Diversity, Inclusion and … Dancing

“Strictly” fever has hit the UK media once again as the names of this year’s contestants are revealed – each hopeful expressing equal measures of excitement and anxiety. And in the coming months as in turn they tearfully exit the spotlight it’s highly predictable that they will speak passionately about all that dance has brought them, in terms of challenge overcome and confidence blossomed.

So what’s the relevance to diversity, inclusion and organisational success? Verna Myers is widely quoted as saying, “Diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance.” And it’s true, there’s no point in endeavouring to recruit for a diverse workforce unless this is backed up with inclusive practices, opportunities and benefits - which extend an open invitation “to dance.”

However, these good intentions don’t necessarily mean that everyone will feel able to accept the invitation to or do so comfortably. Men in particular seem “dance-averse”: take up of shared parental leave is low and significant numbers of men fear that choosing part-time or flexible working will limit their career path. This in turn perpetuates the “men work, women care” stereotype.

We see consistently in research (such as the Working Families/Bright Horizons Modern Families Index) that having a company culture where people feel comfortable to talk openly about their needs and challenges and asking for the help they need is the major determinant in the success or otherwise of even the most well-meaning diversity, work-life, gender pay gap, or indeed any, employee engagement initiative.

Diversity and inclusion take us so far but to really make the difference there’s an element of the company culture that can really create momentum and future-proof our businesses. Welcome new kid on the block to the D & I party: belonging.

Verna Myers’ motto is now often extended to include belonging, as for example in Gregory Lewis’s LinkedIn talent blog, which says that “…. Belonging is dancing like no one’s watching – it’s that sense of psychological safety that employees can be their authentic selves without fear of judgement.”

Science tells us it’s a human instinct to want to belong, and that we perform better, as individuals and as companies, when we feel connected. What’s the thinking on how best to foster a sense of belonging in the workplace? Here’s some starters:

• Role-modelling from the top, taking the time to listen as well as lead 

• Acknowledging what each person brings to the whole, not just their job role but their personality and background 

• Encouraging story sharing, in an environment of respect, and open conversations: instigating a daily “work fika” for example (I’ve advocated this before, here

• Empowering support networks and listening to their ideas

• Using an holistic approach to benefits, from the perspective of what they could mean for your people throughout their employee journey, rather than by topic or the latest “must have” 

• Training for line managers to ensure best intentions are not blocked by lack of knowledge or confidence

And of course – keep dancing!

Deb Ejenas, Communications Manager, Bright Horizons