Research released last year, by the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative and Deloitte, highlighted the importance of inclusivity in affecting our feelings towards our employers.
The overwhelming majority of individuals confirmed that inclusion is central to them deciding whether or not to remain within their current role, sharpening the perspective of inclusion alongside its cousins - diversity and equality.
There is a wealth of evidence backing up the fact that a diverse workforce is a good thing. Clearly, outcomes have yet to match effort, but one hopes that we are heading in the right direction. This is all reasonably positive, but delivering diversity does not automatically deliver inclusion.
Hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds into a culture which excludes or undermines them (accidentally or otherwise) will inevitably result in those employees seeking new opportunities elsewhere. Hiring into an environment in which they are able to flourish will have the opposite effect.
Within Executive Search, the expectations our clients highlight to us refer to numbers and representation, whereas feedback from would-be candidates focuses on the culture of their prospective employer.
We all understand that policy is required to both measure progress and set out the way in which we want our organisation to develop. Yet maybe there are further endeavours that can help us to reflect the world in which we live. Cultural transformation is one of these and, unsurprisingly, that journey is not an easy one. There are many interpretations of inclusivity; perhaps the most important is allowing the employee to flourish and deliver in a way that reflects them as a person and a professional.
This is a brave move; it is about offering opportunities for us to reveal our authentic selves and understand how that fits within the organisation. This, in turn, offers the opportunity for questions, encouragement and (dare we say it) disagreement. It suggests an environment where people can make mistakes, increase their awareness of outlooks that are different from their own, and challenge and be challenged. Furthermore, it is a progressive approach. It admits that the higher echelons of an organisation do not necessarily have all of the answers.
Employee and Employer Bravery
It also relies on employee bravery, as ‘being your true self’ can involve sharing sensitive information. Equally, it can take a great deal of courage to challenge others about their words or actions, whether that person is a close colleague or a senior figure. Language and terminology can be a source of embarrassment and error, and something that constantly evolves.
Repeatedly, clients who want their organisation to be a model of equality, diversity and inclusivity, struggle when faced with voicing words pertaining to different characteristics within their staff and customer groups. This fear of “saying the wrong thing” does not help support an environment where difference can be celebrated and used for the common good.
The Importance of Representation
Representation begets inclusion: if an employee sees others who share a similar culture, background or characteristic, who are unabashedly themselves and are valued by the business, this will in turn encourage that employee to feel included.
Conversely, seeing other diverse individuals being overlooked and undervalued – or seeing no diverse individuals, or even allies, at all – hardly fosters a sense of inclusion, and does little to make that employee feel comfortable at work.
Whilst differences between millennials and more ‘mature’ cohorts are perhaps overplayed, evidence suggests there is a greater confidence in younger employees around diversity and inclusion as a subject.
That is not to say that each and every organisation can assume that their millennials hold the key to a diverse and inclusive workforce. However, it does help bolster the argument for greater discussion and, ultimately, an environment where learning and challenging are cherished parts of company life, contributing to the evolution of a culture that confidently welcomes others different to ourselves.
Elizabeth James is a Partner and Clare Bromley is a Senior Researcher within the Education Practice at Berwick Partners. They specialise in recruiting academic and professional services leadership appointments across the Higher Education sector.
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