It is hard not to notice globally the topic of race and gender taking centre stage due to recent political decisions in Europe, the UK and of course the US. The impact of the politics has and continues to affect professional and work environment e.g. the uncertainty around #brexit and research, job mobility between the EU and the UK, #Charlottesville and the after-effects etc.
What might have gone unnoticed, was that last week was #NationalInclusionWeek in the UK. This is an annual campaign to raise awareness of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and the benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce to business growth.
What is #Inclusivity and why is this important?
“Inclusion” in itself as a term is self-explanatory and is “about making sure that people feel valued, respected, listened to and able to challenge. It’s about recognising and valuing the differences we each bring to the workplace and creating an environment where everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources and can contribute to the organisations success.”
Sounds easy doesn’t it? That should be the minimum expectation in any workplace however the reality is different. In all aspects of professional engagement: workplace, research and governance etc. there are several identified barriers to inclusion (NIHR)
- Cultural and institutional barriers
- Attitudes and beliefs
- Emotional and psychological barriers
- Issues of mental capacity
- Financial barriers
In the educational sector, inclusion is also a key problem with some barriers more deep-rooted e.g.
- Physical barriers and accessibility still remains a major barrier in the UK and beyond. Students with learning and physical disability are less likely to access education and resources due to unavailable ramps, doors and well trained personnel.
- Curricula is a key barrier to inclusion as closed or region-centric curricula does not cater for students from diverse background. In the UK, the National Union of Students (NUS) has started a campaign “Why is my curriculum white?” aimed at challenging what had been identified as a non-diverse curriculum as a means of shining a light at the lack of diversity in education in the UK.
Overcoming the barriers of inclusivity is undoubtedly not a straight-forward process however there are suggestions to how to achieve this. The NIHR paper on diversity and inclusion in research highlighted three key ways that these barriers can be overcome through:
- Organisational policies and procedures
- Flexible ways of working
- Innovative ways of working
Are there benefits to inclusion?
The evidence suggests that inclusivity and diversity are important in developing a richer culture in the workplace and very important, organisational growth. A recent report by the worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & Company in 2015 showed that companies in the top quartile with gender diversity were 15% more likely to have financial returns above the industry means and where the ethnic and racial diversity were in the top quartile, the figures were around 35%.
Other benefits of inclusion include
- Diversity of thought
- Wider reach and wider network
- More innovation
For more about the benefits, see the Forbes article here
In the years I have been actively involved with the issue of diversity and now inclusivity, I have found that this conversation is often viewed through many lenses and it is important to engage with these different viewpoints however what should not be lost is that diversity/inclusion/equity for all should be a human right for all and the ethos of any good organisation should embody that.
Here are some lessons I have learned that might be of benefit for organisations interested in supporting and developing a diverse and inclusive workforce
- Inclusion cannot be achieved without “Intentional” initiatives and thorough policy review. A lot of organisations attempt to address diversity without evaluating the impact of historical policies on promoting exclusion.
- Inclusion, diversity, equity is not about deficit. It is about “It is about valuing all individuals, giving equal access and opportunity to all and removing discrimination and other barriers to involvement.” keystoinclusion.co.uk
- The message of inclusion needs to start early e. children and young people need to be taught to embrace, welcome and respect the views of others and the abilities of the “different” others. In organisations or departments where diversity is lacking issues such as bullying, harassment and gang-mentality in the workplace are very likely.
- One of the surprising threats to inclusion and diversity is fear! You are more likely to exclude others when you have “doubts”, feeling of “uncertainty”, questions about whether others will “fit in”. To achieve inclusion, organisations need to have bold and emotionally strong leaders.
- Finally, leadership is an important drive of inclusion. Leaders need to understand the value and importance of inclusivity and to be champions of inclusion and diversity as it is very difficult to achieve without that.
A recent example of a leader using his platform to engage the conversation and promote the discourse was seen last week when Lt General Jay Silveria superintendent of the Air Force Academy addressed 4,000 air force cadets saying “What I wanted the cadets to see…I wanted them to see all of them as an institution protecting these values…I wanted to have a direct conversation with them about the power of diversity, about the power of our make-up. …we need those diverse ideas and that’s the message I wanted them to hear”.
The video of his address has gone viral and whilst the army operates differently from other organisations, the speech/initiative by gen Silveria has not gone unnoticed and shows there is mileage in taking a stand as a leader and it is possible for leaders to lead from the front on the issues of diversity and inclusion.
Is your employer inclusive or diverse, or are you a new employer interested in developing a diverse workforce, you might find this simple checklist useful. See full article here
To my knowledge, the #NationalInclusionWeek went almost unnoticed across many organisations in the UK. Did your organisation celebrate or put on an event last week to celebrate inclusion? Do share with us! To find out about organisations who are participating in this campaign, see the link here
You can also read
- Barriers to Inclusive Education. http://www.unescobkk.org/education/inclusive-education/what-is-inclusive-education/barriers-to-inclusive-education/
- National Institutes for Health Research (NIHR). Diversity and inclusion: What’s it about and why is it important for public involvement in research? http://www.invo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/INVOLVEDiversityandInclusionOct2012.pdf
- McKinsey & Company. Why Diversity Matters. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/why-diversity-matters
Hope you enjoyed reading this article. If you would like to discuss any aspects of this article or have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the writer – Emmanuel is an academic, scientist and regular blogger. He has a PhD in Microbiology and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (UK). He is actively involved in supporting, developing diversity initiatives at organisational level and is keen to support local, national and global initiatives to encourage inclusivity. For more about Emmanuel, visit the about us page here.