How should managers deal with the challenges of building an inclusive workplace?

Few doubt the benefits of inclusion and diversity in the workplace, but some aspects of driving these changes forward make managers, particularly male managers, unsure of their footing. How do you deal with the challenges? asks James Heskett

Published: Oct 8, 2018

g_109805_diversity_280x210.jpgImage: Shutterstock

Diversity and inclusion are universal topics among executives these days. A recent McKinsey study is typical of others that have found “a strong correlation between gender diversity and a company’s bottom line.” Companies in the top quartile of gender diversity worldwide had a high likelihood of outperforming bottom-quartile industry peers in both earnings before interest and taxes as well as longer-term value creation, according to the study.

Others have reminded us that diversity and inclusion are distinct concepts that are often confused—that inclusion is the glue that makes diversity stick. People with diverse backgrounds won’t remain in an organization unless they feel that they are included in what is going on.

There is a lot of advice for managers about how to promote inclusion in an organization. Laura Sherbin and Ripa Rashid remind us as leaders to practice inclusion on an everyday basis by “ensuring that team members speak up and are heard, making it safe to propose novel ideas, empowering team members to make decisions, taking advice and implementing feedback, giving actionable feedback, and sharing credit for team success.”

 They also suggest that it is important to let people be authentic (i.e., themselves), foster career sponsorship, provide visibility for everyone, and define clear career paths for those who might otherwise get lost in the organization.

To be more inclusive, Sidney Finkelstein advises us to “hire for talent (in unlikely places), not a resume; … define the core vision for the team or organization, and regard everything else as potentially open for innovation;… believe that people you hire can and should do anything; and foster competition and collaboration (not one or the other)."
The ‘risks’ of diversity

There are others, however, who apparently fear that a more diverse and inclusive organization poses risks for executives, especially males. The fear is perhaps fueled by recent allegations of inappropriate workplace behaviors.

Recently, a blog maintained by Gallup appeared in my email under the headline: “Should Men Avoid 1-on-1 Meetings With Women?” I couldn’t believe the question was being asked in this day and age. It seemed to me that the answer was an obvious and resounding “no.” A “yes” reply clearly suggests insensitivity to the personal development needs of both women and men. Further, the title implies that the challenge is for men only.

Nevertheless, I shared the question with several friends of both sexes (not colleagues at HBS). To my surprise, responses were highly varied. One person said, “Ten years ago I would have had the meeting without a second thought; today I’m not so sure.” This led me to wonder whether I had been out of a supervisory role in the workplace for too long. Was I that out of touch with the real world of work?

What is happening on the front lines of management? Are there other kinds of fallout from current efforts to promote gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace? Have these efforts produced a certain amount of caution, fear, and backlash among established managers? How should managers deal with the challenges of building an inclusive workplace? What do you think?

[This article was provided with permission from Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.]

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