Why trust is critical to an inclusive workplace

by Dec 3, 2020

Trust is critical to an inclusive workplace at every level

Trust is critical to the foundation of inclusion to underpin all the benefits associated with inclusive teams.

I read the other day that Microsoft are playing around with integrating some sort of monitoring software into Microsoft 365.  Now this is maybe one of those lock down fuelled tweet-storms, but it did leave me feeling uneasy that people are even talking about this. Microsoft already bully me into using the Oxford comma with their editing function. The idea of them checking out my usage of their software is going way north of creepy.

In discussions around diversity and inclusion the conversation frequently centres on sourcing and attracting more diverse candidates. In some ways this is putting the cart before the horse. Indeed, organisations need to have a critical mass of diverse groups, but inclusion leads to diversity. Really, it is build it and they will come. Inclusion is based on trust and feeling psychologically secure. Inclusion is a feeling, as is trust, so both are hard to measure, which is why leaders tend to go for diversity. It’s easier to pull out the metrics.

Psychological safety is rooted in trust. It is centred around feeling able to speak and “be” freely in the workplace without fear of repercussions. It means you trust your boss and your team mates and the culture of the organisation to believe in you and have your back.  Psychological safety gives you permission to be bold and to give and receive feedback which fosters a growth mindset.

Trust is critical to an inclusive workplace

How does lack of trust impact organisations?

If trust is critical to the foundation of inclusion then it underpins all the benefits associated with inclusive teams. Teams that embrace inclusion see an uptick in creativity, innovation and customer value. On the employee, side health and well-being are improved, together with employee engagement and faster decision making. Absenteeism is reduced and retention is up.

How to manage remote teams more inclusively 

Trust is more important during the pandemic

Office-less workplace cannot operate on command and control management styles. Leaders need to to empower reports and make them both independent and collaborative. Remote working under difficult circumstances requires a high level of self-organisation skills. Working from home thrives on a culture where giving and receiving feedback is deeply embedded and employees are at ease negotiating deadlines. It means leaders have to be fully aware of what is going on for a report and not accepting the cursory “I’m fine.”

But at the same time we are seeing an increase in software monitoring. This is a form of digital micro-management which alienates employees and serves to undermine trust. Research suggests that one in seven workers claim that monitoring of employees is increasing. It also reveals 25% of staff have had their work communications screened as experts warn surveillance has ‘taken off’ since the pandemic began. This undermines a culture based on trust.

Big boss or big brother?

Some businesses are going even further to use technology to maintain control. We hear stories of employees told to keep videos on so the boss can see them just as they would in a normal office environment. Others require employees to download  tracking apps that monitor location or record when laptops, smartphones and tablets are idle. These are extreme cases, but show that trust and inclusion have a long way to go in some companies.

Increasingly it is falling one the behaviour of individual leaders to build and hold together inclusive teams.

What behaviours demonstrate trust?

Demonstrating trust is one of the major characteristics behind that elusive concept “gravitas” we hear so much about.  It’s not just about beliefs around hard skills and performance so that we know that people have the abilities to to their job competently, although they play a part. Consistency, openness, integrity and all manner of other soft skills and qualities which are very subjective play a key role.

Trust is closely aligned with integrity. Dr. Brené Brown says:

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.”

trust is critical to an inclusive workplace

Your own behaviour

But before you start thinking that you don’t have to do anything, establishing trust is not only the role of your leaders. It is also about your own behaviour which has to be characterised by the same qualities. It requires all of us to behave with consistency, openness and, integrity. Brené Brown also references the bravery required to become personally empowered so we feel comfortable having have those difficult conversations we frequently avoid.  You have to be willing to be held accountable as well as being reliable and consistent in everything we do. You should be open to receiving feedback and be responsible and willing to communicate openly and constructively to negotiate issues that are important to you. Above all, you have to take responsibility for your, own personal growth. The good thing is that Brené Brown says all of these things can be learned.

Trust is critical to an inclusive workplace especially now we are working remotely during this global pandemic. We are counting on people we don’t see every day to be there for us and to deliver what they say they are going to do. Tracking them with tech will not foster a trust based inclusive workplace.

Check-out this podcast on Building Trust in the Workplace with Brad Boyson and Fahad Khalaf, of Dubai based HR LearnIn


Build and hold together inclusive teams with help from our specialist corporate services. 


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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