This festive week, I was planning to upgrade my television to smart TV and my friends suggested to check out the online deals. Being a fan of amazon online, the app kept tempting me with the uber expensive new iphone as well. Similarly, Netflix keeps suggesting my genre of Sci Fi movies and all the thrillers which I love to watch. When I walk into a coffee shop, I can order a special coffee customized to my taste. The customer delight is enhanced with various options, data analytics and artificial intelligence predicting our needs or wants and helping with individualized experience. Almost 80% of consumers now expect personalised experiences from brands and, in a buyer driven market, companies can’t afford to ignore this. However, we tend to ignore this very practice for the most important internal customers: our employees.
Workplace culture and policies have to go through a transformational change as diverse workforce is now participating. No longer one size fits all policies can be a norm. They need to reflect the individual employees’ lifestyles, needs and aspirations. Policies alone are not enough to build an inclusive & engaged workplace, it is the understanding of customizing them, creating tailored solutions and providing individualized experiences.
An organization culture can be defined as the norms of behaviours, language, structure and shared understanding of how the way things work. Given this understanding of organizational culture, it contradicts the very concept of inclusion – as it shuts out divergent voices and promotes and “in group” vs “out group”. While culture enables a group to function in a stable manner and move in the same direction; but it is also an impediment to innovation and change. For example, while hiring, leaders in organisations look for “culture fit” – driving an organization to homogenous behaviours, attitudes and beliefs and thus failing to attract diverse population.
So how are the best organisations beating ‘pale, male and stale’ culture and moving beyond tick box diversity and build a culture of inclusion?Three things, working seamlessly together, excellent leadership support; understanding of talent pool needs and giving people a voice – all leading to build an inclusive culture.
Employees feel enthused when they see leaders supporting the process of cultural shift in organisations embracing inclusion. It is critical that leaders exhibit inclusive behaviours and walk the talk. Organisations largely credits its success to its employees and creating a culture of mutual trust goes a long way. Netflix employees are given unlimited vacation time which created a culture of inclusivity and trusting employees. For years, many companies have been trying (with somewhat mixed success) to advance women’s interests in the workplace. For instance, maternity policy is a great way to support moms, but have we given equal thought to fathers who want to be involved in child rearing?
Members of the LGTBQ community want to feel supported in their careers and their decision to have families. Gender-neutral parental leave, and extending parental leave benefits to adoption, eliminates traditional gender roles and allows members of this community who adopt to spend time with a new child. Recently a Fortune 500 Financial Services firm adapted its medical leave policies for Transgender community who want to go through a gender reassignment surgery. But to build these inclusive policies and culture, organisations need to drive all change efforts involving the employees at some level. Having diverse representation & including their viewpoints for any process or organizational culture change will make it more relevant and acceptable.
The question now arises how to create an inclusive culture? Here are some tips to build an inclusive & productive workplace:
1- Educate Your Leaders on the Value of Inclusion
It should start with the basics – what is inclusion and why its important to individuals as well as for the business. Making leaders aware of the importance of modeling inclusive behavior – active listening,encouraging diverse viewpoints in meetings, performance reviews and other interactions. Inclusive behavior should be seen as a core competency.
2- Guide Behaviour via Workplace Policies
When it comes to acceptable behavior in the workplace, make sure employees are aware of what’s expected by reminding them about workplace policies that guide conduct such as non-discrimination and anti-harassment.
3- Leaders Should Walk the Talk
Not only ‘talk the talk’, but ‘walk the walk’ because it speaks volumes. When leaders model the behavior for others to follow, they demonstrate that their words have meaning which is especially impactful.
4- Open Communications
Placing a value on open communications while still ensuring respect for the individual will not only create a safe space for these challenging conversations but will lead to innovation and better performance.
Traditionally, organisations used to focus primarily on the bottom line but times have turned to putting your biggest customers – your employees happiness first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your business. Inclusive culture can be built by creating daily positive experiences for each and every employee – driving a more customized and individualized experience.
About Author- Sarika Bhattacharyya, CEO, BD Foundation is an Inclusion Strategist & Leadership Facilitator with more than 20 years of corporate experience. She is also VVLead Fellow (Vital Voices Women Leadership network) & was also nominated by US Embassy for the prestigious Fortune Most Powerful Women Mentoring Program. Sarika has been featured as the Top 50 Indian Women to follow on Twitter by WOW Asia in 2014. She was also felicitated prestigious “Leadership in Mentoring” award by Hillary Clinton & Bank of America in USA in 2014 and has also been featured as “Top 10 Global Diversity Consultants” in the Global Diversity List 2015,16 &17 published by The Economist& The Guardian.