Building a workplace that women – and others – find inclusive

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Women have made inspiring progress in the workplace. Last year, for example, the number (and diversity) of women in C-suites at Fortune 500 companies has reached an all-time high. And yet, despite this progress, women remain severely underrepresented in business leadership.

Improving this will bring significant benefits. Women often excel in essential leadership abilities such as professionalism (self-motivation, work ethic, resilience), networking, collaboration, communication and critical thinking, outperforming men in all but one of 12 different emotional intelligence measures according to one study by global consultancy Korn Ferry. Other studies have shown that innovative companies benefit from having women at high levels of leadership and that women leaders are more often seen as honest and ethical than men.

Creating a more empowering environment for women is part of creating a more inclusive workplace overall, and is the subject of a recent study by Bain & Company, The Fabric of Belonging: How to Weave an Inclusive Culture. Based on interviews and surveys with more than 10,000 people, including 4,500 women, in seven different countries and at all levels of their organizations, the authors found that women who feel excluded at work are three times more likely to resign than those who feel included.

This is important information for managers struggling with the Great Resignation and the relatively higher level of women. Burnout. Inclusive organizations have an easier time attracting talent from all demographic groups. And a truly inclusive environment is essential for retention. The study found that employees experiencing low inclusion are up to six times more likely to actively seek new jobs compared to those in similar demographics experiencing high inclusion. Those who feel “fully included” are also significantly more likely to promote their workplace to others than those who feel “not at all included”: +71% vs. –83%.

Respondents from a more inclusive organization are much more likely to feel free to innovate and feel comfortable challenging the status quo. Gains from creative thinking are much higher as inclusion increases in an organization, compared to gains from increasing diversity alone, according to the study. Respondents who viewed their organization as both diverse and inclusive were the most likely to feel comfortable coming up with new ideas.

What makes an employee feel included varies, the report explains, but there are steps any company can take to start building a more inclusive organization:

  1. Promoting inclusion and gender equity starts at the top, with the CEO’s commitment. They must be the spearhead of change.
  2. Understanding the precise texture of including different people in an organization requires considering different aspects of their identity. An intersectional lens that examines, for example, not just gender, but also factors such as geography and race or ethnicity, helps identify the best ways to increase the inclusion of particular groups of people.
  3. What people think will make them feel more included doesn’t necessarily equal what really improves their experiences. It is therefore important for organizations to collect data, listen to stories and incorporate nuances to ensure they have a thorough understanding of the women in their organization and the particular textures of inclusion for them.
  4. Recognize opportunities to improve the inclusion of women. For example, the day-to-day interactions that employees have with their supervisors (“daily moments of truth”) during the key period of their career where they crystallize their aspirations can either strengthen or erode their confidence, and offer a crucial chance to support their development.

Gender balance in the workplace isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good business. Building an inclusive company culture should be among the top strategic priorities of any organization looking to increase the retention of high-quality talent, unleash greater levels of innovation, and harness the unique talents and skills employees and leaders bring to an organization.


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