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Inclusion: A Business/People Strategy (A case for collective intelligence)

By Tunde Oyadiran

In our increasingly globalized world, inclusion is no longer a feel-good policy; it is now a potent strategy for sound and sustainable business growth.    

However, the potential of inclusion to drive the growth of a business is still under-appreciated, largely ignored and very much under-utilized by the very people who should be at the forefront of driving it—the Human Resources Group. Yet, as businesses the world over converge in a tighter-than-ever competition for the same talents as employees, the benefits of inclusion as a business strategy has never been more important for any business that want to remain relevant for the long run.

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Often, when people speak of inclusion, and many people now do, they mean diversity. This is because such conversations largely focus on the traditional balance between genders or cultural affiliations— “whom should we hire?” “How many of the newly promoted are female?” “What is the ethnic spread of the department?” Etcetera. Inclusion, however, goes well beyond these things; it deals with how to leverage the diverse composition of the organization and galvanize the many voices and identities within and outside the organization to drive the specific goals and objectives of the organization. Hence, by describing inclusion as diversity, there is the tendency to treat it as just another standard hiring policy, whereas inclusion should be an all-inclusive strategy for driving growth.

While diversity, alone, ensures that people of different genders and orientation get a seat on the table, inclusion seeks to collectivize their unique experiences and perceptions into one potent force for growth. This is what Thomas Malone, an authority in organizational design and the author of the bestseller, Super-minds, called Collective Intelligence.

In Collective Intelligence, Malone argues that humans as the most intelligent animals on our planet can even become far smarter if they work as a group that draws from the wide range of diverse experiences and backgrounds. Hence, if a business wanted to have more intelligent, productive, effective teams, the best route would be to, yes, get more people of diverse backgrounds in the room, and then, most importantly, build on, instead of shielding, their diversity. However, organizations, whilst professing diversity and inclusion, have often done the opposite.

Kenji Yoshino, a Professor of Constitutional Law at the New York University School of Law and Christie Smith, the Managing Principal of the Deloitte Leadership Center, carried out one of the most extensive researches on the relevance of inclusion to building a thriving workforce in the 21st century. In their report on inclusion, published as Uncovering Talent by the Deloitte University, both put forward a new approach to achieving inclusion in the workplace. They began by exposing the huge flaws in our organizational HR strategies today, which they stressed, had led to the concept of Covering – where an individual downplays a stigmatized identity that should ideally highlight his or her diversity.

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To achieve true inclusion, Yoshino and Smith kick against the prevailing idea that employees should assimilate into a strict and unitary corporate culture. This is often the campaign waged by HR executives no matter how elaborate the diversity policy, and it ultimately leaves very little room for people to actually express that very diversity. Instead, the authors advocate for an “uncovering” campaign whereby people are encouraged to be themselves, shun the pressures to conform to scripted orientations and offer at every opportunity the different views they bring from their unique backgrounds. This approach is actually, what makes a business truly dynamic to compete and remain relevant in an increasingly globalized and highly competitive world.

it is a widely shared, and correct, opinion that the growth of a business is not just the job of the business units but also involves, amongst other things, the strategies driven by the HR executives to build an organization’s capabilities. Therefore, the role of inclusion is critical. It takes “ordinary members of staff” and turns them into contributors, collaborators, and leaders by enabling an environment of genuine trust in the organization—and in fellow employees, guaranteeing a climate of respect and appreciation and propagating a brand promise that people from any background can make it to the top of the organization. It also sets the room for employees to pool their diverse talents to solve difficult problems. Inclusion Strategy helps employers to become more innovative and successful in their jobs as well as to take the next to step into leadership development.

At a panel discussion on the role of diversity and inclusion in business in February 2018, the Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer at The Coca-Cola Company, Andrew Davis, the Director of Human Resources at Ketchum North America and the Vice President of Human Resources of HD Supply spoke highly of the critical role of inclusion to business growth. Our clients are demanding a diverse team structure,” said Jones. “They’re looking for diversity in every way. When we’re talking to clients, we have to ask ourselves — do we have the right people in the room sharing authentic voices?” Davis echoed the same thoughts. “D&I is beyond race and gender now. It is about diversity of thought, experience, and industry. It has to match strategic organizational goals regardless of the size of the company. When diversity and inclusion is elevated, it lifts everyone.”

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“We put a focus on diverse talent across the board — industry, experience, etc.,” Stevens said. “We tell our associates ‘you are the brand’ and need to make sure we are who we say we are. It also supports our customer focus when they see people who look like them.” Taken together, the perspectives of these three Human Resource professionals depict the efficacy of a business strategy built on inclusion. However, it is one thing to appreciate the value of inclusion and other to derive it in one’s organization. It is a long, enduring process, but one filled with benefits.

With the commitment to drive inclusion in an organization comes the hard work to actually achieving it, and the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), one of the world’s largest HR professional society, has outlined several critical steps to developing a diversity and inclusion initiative in an organization. It begins with Employers and HR executives knowing their employees.

One cannot build an inclusive organization without first knowing how diverse, and representative of the larger society, their workforce is. Hence, any inclusion strategy must prioritize capturing and mining data on employee demographics, personality types and even thinking/learning styles within and outside the organization.

By better knowing employees, the next step to developing an inclusion strategy is identifying and addressing the areas of diversity that if leveraged would strengthen the business and sustainability of the organization. The SHRM offers a very cogent example by analyzing how an organization with a business goal to create more innovative products can leverage the Inclusion Strategy “One way to accomplish this goal could be to build cultural competence and inclusive decision-making within the team through training, which could more effectively harness existing team diversity and capitalize on diverse ideas.”

For Inclusion to have the desired effect, it must also enjoy the buy-in and support of people in the senior management as well as the external stakeholders. They must understand the business case for diversity and inclusion initiatives, appreciate its direct links to the company’s strategic goal and help champion such a strategy from the inside, as well as outside the organization.

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That is not all. There must also be a commitment from the bottom up to implement the initiatives on inclusion, which can only come from strongly and clearly communicating the initiatives and its value as well as using metrics and success stories to connect the diversity and inclusion efforts to the organization’s own goals and strategic plan.

Ultimately, it is important to understand that there can be no finish date to an Inclusion Strategy, as it needs to be dynamic to have a strong impact in the business growth and sustainability of an organization. Therefore, it is necessary to regularly review the inclusion initiatives and goals. It is only by doing this, and constantly refocusing its diversity and inclusion programs to address emerging trends and concerns, that an organization can build a strong business with inclusion at its heart.

  • Oyadiran, is ACIPM, ANIM, SAP -HR Certified, CCP, GRP

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