The following article was first published in CFA Society Toronto's The Analyst (December 2022).
A culture of inclusion is key to retaining talent in this competitive job market. Several studies have persuasively argued that diversity in a team leads to better performance. Indeed, many firms are proactively looking to broaden the diversity of their teams with this goal in mind. However, while diversity is necessary for better decision-making and performance in the workplace, it is not enough on its own. In addition to diversity, there should be a culture of inclusion so that the talents and perspectives of a diverse team are leveraged and engaged. In this article, we revisit why inclusion matters and suggest ways for managers to foster more inclusive environments.
First and foremost, increasing diversity will likely broaden the range of perspectives on a team. However, for this to be impactful, there must be opportunities for all team members to contribute ideas and share their views. There are significant challenges facing corporations today: the disruption caused by a global pandemic, paradigm shifts in monetary policy in response to inflation, and geopolitical conflict. Companies will need to think creatively to meet these complex and interconnected challenges. Climate change presents another secular challenge. Retooling the global economy to deal with climate change will require innovative solutions across public policy, technology, and infrastructure. Research shows that diverse and inclusive teams generate more innovation. Korn Ferry's recent report, Inclusive Sustainability1, demonstrates that diverse and inclusive organizations are 70 percent more likely to capture new markets, 76 percent more likely to see ideas become productized, and 36 percent more likely to outperform on profitability, and also see a 19 percent higher innovation revenue. To survive and thrive in the coming years, it will be essential for leaders to be able to harness the full potential of their teams.
Fostering a more inclusive environment may mean recognizing the status quo and making deliberate efforts to change how things are done. Spending time recognizing how a team currently functions is an essential first step. Teams may be characterized by unconscious patterns of behaviour that hold back inclusion. For example, if you are a manager or a team leader, ask yourself the following question: When it comes to important projects, do I give all qualified team members an equal opportunity to take that assignment? Or do I rely on a small subset of my employees to run the mission-critical assignments?
Anecdotally, many managers are guilty of over-relying on a subset of their reports—myself included. Managers may rely on those team members who have delivered in the past. However, this behaviour pattern results in only certain team members receiving the best opportunities to learn and develop. By taking on essential roles and projects, those individuals can shine. Just as important, they have the chance to fail and learn valuable lessons from that. Unintentionally, that kind of setup also deprives other team members of opportunities to showcase their talents, develop their skills, and advance their careers. So, one way that managers can foster inclusion is by being more thoughtful about the assignment of projects across the team, with a focus on challenging and developing all team members.
There are several ways to foster inclusion in the workplace. The following are some suggested steps managers can take:
- Provide education and awareness training on the value of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) It is important to educate people to make sure they “buy in” and believe that diverse teams perform better than homogenous teams. Awareness training can help bring to light habits and patterns that reinforce the status quo. Training may need to be recurrent, and it’s a good idea to make it more playful than didactic. “Learning by seeing” others in play or roleplay situations can be more accessible. Instituting a DEI committee can be a great way of ensuring action is taken. The committee would establish a policy framework, ideally led by someone who understands how to effect change.
- Ensure there are forums where people can speak up
Managers need to ensure there are forums for team members to share ideas and have input. The environment needs to be open and supportive to facilitate discussion. A great way to accomplish this is via listening forums with targeted questions designed to tackle important topics. Finally, managers may also want to consider methods for team members to share anonymous feedback.
- Broaden the opportunities for growth and development
Managers must make a conscious effort to ensure opportunities are spread evenly across their teams. In the long term, having a more diverse group involved in mission-critical projects and decisions will certainly lead to better organizational decision-making. Cross-functional innovation teams can be a great way to give individuals professional development opportunities and an audience for their ideas. They can choose which projects they are passionate about and focus their efforts there.
- Set ambitious DEI goals
As managers note the increasing importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, setting targets in this area should be top-of-mind. Becoming a more inclusive organization will require more than just a public proclamation. Organizations must develop policies, set ambitious but achievable DEI goals, and measure their progress toward these goals. In doing so, they will establish a strong foundation for meaningful change. Managers will need research to determine which goals are most appropriate for their teams and organizations. Some DEI goals include setting targets to increase representation from underrepresented groups in senior roles, developing a hiring policy to broaden and diversify candidate pools, or mandating unconscious bias training for all employees.
Leaders in these initiatives are featured by Canada’s Best Diversity Employers2. Top performers like the University of Toronto put forward diversity efforts, including in-depth training, conferences, and symposiums on topics of accessibility, Indigenous cultural competency, unconscious bias, gender identity and gender expression, KAIROS blanket exercises, and mandatory anti-discrimination and anti-bias training for human resources professionals. They also host an annual conference for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, a Black History Symposium, monthly Gender Talk conversation cafes for trans+ university members, and a Positive Space campaign to create awareness of LGBTQ communities. The Bank of Canada has also been featured on this list for its efforts in training on unconscious bias, workplace mental health leadership training, Indigenous cultural awareness training, the production of a guide to being an ally, and a dedicated Wellness Month focused on mental health.
For organizations to thrive in this uncertain environment, leaders need to make sure their teams are diverse and that this diversity can be leveraged. The way to do that is by fostering an inclusive environment. However, accomplishing this requires concerted effort, and it may be necessary to overcome biases and pre-existing arrangements that hinder inclusiveness.
Beyond this, we have suggested several steps that can encourage more inclusiveness. The evidence is clear that diverse and inclusive teams perform better—and given the magnitude of global challenges today, we believe there has never been a better time to reaffirm one’s commitment to the value of inclusion.
Korn Ferry. Inclusive Sustainability
. January 20, 2022
2 Canada’s Best Diversity Employers. “About the Competition.” Canada’s Best Diversity Employers. 2022
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