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Diversity in the workplace isn’t enough
Diversity is now widely believed to be good for business. In the corporate world, it’s often referred to as Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (EDIA) or Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training or awareness.
Not surprisingly, there is now a desire across all sectors to understand how organisations can harness diversity and inclusion to increase employee performance and well-being. Yet workplace diversity programs can often be ineffective or even backfire. And when they do work, some programs can be unsustainable.
Why does this happen? One reason is that, despite best intentions and companies wanting to hire diverse employees, organisations are often not equipped or ready to adapt their work environment to sustain diversity.
This can lead to conflict within organisations, as well as a lack of belonging and acceptance by the new employees hired. In other words, the employees may be diverse, but they do not feel included. Employees who do not feel included are less likely to stay.
Inclusion goes beyond diversity
Perhaps it is not a surprise, then, that scholars have called for a shift in emphasis from studying diversity in the workplace to studying inclusion in the workplace, arguing that although diversity and inclusion are interrelated concepts, they are distinct.
How is inclusion different from diversity? Defining features of inclusive climates are reflected in policies, procedures, and actions at all levels of an organisation. Inclusive organisations are consistent with fair treatment of everyone, with a deliberate focus on groups that historically have fewer opportunities and who are still stigmatised within our society.
Importantly, inclusion goes beyond diversity. Differences among individuals are not just identified but are celebrated and integrated into daily work life. These differences are also woven into the organisation’s culture through policies, climate, leadership, and practices.
Fundamentally, an inclusive climate is a diverse environment within an organisation that values the contribution of all employees. It is a workplace climate where people with different beliefs, perceptions, and observable characteristics are able to work effectively with others, feel valued, and have strong feelings of belonging within that organisational context.
This begs the question: How does an organisation create an inclusive workplace?
All voices must be heard
Members of the majority may feel targeted by EDIA programs and can have concerns about “reverse discrimination,” leading to conflict within the group. If the majority of group members end up feeling “passed over,” they could become resentful and create an unwelcoming, negative work environment for new hires who may be perceived as underqualified.
To combat this, organisations need to understand both the experiences of the minority and majority within an organisation. Organisations must ensure that barriers and concerns are understood, and proactive steps towards inclusion are taken. Employers need to understand their current workplace climate and learn what practices need to be addressed and implemented into their organisation’s culture.
1. Harness the power of inclusive leaders
Managers are responsible for creating inclusion in the workplace. They must: show that they are comfortable with diversity; alter the rules of acceptable behaviour to adapt to the new culture; create opportunities for dialogue about and across differences; demonstrate an interest in authentic (and in some cases learning to be authentic) diversity; and encourage authenticity in others.
Recent research shows that a leader’s pro-diversity beliefs, humility, and cognitive complexity increase the likelihood of inclusive behaviour, which in turn, has positive behavioural outcomes related to job performance, creativity, and reduced turnover rates.
2. Intentional and involved decision-making
Inclusive practices within an organisation include ensuring there is participation in decision-making, proper communication and facilitation, conflict resolution procedures, and a safe work environment. Without participation in decision-making, it is unlikely that people will feel valued and develop strong feelings of belonging in an organisation.
3. An open and welcoming start
It is important to start with the end in mind. Inclusive practices should begin at the very moment newcomers to an organisation begin their tenure. There is a positive relationship between employee workplace onboarding and organisational commitment, job satisfaction, and job performance. Employee onboarding also reduces quitting intentions.
New employee onboarding should not only focus on orientating newcomers to the organisation, but is also a chance to familiarise newcomers with its inclusive practices and communicate that their unique beliefs, perceptions, and characteristics are welcome and valued.
In situations where new hires may be the only person coming from a specific group of people, navigating the workplace becomes difficult and can feel exclusionary. Having access to mentors and colleagues with similar lived experiences is beneficial for transition and overall retention.
It’s important to understand that, although these workplace attitudes and behaviours can shed light on how new employees relate to their workplaces, they don’t tell us how much new employees feel they can participate in decision-making, or how welcoming, healthy, and safe their work environment is. There is always work to be done to improve workplace culture.
Inclusion is everyone’s responsibility and doesn’t end after the hiring stage. If organisations truly want to retain diverse employees and have them be successful, they need to make consistent and sustained efforts to support the integration of these employees in the workplace.
The goal of EDIA programs is to help organisations develop an inclusive organisational climate and design employee onboarding training that focuses on the employees’ sense of belonging and well-being. A truly inclusive approach needs to create an inclusive climate, have inclusive leaders and implement inclusive practices.
Are you seeking more diversity in your organisation, and do you wish to take proactive steps towards inclusion? Then let experts help you to do this and help you elevate your Life Science organisation to a higher level here!
Also published on Theconversation.com
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