Lesley Franklin: How businesses can encourage inclusivity

Lesley Franklin, Principal at George Heriot’s School
Lesley Franklin, Principal at George Heriot’s School

By Lesley Franklin, Principal at George Heriot’s School

Inclusion in the workplace is an important element of any well-performing business. Not only does an inclusive workplace make for a happier, more motivated team, it is also an indicator of a successful business. Research by McKinsey shows that inclusive companies are likely to outperform industry competitors. 

Businesses benefit from a wide variety of perspectives from people with diverse experiences and backgrounds. By creating an inclusive work environment, companies stand to gain insight, innovation and a better functioning workforce.

Working as Principal of George Heriot’s School, an independent school in Edinburgh, it is vital that the Heriot’s team of over 380 staff works together to deliver an exceptionally high standard of education to our pupils. In order to do this, a culture of inclusivity is essential. 

Here are some of the approaches that I have found useful when it comes to promoting inclusion in the work place.

Encourage dialogue 

If you have concerns that your business is not inclusive enough, try opening up the conversation to your staff. Afterall, they are best placed to tell you about their experiences. Hearing from a wide range of voices is essential in understanding how your company culture is viewed, and how engaged your team is. 

If a group setting is not a suitable forum for discussion at your organisation, then there are other approaches that may be better, such as arranging one-on-one conversations with a range of staff or organising anonymous feedback forms. 
This way, you are able to understand the perspectives of many people and begin to make changes to improve the culture. 

Create an open space

Of course, for people to feel comfortable in sharing their opinions, there needs to be a culture of openness. Encourage your employees to raise matters that are important to them and empower them to share these without judgement or negative consequences. Employees must feel safe and secure in the knowledge that they can be who they want to be.

Recently, a teacher at George Heriot’s School wanted to know whether, like her, any members of staff would benefit from resources and discussion to support those going through the menopause. She approached management with the suggestion of reaching out with a company-wide questionnaire, which was readily encouraged, and was surprised to see a high level of interest. A guest speaker was then arranged and dialogue and support introduced.

By creating an open space where employees feel included, staff will feel more comfortable in making colleagues aware of their requirements or challenges, as well as their successes.

Offer benefits that make sense for your team

Although employee perks are a good thing, the benefits that you offer may not be as inclusive as you think. Perhaps you are offering a cycle to work scheme, when really, childcare vouchers would make more sense for your team. Perhaps you are offering staff drinks, when some employees don’t drink alcohol. 

Understanding your team and being to reflect their lives in the benefits that you offer makes for a much more inclusive environment.

Be aware of bias

Implicit biases are the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. Everyone has it, but not everyone is aware that they do. Decisions can be unconsciously made with reference to, for example, race, gender, age, social class or education level. We assign assumed traits based on our preconceptions. It is essential that business leaders understand the impact of this bias. Although difficult to detect, being aware of bias is critical to reducing its impact. 

If this is an area of concern within your organisation, consider bringing in bias training experts to speak with employees at all levels within the company. Ideally, organisations need to expose employees to people outwith their norms.

Encourage career progression 

Inclusion means making sure everyone has the opportunity to progress within your organisation. Offer training opportunities and create paths for progression, so that you have a diversity of staff within every level of your business. 

Although inclusivity is difficult to get right, striving to be as inclusive as possible can make a real difference to your company. Not only is being inclusive fair, it also makes for a better performing business, thanks to a happier, more motivated team.  

Lesley Franklin, Principal at George Heriot’s School

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