Diversity and inclusion – getting the balance right

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed post, Patricia DuChene, GM EMEA and VP of Sales at Wrike, discusses the fine line between diversity and inclusion, as well as lessons she’s learnt during her career 

Companies are now spending millions to get their diversity initiatives up to speed. Considering that only 12% of tech founders employ five or more employees from underrepresented backgrounds, this is long overdue. But while diversity sets the stage, inclusion is where the play unfolds. Inclusion is an ongoing, thoughtful effort to build and maintain an environment that fosters and encourages participation. It gives a voice to every worker, so they know their input matters in critical decisions. Diversity without this practice is, frankly, an empty effort that will not drive change.

Though many companies tout the progress they’ve made in their Diversity and Inclusivity (D&I)  Programmes, a greater emphasis needs to be placed on the ‘I.’ As Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid wrote for Harvard Business Review: “It’s easy to measure diversity: it’s a simple matter of headcount. But quantifying feelings of inclusion can be dicey. Understanding that narrative along with the numbers is what really draws the picture for companies.”

After joining Wrike at its Silicon Valley headquarters in 2013, I relocated to Dublin in 2015 to open the company’s EMEA headquarters. We started with two employees and quickly scaled to a team of more than 80. Throughout this journey, diversity and inclusion has been a top priority and will continue to be so as we expand our global footprint.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way that promote an inclusive working environment:

Empower your staff to share ideas and insights

If companies really want to challenge the status quo, their employees need to feel safe sharing opinions and ideas, free of shame or ridicule. The easiest way to empower new team members is through mentorship. Pairing up senior or more-tenured employees with newer members will help break down some of the barriers that exist with being the newbie. This will help build employees’ confidence and enable them to share ideas in a productive dialogue.

The same theory applies to knowledge sharing sessions or informal meetings where anyone can pick a topic and present on it. One easy way to do this is to have one team share details of a project that they’re working on and how they’re approaching it. For example, someone from event marketing could do a ‘lunch-and-learn’ talk about how they plan, market, and execute events, as well as how they measure success.

These sessions give the person presenting the opportunity to make themselves known. They also give others the chance to learn a new skill from a peer that they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to. When these sessions are made optional, they tend to be smaller, so people are more likely to be at ease when speaking. This creates a low-stakes, welcoming atmosphere that allows employees to be their full, authentic selves.

Get to know your team

Employees need to know that they are valued as an individual with unique talents, not just a cog in the machine. Everyone’s presence adds something unique to company culture and it’s important that everyone knows that.  Encourage managers to set up recurring one-on-ones to learn what motivates each member of their team. Knowing what drives them will help you engage in a way that lets them be heard and understood. You’ll also be better equipped to provide them with whatever information or assistance they need, in the manner they need to receive it.

Be hyper-conscious of your meeting environment

Meetings should be seized as an opportunity to let employees know that they are valued and that their ideas matter. This applies whether meetings take place daily or monthly. You might not realise it, but where people physically sit in a meeting matters. Those who do not feel included are more likely to sit towards the wall or stand if there are not enough seats. Make sure everyone has a seat at the table. If there isn’t enough room, create it by moving people around.

Keep an eye on how people talk to each other. Interrupting someone is a backhanded way of saying, “your opinion isn’t as important or as valid as mine.” Have a ‘no interrupting’ policy and own it – provide feedback in one-on-ones if someone is a repeat offender and keep an eye out for those who are often interrupted.

Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time. More importantly, inclusion-driven diversity nurtures a deeper sense of dedication to a role, which leads to greater job satisfaction, less employee turnover, and more employee engagement. Inclusivity just makes good business sense – so implement policies and practices that support it.

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