Fostering a Culture of Inclusivity in the Workplace

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Head of Employer Brand Dario Paolini has a wealth of experience helping support, maintain and grow Flight Centre Travel Group’s Australian staff base of around 10,000 people. Here, Dario shares his thoughts on why inclusivity is critical to a positive workplace environment.

Everyone wants to feel included. Humans are social creatures and our need to be part of a group is coded into our very DNA. If you’re a believer of evolution, particularly the savanna hypothesis, which says that humans can be traced back more than 2 million years to the African savanna, you might credit our social behaviour with our ability to create society and the modern world as we know it today.

Times have changed so much, in fact, that for eight hours every weekday we try our best to thrive in artificial social groups made up of a bunch of strangers who just happen to have been chosen by a company to use their collective skills to achieve a common goal.

Our brains weren’t built for this, but they nonetheless need to deal with it. So organisations are faced with a challenge – how do they create a culture where people feel like they are a vital part of a truly meaningful machine? How can we foster a feeling of care and inclusivity in a manufactured social environment?

Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean inclusivity

When pressed for an answer to the problem of inclusivity, the first word that most organisation stakeholders will utter is ‘diversity’. A diverse organisation, the logic goes, will mean that everybody will have somebody to turn to, and no one will be left feeling lonesome and unheard.

But while the sentiment is understandable, it’s important to realise that having a diverse workforce doesn’t automatically result in a culture of inclusion. To call a workplace diverse is to simply describe the demographic make-up of the people within it. But diverse organisations often see groups splintering, and rather than getting the one big inclusive workplace that you were hoping for, your team instead separates into small silos. Sure, people don’t feel alone, but they don’t feel included in the larger team either.

While diversity certainly helps, inclusivity must be encouraged for it to be a reality in your workplace. It’s something that must be worked on constantly.

To be an inclusive organisation, you must encourage your diverse workforce to be comfortable expressing themselves authentically. You must give equal attention to ideas from people of all backgrounds and experiences, and inclusive behaviours need to be celebrated and rewarded. On the flipside, you need to actively interrupt non-inclusive behaviours like dismissing a person’s opinion, or preventing someone from speaking.

When diversity and inclusion are achieved in the workplace, it leads to a culture where all employees, regardless of their background, can share in equal opportunity and work with each other to be more successful.

The importance of allyship

It’s an unfortunate truth that we humans tend to listen less to those who don’t look like us, sound like us or agree with us. But friends ensure that other friends are heard, and as we’ve said before, the business benefits of listening to diverse opinions can go far beyond a simple feel good factor.

Allyship is the process of advocating for a group of people to ensure equality and inclusion for that group. It is an active and ongoing process of lifting others up, sharing growth opportunities, listening, supporting and giving a greater voice to those who are less likely to be heard.

While allies who hold a position of influence or power in an organisation are best placed to help, the reality is that anyone can act as an ally: men can be allies to women, heterosexuals can be allies to those in the LGBTIQ+ community, and able-bodied people can be allies to differently-abled people.

To be an ally is to give someone – anyone – a voice when they don’t feel like they have one.

An organisation-wide push

So how does an organisation develop their inclusivity in real terms?

One of the most impactful ways to foster inclusivity and allyship in the workplace is through the formation of employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups that are charged with ensuring an inclusive, diverse workplace that is also aligned with the organisation’s overall mission, values and goals. They are designed to bring people – all people – together by creating a safe space and a voice for groups that are often at risk of feeling excluded or unequal.

While ERGs can be created at a grassroots level, they have even more impact when they are part of corporate policy. As a  top-down initiative with support from company leadership, ERGs have more legitimacy, and they might also enjoy a dedicated budget (who doesn’t love a little cash for their projects, right?), setting them on the path to greater success.

On the diversity side of the equation, addressing hiring bias is a must. Much as we try to avoid it, in volume recruiting, where applications must be reviewed quickly and a recruiter’s performance is measured not just on the volume of hires, but also the volume of leavers, it’s a perfect environment for hiring decisions to be based on personal bias. The ‘type’ of person who we’ve hired before, or the work experience and background that is similar to what has been successful for us in the past — familiarity — it’s a tempting choice for hiring teams. So, a continual discussion must be held about diversity, and processes must be aligned to selection criteria as rigidly as possible in order to guard against bias.          

Today we are far more capable than we were in the beginning. We may have begun as primates, but we’ve evolved to a point where we can recognise our basal shortcomings and address them. We all want to feel included, so why would we let anything get in the way of that?

It’s not just good for us as people. It’s good for our organisations too.

To find out more about how we’re fostering inclusivity, check out our job opportunities or read more about Flight Centre Travel Group.
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