There are myriad business reasons to cultivate an inclusive culture, and here are a few examples:
- Employee retention:
- Efficient, engaged collaboration:
- More gets done (and it’s more fun!) when people enjoy working with each other, value each other’s contributions, and get recognized for achieving shared goals. If anyone on a team feels excluded and is thus uncomfortable contributing to their full potential, you miss out on both their enthusiasm and their talent.
- Closing deals:
- Imagine being in the middle of a sales presentation for a must-win deal, and paying insufficient attention to (say) the small middle-aged woman in the back corner … who then turns out to be a major decision-maker? If you operate with an intentionally inclusive mind-set, you are less likely to make this kind of mistake.
- Spotting problems early:
- No one likes to hear bad news, but it’s a fact that problems rarely age well. The longer a problem festers, the worse it gets, and the harder and more expensive it is to resolve. Your frontline workers are an invaluable source of early information about potential problem areas if they feel appreciated and supported for sharing that information. Being inclusive is a first step to establishing the trust required to make this happen. These examples illustrate how badly things can go when it doesn’t.
To understand “inclusiveness”, let’s look at the opposite. Everyone has experienced the feeling of “being left out” at some time in our lives. Perhaps an older sibling didn’t let you tag along, perhaps it was a hurtful comment someone made, or something else.
Regardless, everyone can identify with the feeling, and agree that it is not empowering! Either you get angry and lash out, or you clam up and withdraw. No one feels generous when they feel excluded: if you are sitting on a good idea or a bag of cookies, you are unlikely to produce them to share at such a moment!
Sometimes an act of exclusion is malicious – done deliberately to hurt you – but most of the time it is mere thoughtlessness. I know, because I have been at the other end too and have, on occasion, regrettably caused others to feel excluded not from malice but from ignorance, or a lack of empathy.
The opposite of making people feel left out, is to welcome them in. Striving to make inclusiveness an everyday intention is a way to combat the damage done by thoughtless acts of exclusion. Besides, it feels like the right thing to do, at least if you care about being a good person.
It all adds up. Companies with intentional and inclusive cultures will benefit from the accumulation of lots of tiny acts of inclusion. As the examples above show, these benefits can have significant financial impact.
Even though anyone can feel excluded, and everyone benefits from an inclusive culture, there are some groups of people who are especially prone to being left out. Keep in mind that “being” and “feeling” are the same thing in this context. If you cause someone to “feel” excluded (even inadvertently), they will most likely exclude themselves, which is indistinguishable from them being excluded.
None of us is perfect, and all of us will make mistakes, but the important thing is to work on it. Companies can help by providing Diversity and Inclusion training, and opening up the conversation as QueBIT did in 2020 when we decided to be more proactive and intentional, as was discussed in this AskQueBIT podcast episode. In summary, as a company that has experienced the value of having a diverse team in terms of attracting talent, fostering innovation, and connecting with customers, we are always actively seeking to do better on this front.
Meanwhile Jim Miller, Master Consultant and Solution Architect, has written and presented on the topic of creating inclusive user experiences in software design, in which he uses software design as a lens through which to appreciate the many challenges faced by people with disabilities in the modern workplace. And keep in mind that disabilities cross every other demographic!
Jim’s work in this area has been truly eye-opening and thought provoking. Here are some key points:
- Not all disabilities are visible, and people with these disabilities may be reluctant to draw attention to themselves. Imagine if you are one of the 12 million people over 40 years of age (according to the CDC) who have some form of vision impairment and (say) struggle to see everything on a slide presentation in a business meeting. How included will this make you feel?
- There is a wealth of information and on-line tools to help! Jim's blog post lists some of them.
- The blog post also describes a concept called “universal design” which is about designing user experiences (and presentation slide decks!) in a way that is optimal for ALL audiences, including people with disabilities. Adopting universal design principles has been shown to create a curb-cut effect, which suggest that software applications designed to be inclusive for people with disabilities, also benefit everyone else.
Building awareness of what it takes to create an inclusive company culture has many layers, nuances, and permutations. Whether you are black in a majority-white environment, white in a majority-asian environment, a woman in a majority-male environment, or visually impaired in a majority-seeing environment, or in some other minority, the chances of you feeling excluded increase.
It is therefore everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to make anyone else feel welcome. It needn’t be much, but it starts by being open to learning, and finding empathy.