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What is inclusion and why it matters now more than ever?

In my career in the technology industry, I have worked with largely male-dominated teams. It was very common to see my male peers have lunch together, coffee breaks together, sharing jokes together (often at the expense of women). It was very hard for me and I often felt excluded from the ‘boys club’.

However, feeling excluded is not just a woman’s issue. Feeling excluded from the “club” can affect men, women, white people, non-white people, rich people, poor people, straight people, LGBT+ people, exclusion doesn’t discriminate.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is a great feeling. Inclusion creates trust, belonging, happiness, bonding and even better engagement and productivity.

According to a Deloitte research, A 10% increase in perceptions of inclusion improves absenteeism, adding nearly one day a year in work attendance per employee. Another report from Catalyst reveals that overall experiences of inclusion explain 49% of team problem-solving and 18% of employee innovation.

So, let's discuss what inclusion really means and why it’s good for business.

What is inclusion at work anyway?

There are many different definitions of inclusion. One of the best way to describe it is this: inclusion is a mindset, an attitude and a belief which is embracing the fact that everyone has value to add. Inclusion is building a community that is accessible to everyone. Inclusion means adapting the environment to make everyone feel welcome. Inclusion is finding each individual’s strengths and intentionally planning for their success in the group. Inclusion fosters belonging.

It’s also important to note what inclusion is not, to separate the idea from common misconceptions. Inclusion is not a programme. Inclusion is not a favor or a charitable act we do for someone. Inclusion is not making everyone fit into a certain norm.

Inclusion and belonging often go together, but it is possible that one feels included without feeling like they belong. It is possible, especially in a workplace environment, that an individual might feel like they are included, in the sense of feeling seen, heard, valued, and respected, yet they might not necessarily feel like they belong to that group of colleagues. They might not feel like that group is part of their identity. On the other hand, when someone feels both included and like they belong to a group at work, this is the ultimate win-win situation for the employee and for the organization. In that case, the individual feels a deep sense of community with the organization, and they feel like being part of the organization is actually part of their identity. Conversely, it is not possible to feel like they belong without feeling included. For someone to feel like they belong to a group, they first must also feel included, meaning they must feel seen, heard, respected, and valued. To learn more about how to create more inclusion in the workplace, watch this video titles 5 Inclusion Hacks to Motivate Employees.

Why does inclusion matter now more than ever?

A Boston Consulting Group research report revealed that over a quarter of employees at large companies do not feel that their direct manager is committed to diversity and inclusion. Many line managers have never received any training nor do they have any awareness of diversity and inclusion, despite representing the wider group of role models for employees and having significant power to implement, or ignore, diversity.

Employees whose line managers are not committed to diversity and inclusion are twice as likely to feel excluded at work and are nearly three times more likely to seek employment elsewhere, according to Boston Consulting Group.

Meanwhile, an increasing body of research consistently demonstrates that diverse and inclusive teams are more productive, generate more profits, and create more value. In 2018, McKinsey ran an analysis by drawing on a data set of more than 1,000 companies covering 12 countries. In that research, McKinsey found that companies with better gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to show financial returns above their respective national industry medians and 27 percent more likely to have superior value creation.

Further, firms with better ethnic diversity were 33 percent more likely to financially outperform their respective industry medians. On the other hand, companies in the fourth quartile on both gender and ethnic diversity are 29 percent more likely to underperform their industry peers on profitability. This same McKinsey research also found that gender, ethnic, and cultural diversity, particularly within executive teams, is correlated to financial performance across multiple countries worldwide.

As the world is rapidly changing, with remote-work becoming the new normal and more employees feeling more disconnected from their colleagues than ever before, the need for inclusion and belonging is stronger than ever before. Forward-thinking organisations embrace inclusion as their secret weapon to boost engagement and productivity in 2021 and beyond. To get more inspiration on how to create a more inclusive workplace, follow me on Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram or Facebook.

Inclusion is not a charitable act or even a morale imperative. It is simply good for business. Inclusion also means giving more people a seat at the table and a voice in your meetings, and ultimately, it gives you the opportunity to become the great leader you always wanted to be.

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