In her novel ‘Unsettling Valley’, Anna Wiener narrates, in first person, the lights and shadows of Silicon Valley. This former employee of the epicentre of technology companies tells how she witnessed a sexist corporate culture in which women were disrespected and intimidated.
As a solution, many companies put policies in place with the intention of transforming their organisational culture. But, as with everything that matters, intention is not the only thing that counts. According to recent research by the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, three key elements shape an inclusive office: organisational policies, leadership behaviour and teammate relationships.
What will I read about in this article?
- Inclusive offices: beyond policies
- Inclusion is based on interpersonal relationships
- Three types of behaviour for building inclusive offices
Inclusive Offices: Beyond Policies
The policies and practices that companies put in place to create an open and discrimination-free organisational culture function like the board and rules of a top-table game. However, how the game unfolds – the level of competitiveness, aggressiveness, teamwork, etc. – depends on how the participants play the game.
Measures that aim to create an inclusive office help to establish fair decisions for employees and ensure equal access to resources. They also foster a sense of teamwork and protect minorities and vulnerable people from discrimination and aggression. Moreover, as we’ve seen in other articles, they’re necessary tools for employees to enjoy a work-life balance.
In other words, inclusion policies are the bare minimum that a company must have in order to try to build a non-discriminatory environment where everyone has the same rights and opportunities. But to make an office inclusive, organisations must promote exemplary leadership and real camaraderie among employees.
“To make an office inclusive, organisations must foster exemplary leadership and real camaraderie among employees”.
Inclusion builds on interpersonal relationships
Imagine working in a company that has all kinds of inclusive policies, but where microaggressions are commonplace and no one stops the aggressors. A place where, despite the call for mutual respect on paper, the atmosphere is one of hostility and competitiveness.
As in all areas, interpersonal relationships are an important part of every human being’s life, and work is no different. Research by McKinsey & Company shows that when leaders relate to employees through open, tolerant and empathetic behaviours, employees’ feelings of inclusion increase. The same is true when peer relationships are fostered based on partnership and mutual respect and support, where, in addition, diverse teams are integrated.
“Inclusion is enhanced by peer relationships based on partnership, respect and mutual support”.
We have previously discussed the benefits of inclusion and diversity for companies. These types of interpersonal relationships increase the feeling of belonging to the organisation, raise the confidence and security of employees and help them to realise their full potential.
Three behaviours for building inclusive offices
Co-workers have the power to make someone feel included or excluded. And exercising that power makes a significant difference to job performance. According to a study published in the Harvard Business Review, inclusion is demonstrated through three different types of behaviours:
Helping each other
We’re talking about helping a colleague to perform their tasks, providing information when needed, introducing them to contacts of interest, supporting them in meetings or offering useful advice. These are discretionary actions and fall outside the strict scope of the job description. For example, starting a remark with “As Anabel said…” underlines the other person’s point of view and amplifies your work or proposal.
Emotionally caring for others
This refers to the care, support and personal interest that people show for their peers, which helps to develop emotional bonds. This is as much about spending time joking around as it is about providing a space to let off steam. The aim is to show a genuine interest in the person in front of us and their personal life (what they like to do at weekends, how their children are doing, etc.).
The advent of the pandemic and the rise of remote working started to make these relationships more difficult. But there are also strategies to maintain these links using digital tools and online meetings.
Establishing physical connections
The third behaviour refers to how we employ body language and shared use of space to relate to others. For example, walking together to meetings or, if a meeting is virtual, emphasising positive non-verbal cues such as smiling and nodding.
These are small gestures that impact on others when it comes to feeling included and are necessary for any organisation seeking to succeed and build an inclusive office.