of people across the organization from a variety of positions can also help to create the sense that everyone’s efforts are appreciated. The final kind of approach focuses not on shared outcomes, but rather on shared motivations and intentions in the form of a clearly articulated set of organizational values. Critical here is to ensure that the values your organization focuses on are descriptive of those held in common between the members of the organization, rather than proscriptive and exclusive.
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