Despite professed commitments to create a more inclusive workplace, many organizations still struggle to gain traction, according to a new report by Kincentric, the part of global leadership advisory firm Spencer Stuart that is specifically focused on unlocking the power of people and teams to ignite change and achieve organizational success. Based on a survey of nearly 5000 employees across the globe, the research reveals the critical role leaders play to drive inclusion, with benefits ranging from better employee retention and engagement to improved team agility during challenging times.
According to Kincentric’s findings, there are four key elements required for inclusion in the workplace: people are valued, are enabled to use their voice, have decision-making influence and can contribute their best. However, in this latest research, 73% of employees report having experienced exclusion in the workplace, while only one in three employees say they work in a culture that powers inclusion – one that lifts everyone up and in which everyone is treated fairly, has equal opportunities and can speak up, be heard and respected.
Kincentric conducted the study to better define and understand the experiences that drive or derail inclusion and demonstrate its impact on overall business performance, and their full report shares several notable findings:
- Ultimately, inclusive cultures are created at the top. Leaders must walk the talk and model inclusive behaviors or risk their credibility. Nearly 1 out of 3 employees view senior leadership actions as performative or insincere when words are not backed up by action. Of those employees who question the sincerity of their leaders’ actions, only 3% report experiencing a culture of inclusion.
- In general, senior leaders often have a more favorable outlook on inclusion than employees. Senior leaders are having a more favorable day-to-day experience of inclusion (62%) than managers (48%) or employees (26%). This is causing a disconnect between leader’s perceptions and employee’s reality.
- Inclusion drives retention and engagement. Individuals at workplaces they describe as inclusive are twice as likely to stay with their organization and three times more likely to have a sense of belonging than those who don’t.
- Inclusion can maximize the potential of people and teams, creating better team dynamics and expanding skill sets across teams. Additionally, employees that report experiencing inclusion in the workplace are four times more equipped to navigate challenges and work collaboratively to find solutions in the face of conflicting opinions.
“Leaders can make or break an inclusive culture. Inclusion doesn’t just happen – Inclusion is leader-led and must be intentional,” says Dnika J. Travis, Ph.D., Director of Research and Insights at Kincentric, who led the research. “Creating a culture of inclusion is a business imperative. It ensures every employee is valued and able to fully contribute to the organization, delivering a number of advantages, including improvements in retention, engagement and team performance.”
Kincentric offers actionable advice to leaders looking to build a culture of inclusion:
- Take charge with an unwavering commitment: Inclusion must be embedded in everything you do, from the talent systems that drive consistency in your employee experience to words, behaviors and actions that reinforce a culture of inclusion that enables people to thrive. As a leader, you must be willing to talk about the difficult aspects of your culture and shift performance management processes to root out and address bias. It is also crucial that you put processes in place that deal with and eliminate any acts of exclusion and mistreatment you observe – don’t leave it to anyone else to tackle.
- Be willing to embrace discomfort. CEOs and senior leaders can achieve greater impact by not shying away from tough, unsurfaced, or polarizing aspects of an organization’s culture. As a leader, not acknowledging, validating, or truly understanding what is happening within your organization undermines your credibility and employees may perceive this as a lack of sincerity in your efforts. You must also have the courage to address your own non-inclusive behaviors while challenging others to do the same.
- Embrace failures and adopt the right mindset. Achieving inclusion requires a firm commitment to learning and refining your approach based on data, insights, and the experiences of the people you are seeking to include. You and your organization will make mistakes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what you’re doing is not working; it’s what you do next that is most vital.
- Step back and take stock. Be honest with yourself. How have your assumptions around organizational cultural norms impacted your ability to lead inclusively? Have your actions affected your credibility, and are there any steps you need to take to redress this? You must hold yourself and everyone else in the organization accountable for building a true culture of inclusion in which all employees are valued and can contribute their full potential.