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  • Writer's pictureEdwin and George

Reflections on inclusion at work

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies

‘The worst thing in life is being surrounded by people who make you feel alone.’

(Robin Williams)

This company will:

"Encourage diversity and inclusion in the workplace as they are good practices and make excellent business sense." Leading company website).

Fine words – but companies are dreadful at inclusion.

They’re more concerned with "fit":

  • ‘Why didn’t she get the job? - I don’t think she’ll be a good ‘fit.’

  • ‘Why did he leave? - He wasn’t a good fit.’

  • ‘Will you recommend her for promotion? - Is she the right fit?’

Diversity at work will happen.

The evolution of the workforce will ensure that.

  • Millennials are making up an ever increasing proportion of employees. They’re the most diverse generation in history. (1)

Inclusion at work is harder.

Inclusion means having the confidence to draw on your experience and knowledge and your different background to fully contribute at work, to challenge and innovate – to bring your whole self to the team – unafraid to reveal your identity.

It can’t be addressed by a statement, or a policy, or sending the team on a training course – or by an agenda item at some management meeting.

This goes right to the heart of the kind of company you are. What behaviours are accepted? What’s the true culture? What kind pf people have you recruited?

Inclusion is about choices – created and maintained by actions – not policies. (2)

The business case for diverse and fully inclusive teams – where individuals make their own unique contributions – is well rehearsed:

  • A 2019 study for the ‘Wall Street Journal,’ for example, found that companies with high ratings for inclusive workplaces, vastly outperform financially those companies rated as having non-inclusive workplaces. (3)

The real world id different.

Talk to any employee who stands out from the majority – perhaps they’re part of a minority group, or simply speak the truth when saying what people want to hear is the accepted norm - and they’ll have a list of examples where they were slighted, marginalised and felt left out. (4)

Companies yearn for control and compliance

  • It’s easier managing people who are all the same – these are the teams that can be controlled by policies and processes – truly diverse teams need real leadership – to deal with the nuances, differences of opinions and approaches they bring.

And the practices that destroy true inclusion rage on unchecked:

  • ‘Uniform company cultures’ – so we all behave the same

  • Standard job descriptions – so we all do our jobs in similar ways

  • Aligned objectives – so we aim for similar goals

  • Competency frameworks – so we all develop in the same way.

None of these things help. (5)

When talented people aren’t able to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work – and reveal their true personality and thoughts, they take one of two options:

  1. They leave

  2. They change – and become a ‘good fit.’.

Both options are bad.

And the idea of a ‘good fit’ works against inclusion every step of the way.
  • People who know they’re not a ‘good fit’ go to great lengths to hide their differences – to gain acceptance or minimise the attention they draw.

  • Better to become invisible. (6)

Two things to reflect on (based on ideas from the highly recommended book, ‘The Promise of Giants’ by John Amaechi):

Reflection number 1

A CEO is interviewing a candidate to be the company’s new vending machine.

‘Is this an important job?’ asks the candidate.

‘Yes, of course,’ replies the CEO, ‘our people work hard and don’t have time to go to the shops, so this is a vital role to keep their spirits up.’

What will I have to do?’ asks the candidate.

‘You dispense the correct chocolate bar or snack according to the numbers the person presses and the money they put in,’ replies the CEO.

‘Am I allowed to use my initiative and suggest alternative to the customer – like an apple?

‘Not at all,’ replies the CEO, ‘you have to follow instructions exactly.’

‘What if I dispense two bars instead of one in error. Can I correct my error? Asks the candidate.

‘No,’ replies the CEO, ‘we have a process to follow – a manager will come along and put things right.’

‘And what happens if a chocolate bar gets stuck?’ asks the candidate.

‘This is very serious,’ replies the CEO. ‘I’m afraid in these circumstances, the manager will come along and give you a good shake so you don’t do it again.’

The interview ends.

There’s an ironic development taking place at work.

Companies are automating their customer service and interactions – but how do you install empathy and human emotion into a machine? How can a machine respond to the anger or appreciation of a customer?

And at the same time, through their policies and practices, companies are dehumanising work for their people.

  • Machines becoming people.

  • People becoming machines. (7)

When an employee isn’t able to reveal their true personality, give their honest opinion, or when they have to change to fit in:

  • they become demotivated and then indifferent

  • they retire to the corner of the room

  • they stop taking the initiative

  • they stop questioning

  • they blend in with the furniture

  • they act like a machine

  • A vending machine.

Reflection number 2

When people aren’t included at work, you don’t get everything they have to offer – their appearance, their thought process, their ideas based on their true experiences.’ (8)

But worse, they’re selective about what they reveal – ‘toning down their minority characteristics, they send reassuring message that they fit in - this isn’t the way to get the best out of people – no way.’ (9)

Those of you with kids (or those of you who’ve been a kid – or are still a kid), will have watched the movie ‘Mary Poppins.’

Arriving at the Bank’s house, Mary opens her suitcase and, much to the amazement of her new family, pulls out:

  • first a hat stand

  • then a mirror

  • then a house plant

  • then a lamp.

All useful things to have when moving into a new house.

But why did she only reveal these everyday items? They say nothing about her true identity, where she came from, or her past. These remain a mystery – throughout the movie.

Was she being careful – and not taking things out that would reveal her true identity – her middle east passport, for example, showing her real name? (Let’s face it, ‘Poppins’ is a bit farfetched)?

We never find out. (10)

  • If people are in an environment where bits of their identity will be scorned, denigrated or mocked – they will hold back and select the contents they reveal carefully and selectively.

  • But when people are encouraged to share their ideas freely, bits of their identity will be regularly revealed – they won’t be worried about what’s in their suitcase – and that’s when we get the best out of them.

People are worn out at work.

They can either focus their energy on doing their best work – or it can be split – some towards achieving the desired goals and outputs - and some for the unnecessary tasks involved with blending in.

Every ounce of energy focussed on being a good fit is lost.

  1. Biased, Jennifer L. Eberhardt

  2. The Promise of Giants, John Amaechi

  3. The business case for more diversity, The Wall Street Journal, 26 October 2019

  4. In conversation with John Amaechi: where have all the great leaders gone? YouTube

  5. For a discussion on why companies need control, see 9 Lies about work, Marcus Buckingham

  6. Biased, Jennifer L. Eberhardt

  7. For more on the dehumanisation of work see, What’s the future, Tim O’Reilly

  8. The Promise of Giants, John Amaechi

  9. Biased, Jennifer L. Eberhardt


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1 Comment

Nov 10, 2021

A very important topic is touched upon in this post, both from the side of the social issue and from the side of business development. Our software also uses an integrated approach to increase the company's revenue.

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