Is your company falling short on inclusivity? Try these five things
This post is part of an ongoing series, "Navigating the future of hybrid work," where we explore challenges and share lessons learned about work in this new era.
Despite the public declarations and investments in new initiatives and policies aimed at improving inclusion in the workplace, many companies have yet to make meaningful changes. A 2022 Korn Ferry pulse survey of nearly 5,000 business leaders found that while 64 percent of respondents know that building more diverse and inclusive teams is an organizational challenge, 47 percent had no plans to address this obstacle.
There’s no doubt that measuring the success of inclusivity initiatives is difficult. Indeed, employees’ backgrounds and context affect their perception of inclusion as much as what happens in the workplace. But companies shouldn’t avoid developing strategies to address inclusivity, especially as they transition to fully remote or hybrid environments. This new work environment provides lots of opportunities for increasing flexibility and creativity to make employees feel included and valued.
Organizations can significantly improve inclusivity by addressing two common pitfalls. First, companies fail to measure perceptions of inclusivity accurately. Second, companies often implement one-off initiatives that don’t make inclusivity a part of the company’s cultural DNA. This post will explore how hybrid and remote companies can address these issues and move inclusivity from a nebulous concept to reality.
Get a baseline of employee perceptions
Everyone’s perception differs, so how can companies begin to measure perceptions of inclusivity comprehensively? A 2021 Gartner research on inclusion in the workplace found seven dimensions of inclusivity: fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity. The research company then created 45 statements around these dimensions and surveyed 10,000 employees to gauge their perception of their company’s inclusivity. The findings? The more employees agreed with these statements, the more inclusive the organization.
Companies can build their own internal pulse surveys asking questions focused on these seven dimensions to get a snapshot of how they stack up. While findings shouldn’t be taken as gospel, they can point your company in the right direction if something isn’t working. For example, if most employees feel that they do not receive open and honest communication from leadership, that’s a good indicator of where to focus.
Consider sending out inclusivity perception surveys quarterly or twice yearly to ensure your company stays on top of any issues and can measure improvements in different dimensions. Fully remote or hybrid companies might frame their questions to understand better how these environments affect inclusivity. For example, ask employees how strongly they agree or disagree with a statement such as, “My company fairly considers the ideas and suggestions made by team members who chose to work remotely.”
Invest in people and culture from day one
At Bonzzu, our People Care team meets with people one-on-one on their first day. While we do typical tasks such as reviewing onboarding processes, we also have conversations about their current situation and ask about their family, hobbies, and pets. Employees can also fill out a fun survey of “getting to know you” questions that are shared on an internal wiki page so their team members can get to know them. The point is not to be invasive but to get to know people, where they come from, and what is important to them. After onboarding, People Care will follow up with employees after a few months to see how they are doing and potentially address any questions or concerns.
Making time for employees is common in companies with a strong positive culture. For example, new Simpson Manufacturing employees participated in a weeklong orientation. During that time, the company’s founder would join one of the classes, and “He'd go around, ask everyone's name, ask about their families…and talk a little bit about the history.” This top-down investment in employees from the start sets the tone for the broader organizational culture. Companies can also invest in their people by providing access to services such as LifeGuides, which matches employees with people who have similar life experiences.
Acknowledge and respond to cultural and personal differences
For companies with distributed teams in different countries, consider having someone in a leadership role stationed in each area to advocate for inclusivity. At Bonzzu, we have members from People Care in the United States, Mexico, and Argentina offices. Operationally, this is more efficient; furthermore, having someone who understands the “local context” makes fostering a sense of community easier and enables employees to be understood without explaining the social and cultural context. Even the most empathetic HR or leadership team cannot fully understand the subtleties of different cultures, so having someone on the ground makes a huge difference.
However, company teams shouldn’t exist in silos. For a company to ensure inclusivity is a company-wide initiative, they might send People Care or inclusivity leaders to different offices to develop a broader understanding of what people need and how that differs by office or country. This way, company policies and programs will be more inclusive and better represent employee diversity.
Evaluate how your company presents itself internally and externally
Everything from the language in your job postings to the images on your website to your marketing materials, send messages to employees and potential hires about what you represent as a company. While these elements can motivate people to apply for jobs and get clients excited about your offerings, they can also unintentionally exclude certain groups.
In a Work/Life podcast interview, John Amaechi, a CEO, and author, cites common descriptors used in company job postings, illustrating how they can be exclusionary. When organizations say they are looking for a “coding ninja” or a “rock star project manager,” that language can implicitly signal to women and other groups that that role isn’t for them—even if it is. Exclusive pronoun use in job descriptions can also deter women and non-binary individuals from applying for roles.
These same considerations apply internally. Organizations in industries such as energy and financial services often bemoan that their talent pipeline has a dearth of women and minority groups. However, a closer look generally reveals that the path to the top isn’t built with women and BIPOC employees in mind. There are no role models for these groups and higher level jobs are often not compatible with family life for people living with disabilities.
A hybrid workforce gives companies flexibility to address these issues. For instance, working at home on certain days of the week allows parents to deal with childcare issues. And employees who want to upskill for a certain role can carve out time to attend an online class. For these changes and policies to stick, however, leadership needs to role model them from the top.
Include employees in decision-making when appropriate
When interviewing new software engineers or designers for project clients, Bonzzu will sometimes invite employees to participate in the interview process and help decide whether the person gets the position. Of course, this process might seem controversial to some. But for employees who will work closely with the new hire daily, giving them a say in the process can foster trust and let them know their decisions matter. Involving employees in these hiring decisions can also improve the probability of strong team dynamics.
This era of hybrid and remote work provides companies with unparalleled flexibility and opportunities to make new rules, policies, and initiatives that promote inclusivity and make it a part of the organizational culture. Companies need to be bold enough to seize the occasion.