“The Day-to-Day Experiences of Workplace Inclusion and Exclusion”
This article on diversity and inclusion in the workplace is an excerpt from Catalyst’s recent report, “The Day-To-Day Experiences of Workplace Inclusion and Exclusion,” which focuses, in part, on the effects of exclusion and, more importantly, what leaders can do and say to turn-the-tide. Catalyst is a non-profit organization and BlessingWhite partner, dedicated to creating workplaces where people representing every dimension of diversity can thrive.
In a season of togetherness and giving thanks, why focus on exclusionism? Why this topic and why now? BlessingWhite believes that being able to identify exclusionary behavior is an important first step in correcting that behavior. And we also believe there are actions that can be taken on a daily basis to create a work environment that exemplifies a spirit of diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
It is our goal to shine a light on the things leaders can do to interrupt exclusionary behaviors and model the type of leadership we can be proud about – both in the workplace and in the world. Our hope is that readers will not only see the very real effect of exclusionary experiences, but will also stand up with us as we look to find ways to eliminate these practices and enhance the very fabric of diversity and inclusion in the workplace for our organizations.
Excerpts from “The Day-to-Day Experiences of Workplace Inclusion and Exclusion” – Julie S. Nugent, Alixandra Pollack, and Dnika J. Travis, PhD
If inclusion is the air we breathe, exclusion is suffocating. Experiences of workplace exclusion are powerful and, unlike inclusion, keenly visible. We recently conducted research and interviewed individuals on the impact of inclusion and exclusion and the results were profound. Interviewees much more readily recalled and related stories of workplace exclusion than they did inclusion. This is, in part, because accumulated experiences of exclusion can overshadow feelings of workplace inclusion. Also, inclusion is often invisible, hard to grasp or define. Yet the reality is that both inclusion and exclusion co-exist – creating a dilemma for leaders particularly in seeking to root out exclusionary behavior and amplify inclusion.
Several key exclusionary events or forms of treatment emerged as among the deepest cuts experienced by interviewees: tokenism, bias and stereotyping, and mixed messages related to flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and work-life effectiveness. Over time, these experiences— when employees feel singled out, undervalued, or unheard, perhaps based on their membership in a particular social group (e.g., gender, ethnicity, nationality, language, religion)—corrode the work environment. For example:
People try to behave in a way that sometimes doesn’t feel natural. They try to be extremely happy or extremely friendly to Hispanics or extremely friendly to Black people….It feels that they are doing [this] because they are aware you are Hispanic, and they want to make sure that you don’t think they are racist or that they are discriminating [against] you because of that….. It makes me feel sometimes that I am part of a minority and not part of the whole [work] group….What I would really like to feel inside is just to be seen as normal and not to be seen as an Hispanic every time I step into a room. People know [I’m] different. They talk about diversity, and they immediately say, “Oh my God, this is such a diverse group.” That’s such a cliché, and I don’t want to be the one building diversity. I just want to be another person maybe with a diversity of thought, a person with different experiences that could bring something different, but not a person that is just diverse because I look different.
Healing Exclusionary Experiences: Solutions for Leaders
When an employee has repeated experiences of exclusion, it can result in a reduction in productivity ,22 engagement,23 and even in the employee’s own sense of self-worth.24 This can have costs at the individual, team, and organizational levels.25
To interrupt exclusionary behaviors and avoid this disconnect, leaders must:
1. Promote authentic action and dialogue.
2. Make sure the connection between what you say and what you do is crystal clear to employees.
Day-to-day ways in which leaders can achieve this include:
• Instead of just saying, “People matter,” take the time to set up one-on-one meetings, not only with your direct reports, but also with employees two to three levels down just to get to know them.
• Pay attention to whose voices are being heard, whose opinions are being validated, and who is being ignored or dismissed during meetings, then interrupt these behaviors by:
✓ Actively seeking feedback from people who don’t usually contribute.
✓ Role modeling the inclusive behavior that diverse opinions have value by repeating them and building on them as the discussion evolves.
✓ Giving credit—and visibility— where credit is due by clarifying when someone is recognized for contributing an idea that was, in fact, raised by someone else earlier during the meeting.
• Don’t just gather metrics—go behind the numbers to explore what’s really going on! For instance, after collecting metrics on the use of FWAs:
✓ Ask employees who use FWAs and their supervisors how the use of those programs and policies impacts their work relationships and their perceptions of the work culture.
✓ Ask employees who don’t use FWAs why they don’t and how their colleagues’ use of FWAs affects them and their perception of the work culture.
• Review, revisit, and revamp existing practices to uncover exclusionary norms.
• Lead efforts to upgrade existing systems (e.g., employee surveys, team meeting guidebooks) to help root out hidden exclusionary norms, expectations, and practices as necessary. Uncovering exclusion in your organization is not a sign of failure but, rather, an opportunity for growth.
At BlessingWhite we think it is profoundly important that every employee be given the opportunity to excel. It is imperative that our workplaces invite differing perspectives and viewpoints into the fabric of our organizations. As leaders, it is our responsibility to harness that diverse thought and improve the organization as a whole…through our people. We look forward to continuing to take steps towards creating a world where diversity and inclusion in the workplace is the norm and exclusionary behavior is a thing of the past.
On a very practical level, BlessingWhite and Catalyst have developed three workshops aimed at helping leaders enhance inclusive leadership styles, create more inclusive teams, and learn how to leverage differences to increase innovation through intentional diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Learn more in one of our workplace diversity training workshops.
22. Meghna Sabharwal, “Is Diversity Management Sufficient? Organizational Inclusion to Further Performance,” Public Personnel Management (2014): p. 1-21.
24. Michàl E. Mor Barak, “Beyond Affirmative Action: Toward a Model Of Diversity and Organizational Inclusion,” Administration in Social Work, vol. 23, no. 3-4 (1999): p. 47-68.
25. Thorpe-Moscon and Pollack; Deena Fidas and Liz Cooper, The Cost of the Closet and the Rewards of Inclusion (Human Rights Campaign, May 2014); Robert T. Hitlan, Rebecca J. Cliffton, and M. Catherine DeSoto, “Perceived Exclusion in the Workplace: The Moderating Effects of Gender on WorkRelated Attitudes and Psychological Health,” North American Journal of Psychology, vol. 8, no. 2 (2006): p. 217-236.