18 June 2021
It’s tempting to think of ‘inclusion’ as something achieved through ‘Awareness Days’ and team building exercises. Though such practices have a place, true inclusion requires a little more than simply organising activities.
To create a workplace that is truly inclusive, it is necessary to explore the concept of identity, recognise its complexity, and find ways for it to be accommodated within a larger whole.
The trap many organisations fall into is to try and overlook the characteristics that make their employees unique in a well-meaning attempt to put all on an equal footing. Others go too far in the opposite direction and place such emphasis on identity that any sense of belonging becomes fractured.
When there is no special sense of uniqueness or belonging, people begin to feel excluded; neither part of a wider group identity nor respected for their own individual identity. This feeling correlates with low engagement, minimal discretionary effort and neutral or negative organisational commitment.
Achieving one and not the other is better but still less than ideal. Where unique identity is recognised, but there is little sense of belonging, we build a company of siloed groups with little that unites them. In most working environments this is not conducive to collaboration, teamwork, or high productivity.
Equally, where there is a sense of belonging to the wider group, but individual identity is not understood, we achieve only assimilation. This is often the case in companies which claim to be inclusive but lack diversity. ‘We’re all in this together’ they might say, but in truth this is only if you think, act, and share the same values as everyone else.
It is a delicate balancing act, illustrated in the figure below.
As the figure demonstrates, differentiation and assimilation bring value (and are certainly preferable to exclusion) but alone are not enough to create a truly inclusive environment where individuals feel both recognised and valued within the group.
Thriving companies with inclusive cultures both respect the uniqueness of an individual’s identity while creating a group identity to which their people feel proud to belong.
Having recognised that companies with inclusive cultures produce the best results, the question becomes – how do we achieve it?
Fortunately, it’s a question that can be answered and it involves placing identity at the pinnacle of the inclusion solution. Doing so keeps attention on the central ambition of creating the right balance between people feeling special and feeling like they belong. Moreover, without it, the impact of everything else we do is at best diluted and, at worst, counterproductive.
The action which enables us to achieve this fine balance is built around four cornerstones. To learn about these essential elements of your inclusion strategy, download our whitepaper, The Inclusion Solution.