Food For Thoughts

The Path to Overcoming Common Barriers to Inclusion

By Paul Lachhu

A May 2021 Emtrain workplace culture survey found that of 83,000 employees at 100 companies, 43% believed they could be their authentic selves, 50% believed their organization is committed to inclusion, and 33% believed their leaders worked hard to create a sense of belonging. Various studies have found the common barriers to inclusion are traditional leadership styles, problematic communication, continued bias and microaggressions. These barriers remain in place despite all the proof that inclusion benefits people and organizations, and the high level discussions and corporate commitments to bring change.

Emtrain CEO Janine Yancey made an interesting statement. She believes the survey numbers should inspire company leaders and not demotivate them. Yancey said, “Few companies have approached inclusion as a competency with skills to learn and master.” In other words, you cannot just tell your leaders and employees to be inclusive and quit being biased. It is not enough to hire diverse people and count heads, and then leave people to fend for themselves. You have to develop competency skills of leadership inclusion and belonging, and your leaders then become role models for inclusive behaviors.

Looking at inclusion and belonging as competency skills puts them on the same platform as development in leadership, communication, critical thinking, decision-making and other critical skills. But how do you develop these skills? There are three main ways.

First, you train your leaders in inclusion and belonging skills on a deeper level. You cannot just tell people to stop being biased - it simply does not work that way. They must understand how bias is expressed in conscious and unconscious ways. Do they really understand microaggressions and what it means to bring the whole self to work?

Second, you must hold leaders accountable. Many companies tie compensation to meeting goals, but there is a problem there too. Simply tying compensation to the number of diverse people hired or promoted does not reveal inclusion. Inclusion is measurable through tools such as employee surveys, which are similar to employee engagement surveys. Emtrain identified six inclusion indicators. They are decision-making, valuing differences, allyship, demographic experience, curiosity and empathy, and authenticity and belonging.

Third, there must opportunities for honest conversations, in which diverse people can share their life and work experiences. It is crucial to the organization as a whole (including both employees and managers) to really understand how bias is expressed on a daily basis. Unless people feel safe having these conversations, the barriers to inclusion will remain strong.