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The Case For Real Inclusion

Written by: Charlotte Croffie is a partner with GatenbySanderson’s local government practice
Published on: 4 Nov 2021

Inclusion is a buzz word that you hear a lot these days but what does it actually mean?

If you were to ask that question, you’d probably receive a response like ‘inclusion is about making sure that people feel welcomed and engaged’. You will probably also hear a comparison made with equality and diversity. One person put it this way: ‘Equality and diversity are like being invited to a party, while inclusion is like being asked to dance!’

To capture what inclusion means in an organisational context, I asked three leaders in the public sector to describe to me in a sentence what inclusion is. The first said: ‘Inclusion is where people with all types of differences are welcomed, valued, able to contribute and are engaged.’

The second said: ‘Inclusion is about changing the mindset – creating a sense of belonging where every individual is welcomed and afforded psychological safety, able to speak the truth to power, and have a voice and a chance for that voice to be heard.’

The third said: ‘Inclusion is about creating teams that bring a diverse range of social, economic, educational, geographic, cultural backgrounds that allows for the generation of ideas, challenge and delivery organisational objectives.’

The explanations seem clear enough, but let’s break it down some more. If inclusion is the ability to recruit and retain into organisations the full spectrum of individuals who can make positive contributions to the workplace; be valued and respected; be engaged; have a voice; provide challenge, and bring creativity and innovation, why are the expediential benefits of inclusion not being reflected in the wellbeing metrics, or organisational performance – or the attraction, recruitment and retention of inclusive and diverse workforces?

A simple explanation could be that just saying you are doing something is not the same as doing it. One way you can test genuine commitment to inclusion is to examine where the organisation is putting its resources and energies. How much visibility and attention is the leadership giving to creating an inclusive culture and workforce? 

Why this test? Because, as GatenbySanderson’s recent ‘Inclusive Leadership’ study reveals: ‘Inclusivity is fundamental for our growth and development and lays the foundation of psychological safety from which we learn, develop our courage and our voice, contribute and innovate. Creating environments of psychological safety is a moral as well as a commercial imperative for leaders with who this responsibility lies.’

How can this be done? There are many approaches to foster, promote and sustain inclusive cultures. Here is one which draws heavily on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Examine how your organisational culture and internal policies, procedures, systems, behaviours are used and perceived. Critically analyse the opportunities for progression and your reward and recognition structures and map these to each of the five levels (namely psychological, safety, social, esteem and self-actualisation). Proceed to map the lived experience of ‘those you seek to include’ onto the hierarchy. Then examine the results.

Organisations that are genuinely concerned with inclusion do so with humility, empathy and a strong determination to provide (at the very least) the psychological safety which is represented by the first three levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. This is then reinforced by delivering the fourth level – that of respect, self esteem, status and recognition. This in turn provides the foundation for improved engagement, contribution, performance, and organisation citizenship. Ultimately this builds trust and confidence, and alignment between the message and the practice, as well as squaring the circle of inclusion.

There is an obvious caveat here, changing organisational cultures and behaviours will not happen through the use or implementation of models alone. It also requires ‘inclusive leadership’. Leading in Colour – the fierce urgency of NOW, a report by the Staff College, explains why: ‘Staff look to their leaders to lead the charge and champion the change towards fairer workplaces and fairer communities. The reality and disappointment for many is that this doesn’t seem to be a corporate priority and, for them, it feels like their top leaders are missing from the debate and its ensuing action.’

Inclusive leadership is visible, it is proactive. It recognises the humanity of others and how one’s own biases can impact on the ability to lead successfully. 

Inclusive leadership sees solution through engagement and having conversations – even challenging ones.   

The question is, are your leaders modelling inclusive leadership and how do you know? And what will you do to ensure inclusive leadership becomes a seamless part of your organisational cultural fabric? n

Charlotte Croffie is a partner with GatenbySanderson’s local government practice