Leaders set the tone for what happens in their organizations, so it stands to reason that inclusion must begin at the top.
But, where do you start? Programs and initiatives are important – but so are everyday behaviors. Take a moment to reflect on how you are showing up and engaging with others. Have you ever led a meeting where certain voices were silent, struggled to connect with someone from a different background, or didn’t know whether a statement could be offensive? We are all human. It’s not about knowing the best response all of the time. Inclusion is about self-awareness – understanding who you are, how the experiences you’ve had shape your identity, and the ways that you interact with others.
Our 2019 State of Inclusion surveyed 3,000 professionals at companies of at least 1,000 people. The good news – 77% of the respondents told us they believe their organization “fosters an inclusive workplace.” Less than a quarter of the respondents disagreed with that statement. The bad news—nearly two-thirds of respondents (64%) felt they had experienced bias at work in the past year—and nearly one in five felt they’d experienced bias at least once a week. The same percentage felt they had witnessed bias toward others. So, organizations are making progress, but there is still more to be done. That’s where the importance of behaviors comes into play.
After years of working first on diversity and now on inclusion as well, most professionals throughout the business world understand that overt bias is not acceptable in the workplace. More than eight in ten—83%—of the employees who reported experiencing bias felt it was “indirect and subtle.”
People can have the best of intentions, they can firmly believe they don’t have a biased bone in their bodies and they can still fall victim to something called unconscious bias. Everyone can experience this. On this inclusion journey it’s not our job to be perfect. But, dedicating yourself to inclusion is a leadership capability for the 21st century – it’s something that’s not only desired, but also expected from today’s workforce.
Our respondents held themselves to a similar standard. The vast majority— 92%—identified themselves as an ally “dedicated to supporting individuals or groups who are different from me.” These individuals are an essential component to fostering an inclusive culture. You can start to engage them by discussing specific behaviors of allyship. Discuss how to speak up respectfully when you notice those subtle biases on display, how to incorporate inclusion into meetings by encouraging everyone to have an opportunity to share their perspective, when networking with colleagues who may be outside of your normal circle, or supporting one another during a tough project by sharing everyone’s well-being needs.
Unconscious bias is pervasive, and hard to root out. You have to be intentional about it. But it’s work we must do if we want to build an inclusive organization. Because bias affects everyone. We saw that in our survey: whether respondents felt they were directly on the receiving end of the bias or they witnessed it happening to someone else, 84% told us the experience had a “prolonged, negative effect on [their] happiness, confidence and/or wellbeing.” Unhappy, unconfident employees can become unproductive and disengaged employees. And if nothing at your organization changes, they can easily become former employees.
Inclusion is crucial for engagement and retention, but it’s also personal. It’s about reflecting on who you are as a leader, how you want to make those around you feel, and the personal legacy that you want to leave behind.