Diversity and gender equality programs were among the firstnice-to-haves to be cut during the financial crisis. After the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the Me Too movement gaining traction, organizations began to invest in diversity and inclusion, as well as gender equality strategies and programs. Many of the initiatives, like remote working, were supporting inclusion efforts for employees with disabilities, but school-closures made it difficult for working parents. The current uncertainty around another looming global economic or financial crisis is putting pressures on the internal budgets of employers after a nice post-pandemic year.
When we take a long hard look at what can move the needle for employees to feel a greater sense of inclusion and belonging, without the need to spend a lot of money, we may be at an important pivotal moment. One of the most cost-effective and impactful change approaches is focused on behavior change. I asked a couple of experts in my network to help me understand the advantages of focusing on micro-behaviours and everyday acts of inclusion, instead of continuing investment in large, corporate programmes.
When corporate communications and marketing campaigns around diversity and inclusion are only done top down, they can be seen as pink washing or investing in employer branding. Elien says that the programme is only effective when it is co-created with communities and puts them in the driver seat by giving them budget and a community champion who acts as an advocate for the community's mission.
Hanan thinks there is a bigger risk at play than just spending money. Large campaigns can become acts of tokenism very quickly. You are making a mockery of diversity and inclusion if you only care about women's rights on International Women's Day. It has a negative impact on the work culture and your employer branding when it happens. Who would want to work for a company that uses its employees to create a shallow employer brand?
So far, so good, but how do we shift the focus from large campaigns and programs to more local interventions to change behavior? In order to create more inclusive and safe workplace, the first step is to identify the behaviours that will contribute to that. You can start with a code of conduct, organizational values, or a team charter if you have one. It is important to make this a co-creative exericise and not just assume what would make colleagues feel included. There is a new gender-neutral bathroom being installed at ING. It didn't seem like a big deal to me at the time, but listening to the stories of other people made me think differently. The Platinum rule of diversity is that you don't treat others the way you want to be treated. Getting to know people who are different from you and showing a genuine interest in their personal stories is the only way to discover what this is.
There are examples of inclusive behaviors. There are a number of examples.
- Humility, not assuming that you know everything, as Hanan sais, "I think leaders need to have the courage to say “I don’t know” more often. Many leaders are confronted with situations that require certain cultural knowledge or expertise on inclusion and they try to just wing it. That’s not enough. Be honest enough to admit that you don’t always have the right answers for every situation you come across. Don’t act too quickly because you want to show that you care about diversity, inclusion and belonging. Take your time to gather expertise and create a real impact in the short and in the long run."
- Curiosity, being genuinely interested in what is going on in people's lives, their cultures, their backgrounds. According to Katrien, "inclusive leadership and everything else starts with humility (I don’t know it all) and genuine curiosity (Every person is an opportunity to learn and get new perspectives)."
- Active listening, becoming more aware of the specific needs of employees, be it women, working parents, neurodivergent employees, religious minorities or persons living with visible or invisible disabilities
- Showing vulnerability, especially important for leaders in the organisation, that you may also have challenging moments, and how have you overcome them, agrees Elien. "When talking about courageous acts of leadership, in addition to showing vulnerability, authenticity, transparency and integrity are especially important."
In addition to defining what type of behaviours we expect from leaders and employees, the environment has to be good for them. If the corporate culture is geared towards celebrating self-assuredness and expertise, it will be hard for leaders to admit to not knowing something. Creating the enabling environment for the behaviours is just as important as identifying the targets.
We need to take a look at the organizational culture, why and when people get promoted, what is generally celebrated, the stories we tell ourselves about our company, and how we encourage people to behave in a certain way. There's some great advice from the person. Inclusive behaviors should be included in your leadership model. Being aware that most work in services sectors is done in meetings, make them accessible first. The meeting will benefit from it on a number of levels.
Employee wellbeing and equity are outcomes of intervention. When leaders and employees are given the power to engage in small acts of inclusion, it will result in increased psychological safety, more sense of inclusion and belonging, and more empowerment. When that happens, they are more likely to tap into their hidden reserves, think twice about what will serve best for the organization, and speak up if something isn't aligned with their values.