What a year (and beyond!) it’s been. From the ‘new normal’ to the ‘new hybrid’ – business transformation has been rapid, change has been a constant and inclusion has taken on new meaning as our people adapt to new ways of working. For us at Steps, it’s been a great challenge, a swift learning curve and an exciting time for innovation and creativity.
So what have we learnt along the way?
It’s not new news that inclusion is a journey, but it’s worth reiterating. Our clients have been passionate about the need to vary the approach to ensure the relationship between process and behaviours, organisational design and its culture continues in the virtual (and then hybrid) environment. Micro-activities designed to embed inclusion within day to day working have been a continuing feature of the programmes we’ve developed (nudge activities, action learning, coaching sets and buddying, for example) – with clients prioritising ways for their people to support each other through this transition and maintain a focus on inclusion in the hybrid world.
As our hybrid workplaces evolve, the impact of the pandemic and the significant changes it’s meant for individuals, teams and businesses continue to emerge. We strive for equality, but that cannot mean we are treated the same – and this year has highlighted that all the more. A phrase I’ve shared a lot with clients this year has been ‘we’ve been in the same storm, but in very different boats.’ Our programmes this year have supported clients to bring people together but also recognise their unique and, in many cases, changed circumstances.
From Leadership programmes that went from live to virtual delivery almost overnight because our client said ‘Inclusion cannot wait’, to those clients that needed more time and assurance that virtual sessions could still give their people a valuable chance to connect and have honest conversations – our clients have themselves most certainly not been in the same boat either.
There is, undoubtedly, a greater demand than ever to ‘see’ inclusion happening within organisations. As the expectations of employees, shareholders, consumers, and wider society has increased, so has the pressure for organisations to invest in and be able to demonstrate inclusive practice actively and meaningfully at work. The murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021 and other high profile world events are a stark reminder of the work still to do within organisations to raise awareness, and to educate and empower individuals to be more actively inclusive.
Our clients have shared a greater sense of urgency and expectation from within – from their leadership and their people, supporting the notion that the boundary between social commentary and organisational communication has been blurred. People expect their employers to have a view, to take a position and to speak out against injustice. But this has to be accompanied by action, and our programmes have provided a gateway to enable more inclusive behaviour to thrive – and to share actionable, practical techniques for how to work and collaborate more effectively.
There’s a paradox in the term D&I: Inclusion suggests equality, sameness, belonging while Diversity suggests ‘standing out’, difference, divergence – with that difference ‘seen’ and respected. So how do we celebrate both? How do we find the points of connection and what brings us together, but also make space and time for difference and divergence? One client at one of our recent open workshops shared that ‘If you’ve lived with privilege, equality can sometimes feel like oppression’. That was such a clear statement of something that can be hard to identify and articulate for those that are resistant to change, particularly around inclusion.
Equally, our clients face the challenge of needing to collect and use data to drive strategic decisions and actions – alongside the need for inclusive behaviours to live intrinsically (and therefore largely immeasurably) in the actions and decisions of their people on the ground. As a strategic priority for many of our clients there is an expectation that progress on Inclusion should be measured and somehow ‘quantified’ – but how do we do this in a way that’s meaningful and goes beyond the ‘tick box’?
Widely suggested to be the ‘bedrock’ for all inclusion and change capability within organisations, the ability for an individual to feel psychologically safe and be able to speak up is now a critical priority in organisations. And in developing these safe spaces, particularly in a hybrid working model, it’s vital that we consider the relationship between psychological safety and the threat of ‘cancel culture’. Wanda Bryant Hope, Chief DEI Officer at Johnson & Johnson said at a conference earlier this year that cancel culture puts learning, development and growth at risk – and that ‘We can’t create psychological safety if we attack or vilify those that make mistakes or get it wrong’.
Negative behaviours or poor decision making can result in anything from a microaggression to a grave error of judgement; from gross misconduct to a criminal act. The risk is that our reaction to these behaviours can, in itself, exclude people – from wanting to say anything at all.
This is the line we, at Steps, tread daily in our work. We focus on creating safe spaces for people to reflect on and share their honest views, be heard, try out different approaches and connect authentically with others in the ‘room’ (live or virtual). That opportunity to effectively ‘play out’ their suggested behaviours and situations and to experience the consequences of those, with their peers and without judgement, is one of the greatest assets of our approach.
One thing is certain amidst these changing times – what it means to be inclusive will continue to evolve, and as we find our way with hybrid working practices where people are even less ‘visible’ inclusion is all the more important.