Authenticity and wellbeing: how can you work towards an inclusive workplace?

The emphasis on fostering an inclusive workplace culture has never been greater as organisations pursue talent objectives and moral imperatives. Dr Sue Shortland reports on actions to improve diversity and inclusion at work.

Team applauding another employee
Relocate Magazine January 2019 Cover Read Now
This article is taken from the latest issue of 
Relocate magazine.
– the must read for HR, global managers and relocation professionals.Traditionally, organisations have focused their efforts on legal requirements to ensure that discrimination – whether it is direct or indirect – does not occur in the workplace. We have had equal opportunities legislation in the UK since the 1970s but there are still examples today of cases being pursued to ensure, for example, equal pay for work of equal value.

Equality: the gender pay gap & the ethnicity pay gap

The difference between the earnings of men and women has generated much press attention. Yet, since the publication of gender pay gap figures, there has been some progress made in reducing the difference between men’s and women’s pay. So publication of the shortcomings of businesses is helping to make real change in improving the working lives of minorities. Talks are now taking place involving the HR professional body, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), and government regarding tackling the ethnicity pay gap. Potentially we may see requirements for businesses to publish and address these figures in the future.

The business case for diversity

While not underplaying the importance of equality legislation, the focus began to move towards the value of diversity in the workplace towards the end of the 20th century. Considerable emphasis has been placed on the value of the business case for diversity. So, for example, a diverse workforce has been shown to generate many business advantages through bringing forward different and new ideas, and being more attuned to the diverse profile of the customer base. In the 21st Century, the focus has moved forward from equality and diversity in recognition of the notion that promoting diversity makes little sense without inclusion. This is because having a diverse workforce is effectively meaningless if sections of the community are ignored, undermined, discouraged or insulted.

From diversity and inclusion inclusion and diversity

So, over the years, we have seen the emphasis in organisations shift from equal opportunities, to equality and diversity, to diversity and inclusion. And now the strapline appears to be reversed to read inclusion and diversity, with the headline terminology revolving around the notion of authenticity. But are these just the latest HR buzz-words? Or is there real meaning behind the rhetoric and why should inclusion and authenticity be important for businesses today?

Authenticity: how to be your true self in the workplace and workforce

Authenticity refers to acting in ways in line with your true self. Research has shown that authentic living leads to satisfaction with work, career and life resulting in proactive work behaviour and positive well-being. Counterfeiting one’s identity to fit into an organisational culture intolerant of diversity requires considerable emotional labour. This amounts to wasted human energy which could otherwise be directed towards productive work endeavours and fostering team relationships.Organisations thus need to focus on authenticity underpinned by a cohesive set of inclusion friendly practices that aim to harness people’s authentic selves. Such practices might include:
  • Anti-discrimination practices
  • Specific diversity training
  • Unconscious bias training
  • Providing voice and participation (for instance via networks)
  • Facilitating inclusive management behaviour
  • Performance measurement of managers with a focus on inclusivity
  • Board level championing of inclusivity
  • Supporting role models, mentors and sponsors
  • Setting up of buddy systems
  • Supporting CSR activities and communications, including community development activities

Role models and allies: creating a culture of safety for LGBTQ individuals

For example, role models seek to embed inclusion and empathy. Role models who actively demonstrate inclusivity aligned to organisational values can help to create a culture of safety for LGBTQ individuals so that people are able to be themselves. Being a role model brings with it considerable pressure as it is an educative job, requiring a sense of purpose, patience and open-mindedness. Hence, role models do require organisational support and resources. Hence, organisations can support role models with time and space to fulfil their role.

Intersectionality and the need for wider networks to tackle inclusion and diversity

Research has shown that networks are particularly helpful for minority groups to help foster their links with others and reduce actual and perceived isolation. Yet, setting up a network for a particular minority group can appear to distance that group from the wider workplace, in essence negating the purpose of the network. Organisations might thus consider setting up networks for minorities but having that network access widened to include friends. For example, LGBTQ and allies networks widen the group out such as individuals who have not come out can join the network without identifying their sexual orientation. Intersectionality is an important consideration – people may not want to join multiple networks – and so minority networks might be open to any minority and thus be able to embrace race, gender, etc. as well.

It is important to remember that having an inclusive workplace is a total concept and should embrace all parts of the business. This means that inclusivity must be respected and embedded throughout. One diversity strand cannot be valued over another. People watch how others are treated and any intolerance of visible characteristics will be noted by individuals with invisible characteristics (including disability, religion, sexual orientation) causing them to waste emotional energy on hiding their true selves for fear of negative treatment. This creates a climate of fear as opposed to one of trust where people feel able to volunteer their thoughts and ideas to the benefit of creativity. It is important to challenge or call out actions that undermine inclusivity.Bringing about change is not necessarily going to be easy and careful thought needs to be given to how an inclusive culture can be developed and encouraged. With regard to the LGBTQ community for example, promoting allies via “I am an ally campaign” is suggested as an approach that organisations might find more helpful than attempting to persuade or push LGBTQ individuals to come out. Community endeavours such as supporting Pride can also demonstrate support at a wider level, external to the organisation.

Promote inclusion by increasing the visibility of minorities within your organisation

While unconscious bias training is helpful, it is insufficient by itself. A series of actions is needed to widen diversity awareness and promote inclusion. These include, for example, being an advocate of diversity and inclusion, starting with recruiting for diversity. External facing sites such as webpages can display examples of diversity and inclusion using appropriate staff profiles. It is important to increase the visibility of minorities to raise their profile and thereby widen acceptance. This might include, for example, celebrating the work of those who are less heard and advocating for those without a voice. Addressing embedded bias within systems and structures to bring about meaningful change is needed. The use of public platforms to talk about diversity and inclusion presents a powerful message, particularly if these opportunities are taken up by minorities. Advertising and branding campaigns can also demonstrate inclusivity very effectively by showing a range of diverse families for example.

Inclusion and the role of global mobility

For those in the field of global mobility, promoting a culture of inclusivity takes on a special resonance. By its very nature, mobility involves moving individuals and families into new workplaces and social environments. It is not unusual for employees and family members to feel lonely and isolated, separated from close family, friends, networks and spaces where they feel safe. While head office cultures might tick many of the inclusivity boxes – with a range of interventions that promote and foster diversity and inclusion – overseas locations may present a very different picture. Although it is the norm for global firms to promote their inclusiveness cultures across their sphere of operations, local activities might not necessarily fully embrace the headquarters policy perspective. This might be due to local laws and cultures that do not recognise the diversity and inclusion norms of Western countries which have legislative underpinning.

International Assignments: challenges faced by women and minorities

Minorities may face considerable challenges in the workplace. Women expatriates working in highly masculine cultures, LGBTQ assignees in countries where same sex couples are not recognised or are deemed illegal, and religious intolerance in particular societies all present huge challenges to HR and global mobility professionals when deploying talent around the world. But to achieve a diverse and inclusive workplace does not mean shying away from these differences and simply not selecting minority individuals to go. Employers have a duty of care to advise assignees of the risks of their postings and to do so in a realistic but not alarmist way. Providing support for minorities and challenging non-inclusive behaviours in the workplace abroad is integral to fostering greater inclusiveness and reducing intolerance. By taking action to widen diversity and improve inclusion globally, mobility professionals have a huge role to play in creating a safer and more productive workplace for the future.
Footnote: Relocate would like to thank This is Us by Events Together Ltd in supporting this article.
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