BOSTON—Jan. 31, 2021—Many companies today pursue diversity by itself as a priceless asset, failing to recognize they cannot embrace the full value of diversity without fostering a truly inclusive work culture for everyone. New research from Bain & Company shows inclusive workplaces have a greater ability to innovate and challenge the status quo as well as increased employee satisfaction and retention. Yet, organizations across industries prove to be struggling to effectively foster inclusivity.
Bain & Company surveyed 10,000 individuals across diverse industries and demographic backgrounds, in seven countries, at varying levels of seniority and organizational size, to understand what makes workers feel the most included. The firm found a shocking takeaway: more than 70% of workers, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation—including straight white men—do not feel fully included. These are among the findings of Bain & Company’s new report, The Fabric of Belonging: How to Weave an Inclusive Culture.
“While many organizations have made public commitments to advance diversity and inclusion, generating real progress is deceptively difficult,” said Julie Coffman, Bain & Company’s Chief Diversity Officer. “Fostering a truly inclusive workplace means, in one part, caring about how people feel, and it also requires a heavy investment into the design and ways of working needed to create a place of belonging, trust and support. Inclusivity, done well, will require employees and leaders to adopt new mindsets, change long-held behaviors, adapt to new technologies, and operate new and different systems”
When asked to describe what an inclusive organization looks like, most individuals, regardless of identity and experience level, say an inclusive organization is one that is diverse, where people are heard, valued and supported. Similarly, when asked what inclusion feels like, employees across all demographics say it equates to being treated with dignity, as well as the ability to bring their authentic selves to work, contribute and feel connected to others.
Even though the feeling of inclusion is fundamentally the same across groups, the lived experience of inclusion is driven by a variety of enablers, including a company’s systems, structures and processes, as well as the mindsets and behaviors of its employees. Each demographic has a unique texture, in terms of the enablers that are most impactful. For example, when analyzing the responses from Black women, coaching and professional development did more to increase their sense of inclusion than anything else.
Laying the foundation for an inclusive organization
Bain’s research suggests a few basic priorities organizations should act on right away. This includes signaling commitment, such as setting clear DEI ambitions and goals, and communicating them across the organization; promoting growth, such as installing stronger rituals around professional development and coaching; and facilitating connection, such as developing programs to help underrepresented employee groups find one another and bond.
Increasing inclusivity with rigor and focus
After an organization has attended to the cross-cutting initial priorities above, an effective approach to increased inclusivity will require additional rigor and focus, based on a few key principles:
- Focus on intersectionality. Creating inclusion for people requires accounting for the many identities people have both at and away from work, and the interplay among them.
- Use data and narratives to formulate answers that will inspire change. Data can provide a “single source of truth” to align leadership on the right path forward, while real-life stories of lived experiences can touch hearts and motivate collective change.
- Identify the behavioral and systemic changes needed. Employee experiences are affected by their relationships not just with colleagues but with the company itself.
- Prioritize and customize your roadmap. Every company will have unique “bright spots” and “blind spots”; focusing first on building momentum and achieving results for groups in the organization that have the most to gain.
- Focus on doing, not just explaining, to bring about sustainable change. People learn and retain their ability to change through real-life practice and coaching.
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