Why businesses need to pursue a policy of inclusion not just diversity

A mix of elements can help organisations know their employees better, improve work environment and avert departures

A client of mine wanted to ensure he would retain his talented staff, and stave off them joining a neighbouring organisation offering better packages. He revamped the recreation room, offered staff free lunch and memberships in local health clubs.

Staff were excited at first, but he two joined the competition a few months later. So the natural question to ask is why did that happen?

In short, it’s because he didn’t focus on inclusion from the start and try to determine what employees needed.

My client’s team is ethnically diverse from various religious backgrounds. That was what he loved most about his team. The multicultural element brought a unique perspective to the work environment.

Still, staff who left told him they did not feel entirely included at the company. Having been a board member of the diversity committee at my university in England made me more aware of students who come from different religious and social backgrounds. They might be reserved about sharing certain elements on their background, in order to fit in with larger groups. That scenario is not only limited to educational bodies, but is also relevant to work environments.

Diversity and its importance in the workplace, has become a focal point for many businesses. A 2017 survey by the Boston Consulting Group of 1700 employees across eight countries found a substantial correlation between the diversity of management teams and innovation.

More and more, businesses are appreciating the unique values and benefit of a diverse work force. That is prompting many to ensure their work environment reflects a varied mix. A 2018 report by McKinsey & Company found that companies that rank in the top quartile of having ethnically and racially diverse executive teams are more likely to be among the 33 per cent most profitable in their industry.

Despite these findings, some businesses still don’t put as much focus on inclusion as they do with diversity. When it comes to employee benefits and the work environment, we often see a decision made by management without necessarily any consideration of what employees need or factoring in what might make them feel they belong at the companies they work for.

To achieve inclusion at the workplace, you need to know your team better. That can happen through focus groups or a personal discussion with team members. This, of course, depends on the size of your team and field of work. In my client’s case, his team had eight members, so he was able to engage them in a personal manner. Here’s how you could ensure your team members are heard and included:

Surveys, especially electronic ones, are a great channel for a manager to receive feedback from their team. However, make sure, not to fall into the trap of only asking close-ended questions. Provide them with the space and opportunity to express concerns and provide suggestions to what might make them feel more comfortable at work and motivate them to succeed.

In addition to surveys, you need to make sure you cultivate a culture that encourages employees to come forward and share concerns. Depending on the size of your team, schedule one-on-one meetings with them. Alternatively ask department managers to engage their own teams, collect feedback and then review it.

My mentor and previous manager, always had an open-door policy. He encouraged us to come forward and discuss anything that concerned us at work. Knowing that we could always count on him to hear us out, made team members value working at the company. Knowing that each one of us was valuable and that our company cared and wanted to see us succeed made a difference.

Just like my client, business owners don’t want to lose their best employees. Simple tactics, surveys, cultivating an open-door culture and getting to know your team members better can go a long way. Not only will you retain employees, but also you will ensure they feel included and that will influence productivity.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.

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