Digital technology is transforming how companies can use data and analytics to optimize environmental factors such as light and temperature levels, traffic flow, and floorplans. Similar technologies can help them optimize another critical resource: the people who work there―both how they feel and perform. Combining traditional HR data and performance metrics with these newer data sources reveals workplace dynamics that were invisible to them even just a few years ago.
One of the most promising applications is in measuring inclusion and tracking its progress over time. But before companies can leverage these capabilities, they must first define what inclusion means.
What is Inclusion?
Where diversity is about variety, inclusion is about having a solid foundation for supporting employees and their different needs. Inclusion requires a culture where employees feel welcome, respected, and empowered to grow. Even the most diverse companies can’t be successful without inclusion.
“Inclusive” cultures don’t necessarily mean they are “fun.” In fact, companies that “work hard, play hard” can be decidedly non-inclusive. Instead, inclusive environments are nurturing and open-minded. Every employee feels that they belong and they have space to make mistakes and develop professionally.
Why Focus on Inclusion?
From a financial point of view, inclusion is important because it can help organizations recoup their investments in building a more diverse workforce. They are unlikely to retain that talent or maximize its contributions if the workplace is not one that values differences. In the longer term, that could put the company at a competitive disadvantage.
Here’s another business case for inclusion: Teams and companies that are inclusive also innovate better, according to research. Inclusiveness spawns diversity of thought. And diversity of thought sparks new ideas, creative thinking, and why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? breakthroughs.
Inclusion poses a difficult challenge for business leaders because it is very difficult to systematically calculate that which is invisible. The feeling of not being included can often be the result of our unconscious biases. These are often yet subtly displayed through our behaviours and interactions (e.g. being less expressive, body language, joking/laughing less).
We generally have good intentions, but our biases can sometimes be interpreted as malicious or detrimental to others. The dilemma is that these biases are often unconscious, and our lack of awareness contributes to an environment where these negative influences guide our behaviours and interactions.
Using Data to Measure Inclusiveness
Companies have access to an increasingly sophisticated tool kit. Using a combination of approaches seems to work best.
- Conduct Surveys. Many organizations conduct company-wide engagement surveys every one or two years. Typically, these surveys include questions that indirectly address inclusiveness, making them an easy and convenient proxy measure. By comparing the responses of specific groups of employees—men versus women, managers versus non-managers, newcomers versus veteran employees—companies can identify highly inclusive teams or business units as well as trouble spots. These insights can then shape future priorities for further research, training, and intervention. Companies can also develop original survey questions based on the qualitative data they glean from focus groups.
Caveat: Because diversity is much easier to measure than inclusion, companies sometimes think they are doing the latter when, in fact, they are not. Let’s say an organization’s 2015 headcount shows that the percentage of women shrinks significantly as they progress up the ranks. In fact, the analysis reveals a spike in women who leave between Levels 5 and 6.
To combat this trend, leaders decide to increase their efforts to hire and promote female leaders. By 2019, the company employs twice as many female executives. Clearly, it has become more inclusive!
- Hold Focus Groups. Rather than relying on an off-the-shelf or top-down explanation of what makes for an inclusive workplace, companies can ask representative groups within their workforce to speak from their personal experience. For example:
What does your direct manager say or do that makes you feel valued and respected? In what ways does his/her behavior make you feel the opposite?
Caveat: Doing this well requires reaching out to many different types of employees—not just members of employee resource groups. It also means engaging with, for example, individuals who work in offshore locations, or in support or back-office functions, or who are contingent workers rather than employees.
Inclusion Is More Than What You See
It has been said that diversity is being asked to the party while inclusion is being asked to dance. This is a simple illustration of the difference between the two. One can easily count how many people came to the party but it is harder to determine if they all were asked to dance or were dancing.
Many of us have attended a party where we thought it was the best party ever but that was how we felt. We didn’t notice that there were people who didn’t have a good time. We didn’t notice the people who were not asked to dance or only danced by themselves. They were at the party but didn’t feel part of it.
This is true in many organizations today – individuals have been invited to the organization but haven’t been invited to actively and passionately participate. Organizations can no longer continue to use the eye test or the “I feel like” test to assess inclusion. It is imperative that organizations begin to measure their inclusiveness especially given the direct impact on performance and the bottom line.
Quantifying the intangible requires a transformed approach to analysis that has been made possible by our Inclusive Leadership Lab course. In this process, the learner will walk away with knowledge, tools, and techniques to go beyond safety to create environments and situations where people feel seen, heard, and empowered — that is, they feel included and feel that they truly belong.
If you’re interested in this course for a group within your organization, please let us know through our form in the website.