Inclusion enhances employee engagement, which means more productivity, more innovation and more profits. Psychologists tell us there are three drivers to engagement: (1) psychological meaningfulness, the belief we will get meaning and fulfillment from our work, (2) psychological safety, the belief we are safe to be our authentic selves at work, and (3) psychological availability, the belief we can invest ourselves at work (Jacobs, 2013; Kahn, 1990; May, Gilson and Harter, 2010).
Inclusion enhances the positive beliefs of employees in each of the areas driving engagement. Feeling included will foster an individual’s belief that they will be appropriately recognized for their efforts (psychological meaningfulness), belief they are safe to voice their thoughts and ideas (psychological safety) and belief they have the capacity to invest in their work (psychological availability).
Figure 1: Key Drivers of Engagement are Fueled by Inclusion
Inclusion also fosters a more diverse workforce which has tangible advantages for businesses. Research indicates that more diverse companies outperform those with a relatively homogenous workforce: diverse teams perform 35% better than non-diverse teams, bilingual employees produce 10% more revenue than employees speaking only one language, teams with gender equality earn 41% more revenue (ClearCompany.com), and diverse companies report capturing new markets 70% more often (Hewlett, Marshall and Sherbin, 2013). Diversity among workers brings a wider array of ideas to any problem-solving table which in an inclusive environment will foster the creativity and collaboration of ideas necessary for developing new and innovative solutions.
While the benefits of diversity and inclusion are well documented, corporate America has yet to make substantial changes toward equality in leadership. For example, the New York Times (March 2015) reports that among Fortune 500 companies, 72% of top executives were white men and there were fewer women CEOs than there were CEOs named John (4.2%).
Fostering inclusion is the only way to make a lasting difference. Inclusion will allow companies to more representatively fill their pipeline and more effectively maintain that representation as employees progress through the ranks.
The workplace is the best place to enhance inclusive behavior. Indeed, it is likely the only place to make strides toward a more inclusive society. In all other facets of our lives we surround ourselves with people who are like us—our family members are like us, we choose friends who are like us, we live near people who are like us and we go to church with others like us. In fact, not much has changed since Dr. Martin Luther King noted that 11 a.m. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. For most of us, work is the only place in our life that is truly diverse, making it the corporation’s responsibility to arm employees with the resources necessary to face diversity, embrace diversity, understand diversity and be inclusive of diversity.
Unfortunately, many companies have yet to invest in workplace inclusion. Currently, 396 of the Fortune 500 companies list their corporate values on their webpages, Figure 2 depicts these values. Strikingly missing from the common corporate ideals are diversity and inclusion. In fact, only 18% of the companies sharing their value priorities include diversity and/or inclusion among those priorities.
Figure 2. Fortune 500 Corporate Values, May 2019
Corporations are uniquely positioned to foster inclusion and make a societal impact. Not only do the majority of American adults work (BLS, 2019) and find their workplace more diverse than other parts of their lives, but companies have the opportunity to create communities around inclusion leveraging the fact that change embedded in social groups is much easier. Communities for change can create a belief that change can happen, making actual change more likely. They provide encouragement, social accountability, and give individuals the opportunity to see the accomplishments of others making their own changes more tangible.
To instigate change in corporate America, several CEOs created CEO ACT!ON in 2017 and pledged to support inclusion in the workforce. Currently, the pledge has been signed by more than 700 CEOs in 85 industries. This growing movement is a step in the right direction, as more companies make inclusion a priority the larger will be the effects for our society as a whole.
May, D., Gilson, R., & Harter, L. (2010). The psychological conditions of meaningfulness, safety and availability and the engagement of the human spirit at work. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 77(1), 11-37.