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Inclusion In The Workplace

As social beings, we experience the need to feel included and an accepted member in a group. Inclusivity is very essential in our lives: without it, we are vulnerable to having poor mental health and experiencing feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Our healthy self-worth and self-esteem are tied to feeling included in a group or community. When we feel like we don’t belong anywhere, it can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.

Let’s First Define Inclusion & Belongingness…

The sense of belonging is defined as experiencing the feeling of being accepted for authentic self and the feeling of being included in social circles. Inclusion is defined as the practice of providing equal opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized.

Inclusivity & Our Health

Studies show that social environment profoundly shapes our personalities and impacts our health. We tend to suffer when our social bonds are threatened or severed. Particularly, our mental and emotional health are at risk the most when we feel we are being excluded. Let us take the workplace environment as an example of social environment. We spend a minimum of eight hours a day at our workplaces, interacting and communicating with colleagues, managers and clients (both in person and virtually). Experiencing the need to be heard, seen and recognized in that small (or big) community is essential to make us feel we are part of that community (we belong to that community).

A study in this field was conducted to uncover how employed adults define belonging and what makes them feel like they belong at work and what makes them feel excluded in the workplace. The study data was categorized per generations: millennials, Gen Xers, & Baby Boomers.

When excluded, 38% of millennial respondents felt they are being ignored, 30% of them felt stressed, and 34% felt lonely. ,
Whereas for Gen Xers, when feeling excluded, 41% of them felt ignored, 27% felt stressed, and 26% experienced the feeling of sadness.
Meanwhile, for baby boomers, when excluded at work, 45% of them feel ignored, 26% feel angry, 21% feel stressed, and 21% feel lonely.

The numbers and the feelings varied from one generation to another but mostly all have indicated feeling stressed, anxious, sad or ignored at some level.

Inclusivity & Language

We use languages to communicate with each other and establish relationships. Choosing to use inclusive language with people you communicate with will means that you are less likely to make someone feel like they don’t belong. Train yourself to become more conscious of your language and the expression you use around others. It is important to remember that words have strong impact on others and when used carelessly, can deeply hurt people; leaving an impact that might not be easily forgotten.

Here are six tips to consider as you try to use more inclusive language in your speech:

    • Don’t complain about or express that you are struggling to be inclusive.
    • Don’t over apologize if you make a mistake. Your apology forces the other person to discount their feelings to make you feel better.
    • When someone corrects you, acknowledge them with thanks.
    • Reinforce your learning when you need to make a correction by practicing the correct approach three times.
    • Consider meeting up with someone else who is working on using inclusive language to practice.
    • If you observe a mistake, offer a quick correction. It helps the person become more aware, demonstrates respect and commitment and shows empathy and understanding.

Is exclusion considered a form of bullying?

Yes! For many people, it is considered bullying. According to recent study conducted for young, employed adults, 54% of respondents believed that exclusion is a form of bullying at work. Meanwhile, 68% of employees that are part of the LGBTQ community believe that exclusion is a form of bullying. Whereas, for women participants, the majority believed that exclusion is a form of bullying in the workplace.

Inclusivity in the workplace

Being inclusive starts with little everyday things. For example, the choice of words you choose and how you interact in social settings. People can determine if you are being authentically inclusive or pretending to be.

For managers who aim to build an inclusive environment for their employees, start by making them feel heard, valued and recognized for their effort and unique abilities. Ultimately, when inclusivity exists in a workplace, organizations can experience game-changing insights, super-charged creativity and attract the most talented people to join a group of happy and satisfied employees.

What is Emotional Tax?

“Emotional Tax is the combination of feeling different from peers at work because of gender, race, and/or ethnicity and the associated effects on health, well-being, and ability to thrive at work”

Inclusivity for Indigenous Employees

A recent survey was conducted to explore the representation of Indigenous People in workplaces, indicated that indigenous employees are in fact underrepresented. When surveyed, participants responded that they often feel isolated at their workplaces due to the lack of Indigenous role models at senior levels. Additionally, the survey showed that Indigenous employees experience low levels of psychological safety at their workplace and also pay what is called an “emotional tax”.

Eighty-two Indigenous employees were surveyed (both men and women) working for different industries and job levels, and responded to the survey as follows:

  • Fifty- two percent of them said that they are regularly on guard to the experience of bias, a hallmark of “emotional tax”.
  • Sixty-seven percent of Indigenous women experience the feeling more commonly than Indigenous men (38%) which reflect the disproportionate discrimination and violence they experience compared to other groups.
  • Sixty-one percent of Indigenous People surveyed indicated that they do not feel physiologically safe at work. Low psychological safety reflects on employees’ feelings of belonging and impact their job performance directly.

In comparison with Indigenous employees who experience low levels of psychological safety, we found that those who experience high psychological safety are five times more likely to have a sense of belonging to their workplaces, over five times more likely to experience being valued for their uniqueness, twice as likely to speak up when something is not right, twice as likely to report task-focus, and twice as likely to report being able to exhibit creativity.

Inclusive Leadership

Creating an inclusive workplace could be a challenging mission to accomplish when the right strategies and practices are not applied. In order to create an inclusive environment for employees, inclusive leadership should be practiced.

For managers who are aiming to create an inclusive workplace for your employees, studies recommend practicing three important behaviors: empowerment, accountability, & humility. When applied appropriately, you will build teams that feel valued, appreciated, and recognized for their efforts.

Here is a list of recommendations when practicing the three behaviors:

  • Empowerment
      • Ensure that all team members have what they need to succeed and flourish at work and that they can bring their full selves to work by expressing and sharing their cultures.
      • Be a role model of your actions. Model your own learning, vulnerabilities and challenges related to tacking inequities and moving out of your comfort zone.
  • Accountability
      • Hold all team members responsible for their behaviours, development and work processes.
      • Openly discuss how to demonstrate that a wide variety of perspectives, identities and cultures are valued.
  • Humility
      • Practice humble listening by setting aside preconceived notions of how the world works, and truly hear what another person’s experience of the world is like.
      • Be willing to admit your mistakes; find grace for coworkers to make mistakes and take risks without being penalized.

For the full list of recommendations, click here.

Our social interactions can heavily impact our emotional wellbeing. When we experience exclusion, especially at social entities like workplace, we tend to feel sad, unmotivated, depressed and we underperform. Therefore, employers should embed inclusive leadership into their business strategy, taking care of the health and wellbeing of their employees.

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