Diversity + inclusion = better business

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Focusing on inclusion in the workplace is just as important to business performance as building diversity, according to a new report.

Released in November, the report by Deloitte Australia and the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission is based upon the opinions and experiences of 1,550 employees in three large Australian businesses.

While the financial crisis was a catalyst for change, at the time organisations tended to focus on diversity rather than on inclusion, according to the report. “Our hunch was that if organisations failed to get the diversity and inclusion balance right, and to increase their focus on inclusion, then the game-changing potential of this ‘moment in time’ would be lost,” it said..

The researchers defined the feeling of inclusion as comprising the perception of both ‘fairness and respect’ and ‘value and belonging’.

And it turns out that while diversity is a good thing, it needs to be paired with inclusion in order for the organisation to reap the full benefits. “When employees think their organisation is committed to, and supportive of diversity and they feel included, employees report better business performance in terms of ability to innovate (83% uplift), responsiveness to changing customer needs (31% uplift) and team collaboration (42% uplift),” according to researchers.

While weight was given to the employees’ insights in the survey, the researchers justify this by noting that employees should have a lucid understanding of how their organisation operates. In addition, the researchers found that higher levels of diversity and inclusion resulted in improved engagement. A tangible example of this was the reduced level of absenteeism in the business units of one organisation where employees felt included.

The report also highlighted the fact that the behaviour of senior leaders and managers was critical to the perception of inclusion.

The report makes several suggestions for monitoring and improving the behaviour of leaders at critical moments:
 

  • If you develop a vague feeling that someone is not a ‘good fit’ for an organisation during an interview, take a step back. It is vital to develop ‘strict’ and ‘transparent’ criteria for the assessment of a ‘good fit’ based on organisational values.
     
  • Employees who are naturally good talkers tend to be more successful, but they don’t necessarily have more or better ideas to offer. “Introduce a regular mechanism for each team member to share what they are working on and their achievements.”
     
  • Whoever speaks first can set the tone of a meeting. It’s a good idea to share the key questions to be discussed in a meeting beforehand and to ask participants to prepare something to present at the meeting.
     
  • Flexible work may actually end up as a stumbling block in a career. “Periodically review the quality and range of work assigned to flexible and non-flexible employees.”

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