We need to focus on creating cultures of conscious inclusion

Conscious inclusion means not just creating initiatives, but creating a culture where people can speak out and raise awareness of unacceptable behaviour.

We all, regardless of our backgrounds look for acknowledgement and recognition. It’s an important part of our psychological make up and is at the root of feeling included. It’s key to who we are and our identities. Making sure inclusion is at the heart of our leadership style is important. Gaining an understanding of conscious inclusion not only helps us to grow an appreciation of the diversity of others. It also allows us to develop self-awareness. Conscious inclusion teaches us how we add value, as well as where we might fall short and could use some support.

The business benefits of diversity are widely publicised. In the workplace, research shows that diverse teams are more productive, creative and work better together for the success of their organisations. The commitment to diversity attracts top talent, shows stronger employee engagement (measured by productivity, connectedness and performance), less absenteeism and higher talent retention. Yet despite the obvious benefits, the needle fails to shift.

conscious inclusion

The role of unconscious bias in our recruitment, communication, promotion, mentoring and sponsoring programmes interferes with our efforts. When we assign different levels of value to certain characteristics, usually male-coded, we almost always end up with homogeneity. Our systems easily reward attractive, able-bodied, extroverted, charismatic (whatever that means) and confident communicators. We easily overlook introverted personalities and those individuals who don’t suit the benchmark for acceptability.


Unconscious bias

Unconscious bias profoundly impacts rational decision-making. Organisations have responded by providing unconscious bias training to encourage everyone, and especially leaders, to monitor their behaviour closely. What they are not asking is whether or not their teams feel highly motivated, recognised and psychologically secure. Do people feel as if they can voice their opinions without fear of reprisals? Very often leaders don’t really know if diversity and inclusion flourishes on their watch.

Creating an awareness of unconscious bias and accepting that our systems are flawed is relatively easy, but it’s not enough. Taking practical steps to overcome those biases to boost transformational change is another. There are a host of “nudges” and “interrupters” that can be introduced into our systems to guide us to different outcomes. Pursuing a policy where inclusion is conscious is vital. Leaders will come to understand how bias embedded in their systems impacts their decisions and therefore results. They will see how even basic interactions can damage a relationship and make it less productive.

3Plus offers professional unconscious bias training programmes. Find out more HERE.

In any organisation, employees become disengaged when the workplace culture requires them to behave inconsistently with their values and norms. This includes personally experiencing micro-aggressions, or observing others being treated in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable. The costs of this behaviour are frequently invisible and difficult to measure because a high percentage of cases are not reported.

It’s important that leaders “lead” any initiatives. When organisations wait to respond to problems created by the lack of inclusion, then the tail  ends up wagging the dog, which is not ideal. This is relevant whether it is some sort of #MeToo scandal, high levels of churn in certain departments or areas, or a negative employer brand. For everyone to thrive we needed to shift to a place of conscious inclusion where everyone is aware of best practices and particularly their own blind spots and behaviour.

We need everyone in our organisations to make at least one change in their behaviour towards building an environment of conscious inclusion. It would have a profound impact, and we aren’t just talking about our workplaces, but our cultures at large. We would all then become role models.

7 ways to create conscious inclusion

1. Become more self-aware

Our greatest bias (our blind spot) is to minimise or ignore our own biases while being mindful of bias in others. I am sure you have heard, or even said; “ I’m not biased- it’s my colleagues who have a problem.” Make sure you engage in unconscious bias training. Develop an understanding of behaviours that occur in your organisation and wider culture. Reflect on what you might do, or don’t do, to enable this behaviour. Do you stay silent when someone cracks a sexist or racist joke? Do you look the other way or smile indulgently when a colleague comments on a woman’s appearance or leers after her? Make a note of any patterns you observe.

Test yourself for unconscious bias. One of the most far-reaching tests is the Harvard Implicit Bias test, or you could try the Confirmation Bias test. This is a person’s tendency to favour information that confirms their assumptions, preconceptions or hypotheses whether these are actually and independently true or not.

 2. Ask for feedback

Gloria Steinem, the American writer and feminist, famously said “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.”

Becoming mindful of your own blind spots and asking for feedback is vital in the self-awareness process. Include your colleagues and peers. Very often we share our opinions before we ask. How do they receive the way you communication or your opinions?

3. Improve your listening and observations skills

Gaining an understanding of what is going on around you is critical to creating a workplace where everyone feels safe and included. Take a look at the photos on the walls of your offices. Are they of the men’s football team, or a male manager at a significant meeting, or your male CEO speaking at a conference? Who leads discussions in meetings or asks for flexibility to deal with family issues? Do your male colleagues take paternity leave? Working on your listening skills and focussing on being present and engaged are essential skills for understanding someone else’s position. Are there any patterns related to diversity?

Miscommunication occurs when we are not really available for the people we are with, or in tune with what is going on around us. Listen to understand, rather than waiting to respond. Frequently we observe situations without registering that something is potentially excluding.

Our Returner Roll-Up Session can help you to Learn how to Identify your Transferable Skills.

4.  Show empathy

Putting yourself in other people’s shoes goes a long way to changing your mindset. If you were to be confronted every day with walls of pictures of men, or constantly interrupted in meetings – how would you feel? Understanding that we can all have different experiences of the same workplace situation is a good starting point. You could even ask some appropriate questions about your colleagues’ experience of your workplace. How does their answer align with your own thoughts?

5. Have a growth mindset

Creating a culture of inclusion is not a zero-sum activity but a win-win situation. Open your mind to possibility and change. Welcome new points of view, because all input is valid. Seek to learn and apply that knowledge. If you find yourself with a sharp negative reaction to anything, check for any biases that might have triggered that response. Discuss with peers or a mentor why that might be.

6. Self-advocate

It’s important that we all feel able to deal with issues when they occur, and that we all have the necessary skills to self-advocate or speak up. We all play a part in fostering a workplace culture. Therefore we should all act to make people feel comfortable to raise concerns without fear of judgement and reprisals. Contribute to a bias-conscious culture by developing constructive communication strategies with respectful ways to pinpoint and discuss any observed biases with peers and colleagues. Make it OK to call out bias. Choose your language carefully:

Point it out – State your observation; “It seems that…”
Check it out – Validate your understanding; “I wonder…”
Work it out – Find a solution; “Would you be willing to…/Could we…?”

7. Stop being a bystander

With such a high level of sexism reported in our workplaces, we have to assume that not all incidents especially those that are not reported, take place out sight. In many cases, co-workers must have been able to see what happened. Bystander interventions are very important to create a culture where sexist behaviour is flagged up as unacceptable. Support colleagues who you might feel are a target of sexism. You have three options to become an upstander and stage a bystander intervention:

  • Call the issue out at the time if possible. However, make sure to always focus on why YOU are uncomfortable, rather than the person who is the target. “I feel uncomfortable when you comment on Jane’s appearance in meetings.” Avoid saying “Don’t comment on Jane’s appearance in meetings, it makes her feel uncomfortable.” This makes Jane a target twice. Remind the person that this is against the policy of the organisation.
  • Challenge the issue later if it’s more appropriate, but keep the strategy and language the same.
  • The Shine Theory or Amplification: Team up with other women to support each other. Use the Shine or “amplification strategy” in meetings. This was employed by female White House staffers in the Obama Administration in meetings. When a woman made a key point, other women would repeat it, giving credit to the speaker. This forced the men in the room to recognise the contribution — and denied them the chance to claim the idea as their own. So these women joined together to make sure they were heard.

Bonus tip:  Become an ally and a champion

Openly state your commitment to gender equality initiatives and act accordingly. Offer support to colleagues during meetings and brainstorming sessions. Sponsor, mentor and encourage female colleagues for high-visibility roles, stretch assignments or skill development. Seek women out for input or collaboration on a project. Make a note if it made a difference, whether it was negative or positive. If you see someone in difficulty, stage a bystander intervention as described above.

These are small low cost behavioural changes we can all make to improve the quality of our workplaces to make sure that people are treated with respect and receive the recognition they deserve. In this way we can  make sure that everyone feels secure and works to their potential.

Does your workplace lack diversity? 3Plus can help you with our specialist services for Executive Search and Diversity Recruitment.

Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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