background image

3 things that would matter to create an inclusive workplace

author image

By Mayuri Wijayasundara

· 4 min read

Every year, conversations about gender-based inclusivity come into the spotlight on certain occasions, like Women's Day. However, to truly champion inclusivity, especially concerning gender, shouldn’t we make it a year-round commitment? 

So, here are some aspects that I have noted to work. They are not new, but when blended with a lot of other things we do around inclusivity, they do make a difference. Think of it as a recipe where all the right ingredients and ways of cooking are needed to make it work. And here is my take on 3 things that need to be in the recipe.

1: Focus on the table, not on the chairs

Often, the professional world talks about not having enough chairs for women in the boardroom. Here are some key statistics that shed light on the issue:

  • 47% of entry-level employees are women.
  • 38% of managerial positions are held by women.
  • Only 21% of C-suite positions are occupied by women, although this figure has improved by 22% since 2015.

(McKinsey's "Women in the Workplace" report) 

To add another perspective in to this, in a compelling TED talk, Lilly Singh introduced an intriguing concept: before inviting more women to the table, we must ensure that the table is genuinely welcoming for them. This idea goes beyond boardrooms and applies to all workplaces at every level, regardless of hierarchy or industry.

Creating a truly inclusive environment involves acknowledging the qualities that make employees feel "welcome" and "invited." One good example comes from organizations that create career growth opportunities and are respectful of family obligations. The initiatives to relieve the ever-existing notion of reliance on the role of parenting on women can be directly influenced by how workplaces accommodate a family-friendly work culture for both men and women., i.e., by accommodating and creating opportunities for both men and women to share parenting as it suits based on their family context. Catering to the individual and not stereotyping along the lines of gender is one ingredient that needs to be added if we are to reach a better outcome. So changing the culture regarding male involvement in parenting and the acceptance it has within organizations, is one big conversation that needs to happen when creating an inclusive culture for women. Working on the number of chairs only is insufficient, rather challenging the core of the table may need to be done.

2: Do not leave room for assumptions (and hence bias)

Unconscious bias, especially towards female authority, remains a big issue in many workplaces. While organizations take steps to educate employees about unconscious bias, awareness alone is not sufficient. We must continuously question whether everyone at the workplace understands the specific behavioral attributes that express those biases, and practice to challenge them in their daily work life (Catalyst).

One effective way to confront biases is through explicit communication. A common example could be as follows. 

The typical power dynamics engrained within the work culture, often assume that the responsible person and a decision-maker of a work team is a man. I had a senior colleague who explicitly stated during meetings who is in charge and who makes decisions, especially if a female project lead is in charge, to shift and establish a clear power dynamic. Ideally, we shouldn't have to vocalize the leadership of a woman explicitly, but such clear communication demonstrates a commitment to normalizing the presence of female leadership and explicitly rejecting bias.

3: Embrace and celebrate diversity

Historically, workplaces have been designed around industrial-age norms, emphasizing uniformity and standardization. Uniforms, standard procedures, fixed work shifts, division of work maximizing productivity, and work practices that assume everyone’s contribution to the work task needs to be standard and equal are commonplace. While this can create uniformity in terms of how people work and are treated, the true potential of diversity is often overlooked. 

Establishing a workplace that celebrates diversity and nurtures human connections is crucial. Some examples of how this is achieved are by encouraging creative expressions in office spaces, uniforms, and events celebrating ethnic and cultural diversity as much as gender diversity. Such celebration of diversity not only leads to stronger bonds among employees and greater overall happiness but also creates welcoming and respectful places to express differences, encouraging meaningful self-expression.

Inclusivity should extend beyond gender to encompass a variety of work patterns. This might involve meeting the needs of introverted employees by providing isolated workspaces to enhance productivity or having flexible work hours to best-fit individuals' daily rhythms (Society for Human Resource Management).

Inclusivity in the workplace should be a continuous commitment, not limited to specific days of the year, or for specific issues that generally create attention. To have an outcome that is truly remarkable, the ingredients as well as the recipe need to be equally good. That is why individual changes as much as continuous organizational realignment still matter.

illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Did you enjoy this illuminem voice? Support us by sharing this article!
author photo

About the author

Dr Mayuri Wijayasundara leads the professional practice Anvarta and is also a researcher, active as an honorary fellow at Deakin University. She is an expert in strategy and transformation, specialising in the transition towards a circular economy. Mayuri has nearly 20 years’ experience in circular economy engaged in different capacities.

Other illuminem Voices

Related Posts

You cannot miss it!

Weekly. Free. Your Top 10 Sustainability & Energy Posts.

You can unsubscribe at any time (read our privacy policy)