Many companies today are implementing initiatives to build a culture of inclusion but progress has been slow. Data from a BCG study shows that current inclusive team culture initiatives benefit only about 25% of underrepresented employees.

This poses a big challenge for companies because:
Employee expectations around an inclusive culture at work are increasing. Millennials and Gen Z, who make up the majority of today’s workforce, want their leaders to embrace their diverse needs and identities. If companies want to hire and retain talent, they need to do more to build and sustain inclusive cultures.

There is a heavy cost to employees feeling like they don’t fit in. According to a Mckinsey report 51% of employees cite lack of belonging as a reason for quitting their jobs. This increases your costs since replacing an employee is 1.5 to 2 times their annual salary.

Having policies on diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is not enough to shift culture. It is each employee’s everyday actions that drive inclusion and belonging. Accountability at all levels, not just the top, is vital in driving change and contributing to the success of DE&I initiatives.

Here are some ways we can all take ownership and help build a culture of inclusion and belonging:

Senior Leaders:
When senior leaders show their authentic commitment towards DE&I, they set a positive example for everyone to also do their part. A study showed that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report high performance, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to work collaboratively. A few things you, as a senior leader, can do to champion DE&I:

Set the tone: Demonstrate your commitment both through words and actions. Transparently communicate your vision for building a culture of inclusion, what you will be doing to support it and the outcomes you want to achieve.

Leverage Data: Metrics are key. Collect feedback across the company and analyze the data to evaluate where you currently stand with DE&I. This will also help you identify and set the right goals, drive accountability and consistently measure progress.

Check for bias: Inclusive leaders acknowledge that unconscious biases can come up in everyday interactions and can impact decisions like hiring and promotions. This might keep certain people from advancing through the ranks, and the company misses out on leveraging the potential of all employees. One way you can take action to mitigate bias is by setting objective criteria to evaluate people for hiring and promotion decisions.

Managers:
Managers have a strong influence on their team’s day-to-day experiences at work. They play a critical role in implementing large scale cultural changes, including DE&I initiatives. Research shows that creating psychological safety is key to unlocking the benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It also helps build an inclusive environment that drives a sense of belonging. A few ways you, as a manager, can do this:

Model openness and vulnerability: Be open about your own challenges and failures and encourage candid conversations from team members. This inspires trust and members feel safe opening up about their experiences and needs.

Value every voice: Ensure meetings and informal discussions are inclusive, where everyone has the opportunity to participate. This helps you unleash everyone’s creativity and benefit from diverse perspectives.

Check-in to prevent check-outs: Every team member wants to feel seen and heard. Conduct regular one-on-one check-ins and employ a coaching style of management to more effectively support your team.

Colleagues:
Colleagues play an important role in building a culture of inclusion and belonging at work. One way you can be an inclusive colleague is by showing up as an ally. People with at least one ally at work are twice as likely to feel satisfied with their job and feel like they belong. A few ways you can do this:

Identify your privilege: Being an ally requires acknowledging the advantages, opportunities and power you automatically have, that others may have been denied. This is important as it helps you understand how you can use your privilege to advocate for and support your colleagues with lesser visibility.

Learn: Take time to educate yourself about your colleagues’ experiences by observing and truly listening. This will help you understand and be attuned to your colleagues’ unique experiences and perspectives.

Amplify: Openly acknowledge accomplishments made by your colleagues. Amplify ideas and solutions that your colleagues present during discussions, especially those who may not speak up very often – “Sarah had an interesting idea…”. This ensures that perspectives are not only shaped by a few people and everyone’s views are taken into account.

When employees don’t feel included, they leave their authentic selves at the door. This stifles engagement, productivity and innovation. To build and sustain a culture of inclusion, employees at all levels need to take ownership and be part of the solution.

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