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I’m a diversity and inclusion coach who’s helped Deloitte, British American Tobacco, and the UK Ministry of Defence improve their workplaces. Here are 4 concrete strategies to make your business more inclusive.

Summary List Placement

  • Aduke Onafowokan is the lead associate at Inclusivitii, a diversity and inclusion consulting firm based in London, UK.
  • She explains that an inclusive work culture goes beyond hiring people from different backgrounds — it must also nurture open-minded, empathetic values, and invite feedback from employees at all levels of the organization.
  • To successfully champion a diverse workforce, business leaders need to build an inclusive environment in which every worker feels listened to, she says. Here are her four strategies for building an inclusive company.

In its case for a diverse workforce, accounting giant Deloitte showed that inclusive and diverse organizations are better at innovating (an 83% improvement), responding to changing customer needs (31% improvement), and working as a team (42% improvement).

The results of research into diversity and inclusion are clear. But while organizations and leaders have good intentions and great ambitions, I know from my time as a diversity and inclusion coach that the path to equality in the workplace is far from straightforward.

Diversity at work means having colleagues from a variety of backgrounds and experiences, while inclusion is when those differences coexist in a positive way, and everyone feels engaged. Jennifer Brown, author of “Inclusion: Diversity, the New Workplace” and “The Will to Change” says diversity is the “who,” inclusion is the “how” — the vital mechanics to change. Even if you have diversity, without nurturing inclusion, you get imbalance, and silo groups.

Fortunately, there are many ways businesses can foster inclusivity in their workplaces. Here are four strategies that I’ve found to work.

1. Become a listening organization

Historically, leaders have operated a top-down approach to organizational problem-solving. Solutions are agreed at the top, and the information cascades down. To be more inclusive, organizations must build listening into their DNA and values, ensuring there is always room for feedback.

Listening is pivotal to inclusion — as I said in my TEDx talk, you really can’t include people you don’t hear. So deliberately listen to your workforce not to respond, reaffirm, or denounce them, but to understand them, and gain a fresh perspective.

A great way to do this is to encourage senior team members to speak last in meetings, and to spend more time listening to the ideas of others before sharing theirs. This not only prompts leaders to listen more, but means they don’t impose their views on others, creating more room for more innovation and creativity.

2. Rethink your idea of “genius”

There are talented people who have bright ideas and relevant skills, but aren’t recognised because they don’t fit the ideal of leadership that their organization is familiar with. This is also known as the “genius bias.”

Organizations like The Female Lead and The Sister Sister Global Network (which I founded) do amazing work spotlighting female leaders. We need to apply this kind of thinking to challenge our ideals, and start to recognise that value, innovation, and leadership can come in different forms.

Read more… I’m a lawyer who has investigated thousands of cases of workplace discrimination. Here’s how to go beyond anti-racist rhetoric and actually create an equitable workplace

This is especially relevant to neurodiversity. Extroverts are more likely to be perceived as “natural” leaders than introverts, regardless of the role and the requirements. This puts people who are not visibility extroverted on a back foot, where they just don’t seem to be able to break through.

Broadening the concept of “genius” and “leader” within teams and organizations makes it easier to identify and empower talented colleagues, who may not necessarily conform with existing ideals.

3. Strengthen internal social networking

Often there are no natural meeting points for senior leaders and members of under-represented groups. This further deepens the lack of influence that these groups already experience. Personal power and team influence can drastically improve when a person has social connections at work.

A recent client of mine offered two to four hours a month to teams to have social outings — a cinema trip, going to the arcade, or a team lunch. This gave team members the opportunity to socialize with colleagues, and crucially, because it’s during the workday, they didn’t have to worry about childcare or their commute, meaning there was usually a good turn out. This changed the dynamics in some of their more dysfunctional teams, where communication had been poor and debates were rarely healthy.

Encouraging people to bring their whole selves to work can only happen if others have the space and time to connect with them. It is much easier to understand diverse experiences and viewpoints when we have some insight into their thinking and background.

4. Focus on fair outcomes for a fair process

Intersectionality — where elements of identity overlap — plays a big role in workplace outcomes. A process that seems great may not serve everyone within one social category. This is why focusing on outcomes is a powerful place to start.

What outcomes are you trying to achieve? Do related processes deliver those outcomes? Who mainly benefits from those outcomes? And finally, where are the other people ?

A focus on fair outcomes promotes equity and workplace justice.

It is important to approach inclusion with a learning mindset: It takes commitment and willingness to change organizational or team culture.

Tokenism and appearance selection does not do that — it in fact can lead to more exclusion and bias if homogeneous groups are diversified without maturing inclusive practice.

Aduke Onafowokan is the lead associate at Inclusivitii, a London-based diversity and inclusion consulting firm.

SEE ALSO: 3 key qualities of a truly inclusive leader, according to a professor of business psychology

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