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Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

Please note that this is the first instalment of our Let’s Talk series on how to build a more inclusive culture. 

Here’s the second part: Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

So your company has hired a diverse workforce of people of various ages, ethnicities, genders, and religions. Finding and hiring people with such diverse backgrounds and characteristics is an accomplishment in itself.  

Is this to say that you can cross diversity and inclusion (D&I) off your to-do list for creating a favourable and great workplace? 

Maybe not. When it comes to D&I, diverse recruitment is only half the battle. D&I is only complete when a culture of respect and appreciation is established to support that diversity. 

In this week’s Let’s Talk, we asked experts to share their perspectives on how businesses can foster an inclusive culture in the workplace.

Let’s Talk.

Fabrice Chatain​, People & Culture Manager, RMIT Online

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“Inclusion in the workplace is essential to creating a collaborative and creative workplace. It is also critical to expanding the talent pool when many businesses struggle to hire. At RMIT Online, we work to generate and maintain a culture of inclusivity. 

“This starts with the hiring process. We are careful to avoid biases and make sure we’re not overlooking candidates for any reason unrelated to the skills and abilities needed for the job in question. But having a diverse team doesn’t guarantee you will have a diversity of thought and solutions, which are the outcomes you should be looking for. 

“To ensure you have an inclusive and diverse culture, you need your leadership to embrace these values and practice them constantly. For example, one of the actions we take at RMIT Online is to have informal learning workshops that encourage collaboration between junior and senior staff and where all can share knowledge and experience in a safe environment.”

Leigh Rust, Director and Co-Founder, Safetyline Jalousie

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“With this month marking International Women’s Day, my team attended a Women in Manufacturing breakfast earlier this week which shone a light on the important role women play in Queensland’s manufacturing sector. 

“A key takeaway from the event was that businesses need diversity in order for them to be healthy and successful – something that should be embraced by organisations across the board. At Safetyline Jalousie Louvre Windows, we know that gender equality and workforce diversification helps to support further innovation and growth – a message we’re proud to promote.

“We thank the great women we have on our team and the role they play in our ongoing growth and success. Creating an inclusive culture is something that should be embraced by the whole organisation. We’ve proud to not only have a gender-diverse team but a culturally-diverse one too. The great benefits this brings should be celebrated at all levels of the organisation to encourage and support future inclusivity.”

Steve Bennetts, APJ Head of Growth & Strategy for Employee Experience, Qualtrics

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“A sense of psychological safety, a feeling of being valued and belonging, and the freedom to be your authentic self are fundamental in creating an inclusive culture.

“Managers and leaders have important roles to play in creating inclusive environments. Research from Qualtrics shows managers directly influence feelings of belonging within their teams, meaning it’s important they have the tools and systems to understand the experiences and help their people are asking for, and the skills and support to deliver it.

“Leaders must also empower people from different backgrounds to contribute their ideas, with the various perspectives gleaned helping to create spaces where people feel comfortable to speak up. And lastly, it’s important to provide rigorous and candid updates on the progress being made. Through regular and transparent communications, related programs will be kept front of mind to inspire change and keep people accountable.”

Linda Karkafi, Founder and Director, Commcentric

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“Harvard Business Review quotes, “The best leaders are able to bring their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: They observe the human condition.” To create an inclusive culture, it’s crucial that workplace leaders observe their people, and listen carefully. 

“Articulate what inclusion means for your organisation, and create a clear understanding of what behaviours promote inclusiveness, and what behaviours won’t be tolerated. After all, you can’t change what you can’t measure. 

“To be successful, businesses will need commitment at all levels and progress towards these goals should be celebrated and rewarded. People need to be given a voice, and leadership responses made visible. Leaders should be equipped with the knowledge and skills to role model these behaviours, to achieve permanent, positive change. 

“Every employee deserves to feel part of something, and as leaders, it’s our privilege and responsibility to make this an everyday reality.”

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

Listen: Not just to those who speak up, who talk loudly and persuasively. Listen to the quiet, unsure voices. Give them alternative ways to speak up. E.g. in meetings ask everyone to write their thoughts first before they share. This way everyone has equal opportunity.

Be aware: Cultivate an awareness of your natural bias towards people “like us”. Or perhaps you also naturally defer to the authority of older people? Or you dismiss ideas from those younger (“What would they know?”)? Or do you value the opinion of women over men? Uncover your own biases to put in place strategies to counteract it.

Act: Each of us has an opportunity to show leadership with respect to inclusion and diversity. Act as you want others to act. Ask questions of people who don’t normally contribute. Look more broadly when handing out work opportunities. And most importantly – challenge others to act the same.

Fleur Heazlewood, Healthy high-performance expert at Blueberry Institute, and author of Resilience Recipes

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

‘Psychological Safety is the foundation for an inclusive culture. Without inclusive strategies and policies like flexibility, diversity and equality Psychological Safety won’t be enacted. Psychological safety is the ability for everyone at work to be able to show and employ their whole self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career. In other words, it means that people feel both accepted and respected within their teams. 

“It starts with a culture of trust where candour and vulnerability are welcomed. Where taking personal risk is encouraged, and discomfort associated with feeling vulnerable is normalised and supported. It is important to train both your leaders and their teams in the conversation and interpersonal skills to create a psychologically safe and inclusive environment.  

“For leaders to learn how to encourage all voices to contribute and enable diverse perspectives to be respected. With structure and facilitation scaffolding for teams to practice discussing complex topics with multiple perspective-taking to co-create inclusive solutions for moving forward. We can’t assume a psychologically safe and inclusive culture; we need to create it.”

Peter Mousaferiadis, Founder and CEO, Cultural Infusion

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“A year ago I posted a thought that diversity is a fact, inclusion is an act – however, if you want to act then you need the fact. This rhyme is incredibly important.

“Organisations working towards inclusion need to first and foremost understand no one exists within a vacuum and then work towards creating environments where everyone feels included.

“The answer lies in better data. The true extent of the opportunity and participation gap is not properly understood because consistent and reliable data on the inclusion and representation of organisations is not readily available. A data-driven approach is the first step that has to be taken in order to ensure that practices, policies, and programs are targeted and designed to close the inclusion and representation gap. 

“As we emerge from the pandemic, it will become more important than ever that organisations do better at understanding who their workforces are, and begin to create spaces that encourage us to bring aspects of our identity that can foster a more inclusive and productive environment.”

Charlie Dewitt, Managing Director, ANZSEA, UKG 

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“Creating a truly inclusive workplace is an ongoing process that continuously adapts to the needs of a diverse team. It also means recognising individual aspirations and motivations within and outside of work to ensure business leaders are optimising outcomes for all employees. 

“There are four ways to build a more inclusive workforce: 

  • Promote a diversity-focused candidate experience from the beginning and throughout the employee’s journey. Reduce potential unconscious bias and give all qualified candidates a fair opportunity to be considered. 
  • Uncover what people need most to be happy and thrive in their unique journeys. Through comprehensive reporting, business leaders can ensure they’re respecting cultural differences, removing digital barriers, and empowering people with self-identification options. 
  • Analyse pay disparities and see where policies and procedures need to evolve to reflect changes in people’s needs. 
  • Create more accessible experiences, including using mobile applications to keep employees engaged and connected.”

Lily Clarke, System Engineer, SAS ANZ

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“We often talk about gender representation in STEM organisations, and while we have certainly witnessed the industry make progress towards a more equal ratio, the presence of females in technical and technical leadership roles is often underrepresented. At SAS however, I’m inspired by the business focus in this area, on areas including career and leadership development, collaboration and networking.

‘A challenge often faced with women in leadership roles specifically is mentoring opportunities. More often than not, women are paired with women – while this promotes story-sharing and unity, it also places limitations on opportunities to speak with like-minded individuals who share experience, goals and interests, irrespective of gender.

“While this is almost certainly the result of slowly evolving unconscious bias alongside a lack of females following STEM careers, we can create a more inclusive culture by creating forums of like-minded contributors to form a supportive community. For instance, SAS’ Women’s Initiative Network is a diverse group of people focused on empowering, encouraging and inspiring women to pursue excellence in their careers.”

Alison Long, Head of People and Talent, Till Payments 

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“There has long been a stigma in the workplace surrounding pregnancy, pregnancy loss, childbirth, and parental leave. When we devalue and dismiss these life events predominantly as ‘women’s issues’, primary carers of both genders are disproportionately affected.

“To tackle this bias head-on, Till Payments is championing gender-inclusive pregnancy loss and parental leave policies. This ensures that caregivers – no matter their gender – feel supported and valued by the business. More broadly, it also helps to rewrite outdated and harmful stereotypes that assume raising a family, childcare and the loss of pregnancy are ‘women’s issues. We have partnered with Kin Fertility on the #WeNeedMoreLeave campaign to call for better support for parents experiencing a miscarriage. 

“To further create a more inclusive workplace, Till has made a range of menstrual products readily available to staff and on-site visitors, in order to help combat the stigma in the workplace faced by people who menstruate.”

Jamie MacLennan, Senior Vice-President and Managing Director Asia-Pacific, LifeWorks

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“We have several tools and research at LifeWorks to monitor employees’ mental health and sense of belonging for our clients. Today, 32 per cent of Australians do not feel a sense of belonging or acceptance at work or are unsure, which is a significant increase from prior to COVID. Our data shows that employees who feel included in a company’s culture are not only happier but also much more productive (86 per cent) than those who feel isolated or not recognised. 

“Some key aspects that companies need to pay attention to are recognition (people want their work or contribution to be acknowledged and recognised), respect (workers wish to be treated respectfully and feel safe in the workplace) and positive relationships with work colleagues. 

“Leaders are essential to creating environments where recognition is constant and respectful, and positive relationships are the norm. They are the ones who give examples and must be the guardians of an inclusive culture.”  

Brenda Gaddi, Managing Director and Founder, Women of Colour Australia

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“The secret sauce to building a culture of inclusion in the workplace is to recognise the power of allyship as a potent aspect of any DEI strategy and initiatives. While allyship has to flow from the top, i.e it is something that leaders and managers have to buy into first, it is not solely their responsibility. However, it’s up to them to create and nurture an environment where allyship becomes part of the company’s DNA.

“Global DEI leader Sheree Atcheson describes an ally as “any person that actively promotes and aspires to advance the culture of inclusion through intentional, positive and conscious efforts that benefit people as a whole”.  Allies have the potential to turn into DEI champions by serving as mentors or sponsors to employees from marginalised and racialised groups, who may experience discrimination, racism or sexism because of their gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, disability or another characteristic. 

“Australian organisations can empower employees to become true allies through deep listening sessions, ongoing racial sensitivity training, unconscious bias education and other culturally-aware and trauma-informed activities as well as by making small interventions in day-to-day interactions to create a more welcoming, inclusive and safe workplace where all employees feel they truly belong.”

Ankit Jain, CEO and Founder, CIMET

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

Inclusion needs to flow from the top – be supported and embedded by CEOs and be baked into every company policy without exception. Creating and maintaining a culture of inclusion shouldn’t be solely HR’s job, though it does play an important role. When diversity is key to an organisation’s ethos and growth, inclusion has to become everyone’s responsibility to uphold corporate values. 

While diversity and inclusion have thankfully gained a lot of momentum over the last couple of years at the executive level, it shouldn’t be approached as a quota that you need to check off your list in order to magically reap all the business benefits of having a diverse workforce. It is an inclusion that unlocks the power of diversity. It is only when employees feel seen, heard, valued, and like they belong, only they will have a high performing, engaged team.

You can successfully build an inclusive culture by creating a psychologically safe workplace for all but particularly for employees from minoritised and racialised groups. Helping everyone across an organisation get a better understanding of what constitutes racism and the negative impact of microaggressions will foster a strong culture of allyship, which in turn will result in unwavering inclusion. 

Ashley Scott, Executive Officer, Rainbow Families

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“We are starting to see an increase in demand for more LGBTQ-friendly workplaces and employers who truly champion LGBTQ equality. Employers that have inclusive practices for LGBTQ individuals gain the support and respect of not only that community, but also of other minority groups that recognize the efforts as an indicator of an overall inclusive work environment.

“While making donations to LGBTQ organisations, including preferred pronouns in email signatures and celebrating Mardi Gras in the office are all contributing factors to creating an inclusive culture, they mean nothing if inclusion isn’t in everyday workplace interactions and without LGBTQ-supporting policies and processes. Inclusion has to be visible from both the informal things like cupcakes during Pride week to the more serious, corporate policies to protect LGBTQ employees.

“Another key element to creating an inclusive culture for LGBTQ employees is to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable and safe to bring their true authentic selves to work.”

Peita Lane, Chief People Officer, Sekuro 

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“To me, inclusion means that every employee is empowered to be their entire selves and reach their full potential at work. Whether that be ensuring we have the right parental leave benefits in place so that women, and men, feel supported to start a family to celebrate events that are important to our L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+. Community.

“I’m very aware that inclusivity means different things to different people, so it’s important to take a consultative approach to ensure we foster diversity of approach and thinking. For example, really listening to how people feel about returning to the office rather than putting business objectives first or getting advice from our employees about how we can support mental health beyond a traditional ERP. 

“Are we connecting and holding meetings in a way that works for parents, carers, people living in house shares or alone? I find asking about the little things goes a long way in turning inclusivity initiatives from ‘vanilla’ to something that really makes a difference in the lives of our people.

Sandra Kelly, People Operations Manager, Go1

Let’s Talk: How to create a truly inclusive culture

“Workplace culture is defined and shaped by every single team member and they play an important role in creating an inclusive culture, and an environment where everyone feels safe and comfortable to speak up, share their ideas and challenge each other. On a daily basis, they can: 

“Foster a learning culture at work – encourage employees to be curious, ask questions, experiment, and make them feel comfortable to make mistakes. Support employees to challenge the status quo if there is an opportunity for change or improvement  

“Let every voice be heard – ensure all voices, particularly quieter ones, on the team are listened to and encourage every member of the team to share their diverse opinions. Ask each other open-ended questions and encourage robust discussion about different ideas.

“Celebrate and recognise each others’ successes – accept that your idea will not always win and don’t let that get in the way of recognising and rewarding your colleagues’ contributions and achievements.”

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Yajush Gupta

Yajush Gupta

Yajush is a journalist at Dynamic Business. He previously worked with Reuters as a business correspondent and holds a postgrad degree in print journalism.

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