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2 strategies to help take inclusion in the workplace deeper

Juan Betancourt
Juan Betancourt
Juan Betancourt, CEO of Humantelligence, is a visionary leader with a lifelong commitment to technology and AI’s impact on the human experience in the future of work. Having observed the limitations of conventional human capital management systems during his time at large F500 organizations and in the software industry, Juan recognized a need for innovation. It was this realization that led him to launch Humantelligence, where he saw the potential to transform productivity, team performance, collaboration and employee retention while making psychometric insights accessible to all. With a track record of revitalizing global brands like Puma and overseeing the U.S. division of Décathlon, Juan's executive-level operational leadership is unmatched. A Harvard economics graduate with an MBA from The Wharton School, Juan is committed to making the future of work accessible and better for all.

You may think you know what inclusion is, but you’re probably thinking of it too narrowly. One of the biggest challenges for HR leaders is combating the common misunderstanding of what inclusion even means, let alone how to achieve it.

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At its core, inclusion isn’t just about gender, race or ethnicity. It’s much broader and encompasses numerous variables. Consequently, to truly approach and change the culture of your (or any) organization, you need to start by promoting diversity of thought and the uniqueness of each individual within your company.

This strategy is almost completely opposite to the way most businesses operate their diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging initiatives. Too often, DEIB is seen as a metrics game—certain numbers to be reached and mandatory trainings to be completed. But to make sure inclusion really happens and people don’t get bucketed into groups, companies need to make DEIB part of the everyday fabric of the organization. Only then will people be able to bring their specialties, skills, voices, values and whole selves to work.

Ultimately, confronting the challenges of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a strategic necessity for modern businesses seeking to thrive in a globally connected world.

Challenges of fostering widespread inclusion and belonging in the workplace

The irony, of course, is that companies and HR professionals want to make sure their inclusion practices are effective. They don’t set out to make DEIB difficult or ineffective. However, it can be hard to get to the right mix of strategies that result in true inclusion and belonging for each employee.

What makes it so cumbersome to achieve DEIB in otherwise exceptional businesses? A prominent problem is the lumping together of inclusion and belonging as if they were the same concept. Inclusion and belonging are words that are frequently used interchangeably but have distinct meanings.

Inclusion refers to the action an employer takes, such as enacting fair and transparent employee policies, creating a welcoming new-hire onboarding experience and ensuring all employees have their ideas and perspectives heard. Belonging relates to how the employer’s inclusive actions make the employee feel. In other words, belonging is the outcome of inclusive efforts and behaviors. When employees feel seen, respected and valued, they believe they belong. In turn, they forge stronger connections with their colleagues, their output and their organization.

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See also: Will corporate DEI survive a growing ‘anti-woke’ movement?

It’s critical for HR leaders to acknowledge and distinguish the nuances between inclusivity and belonging. When you do, you can start to put measures in place that push inclusion forward in an effort to build individual belonging across your workforce.

Techniques to promote inclusion in the workplace

To begin driving more inclusivity in the workplace that goes beyond the usual DEIB metric tracking of race, gender, identity and salary equality metrics, try these two techniques. They’re oriented to help your teams become more comfortable with embedding inclusive practices into their everyday workflows. As a result, you’ll achieve greater engagement as people start to bring their “whole selves” to everything they do.

1. Use technology to fuel stronger internal communications.

When employees feel understood and respected by their managers and colleagues, they’re able to work more confidently and effectively. One way to encourage this kind of positive interaction is to help your people learn how to communicate in ways that acknowledge and respect the receiver’s perspective.

Consider emails. Far too many emails cause friction and internal toxicity. Why? The sender doesn’t use language that’s geared toward the receiver’s needs. This disconnect happens during other person-to-person encounters, too, such as meetings. We’ve all sat through meetings where the speakers serve their own benefits (e.g., lecturing, not staying on topic, rushing through complex concepts) without taking into account what we’d prefer as audience members.

In this case, technology can come to the rescue in the form of programs and software that can help you write better emails by tapping into your workforce’s psychometric data. AI algorithms can interpret each person’s psychometric data and make language, tone and additional communications-related recommendations for emails, meeting interactions, presentations and other touchpoints. This opens the door to less confusion between employees and more collaborative personal correspondence and conversations.

2. Ramp up your DEIB training workshop frequencies.

In tandem with improving employees’ daily interactions, you’ll want to continue to offer DEIB training to all staff. This is a considerable task. Ensuring all employees are aware of their biases or know what to do if they or a colleague is ever faced with inequality, exclusion or prejudice isn’t a simple process. Just be sure that you don’t fall into the idea that yearly events will be enough.

According to one academically recognized study, annual workshops and training only temporarily improve DEIB. However, they’re not enough to permanently move the DEIB needle in the right direction. Employees will quickly regress to how they communicated or behaved before the training. As pointed out in a Harvard Business Review article, another study showed “little evidence that diversity training affected the behavior of men or white employees overall—the two groups who typically hold the most power in organizations and are often the primary targets of these DEIB interventions.”

You can’t just cut out DEIB training, though. Making DEIB initiatives more frequent and ubiquitous is a better alternative than getting rid of periodic DEIB measures. Plus, giving DEIB more face time gets you closer to full-fledged participation in making your company’s DEIB goals come to fruition. Accordingly, share DEIB insights more readily and move DEIB from a siloed objective to part of your day-to-day culture. As a result, you’ll attract and hire more diverse workers and get all the benefits that come with a truly inclusive company.

It’s understandable if you’ve felt like you haven’t quite hit upon the best practices for inclusion in the workplace. Many other companies are in your position and are struggling just as much to make DEIB a reality. By taking it one step at a time and tweaking your DEIB efforts in ways that go beyond traditional DEI, you’ll encourage employees to become more self-aware and aware of their colleagues, which will work to show everyone where and how their unique contributions can drive company success.