When we slowly emerge from the pandemic, companies will find themselves under growing pressure to demonstrate how they are living up to the ‘inclusion’ part of their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) strategies. Yet the challenge they face is that inclusion is far harder to measure and implement than equity and diversity.

The first step is understanding exactly what inclusion is. Linkage, a global leadership development firm, offers this definition: “Inclusion is about creating belonging, connection, participation and contribution. Creating and fostering a culture of inclusion is not easy, and it is not simply a matter of being diverse.”

Management firm, McKinsey, meanwhile, says that companies should pay attention to three dimensions when trying to foster inclusion in their workplace:

  • Equality—Is there fairness and transparency in promotion, pay and recruitment, and equal access to sponsorship opportunities and other resources?
  • Openness—Does the organisation’s culture promote mutual respect and actively tackle bias, bullying, discrimination and micro-aggressions?
  • Belonging—Does the organisation show real commitment to supporting the well-being and contributions of diverse and other employees?

McKinsey’s research suggests most companies have some way to go before they can call themselves truly diverse. Its survey of employees in 15 countries, including South Africa, found that while overall sentiment on diversity was 52% positive and 31% negative, sentiment on inclusion was only 29% positive and 61% negative.

Stats from Diversity South Africa, meanwhile, indicate that 61% of employees surveyed in South Africa felt unsafe to speak up about exclusion and discrimination, while only 41% stated that managers understood the importance of transformation and their role therein.

Here are some ways that HR and diversity experts say companies can strengthen the ‘I” pillar in their DE&I programmes:

  1. Lead from the top

Although structures such as transformation, diversity and inclusion committees have an invaluable role to play in driving inclusion, senior leaders cannot delegate inclusion efforts to them alone. According to Deloitte Africa, succeeding with any workplace DE&I programme requires commitment from top leaders. Without the most senior executives leading inclusion efforts, good intentions are unlikely to translate into tangible results.

  1. Be prepared to invest 

As an article in Business Insider notes, a real commitment to inclusion should be backed up with real investment. It recommends finding budget to hire consultants where the company lacks its own diversity expertise and paying or recognising employees, who lead company inclusion initiatives. For many black and female employees, serving on these committees can almost become a second job—and the company should acknowledge such.

  1. Create metrics to track inclusion 

Emtrain CEO Janine Yance says that you can’t fix what you don’t measure when it comes to inclusion. Measuring diversity or equity isn’t enough since these are lagging indicators. Instead, an organisation should track and measure behaviours such as how often employees have direct experiences with people from different demographics, how decisions are made and who makes them, and how company leaders use their privilege to make a difference.

  1. Mix up your teams 

Jacob Morgan, author of “The Employee Experience Advantage”, advocates mixing up teams to ensure that employees gain exposure to different voices, experiences, values, and cultures. When a team is homogenous, “invite someone who is a different gender, cultural background, or age, to weigh in on an initiative or project.”

  1. Include everyone in the dance 

Quoting diversity advocate Verna Myers’ aphorism “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance”, Kumeshnee West from the UCT Graduate School of Business, says it’s important to give everyone permission to dance. Practical initiatives to achieve this would be increased sponsorship and mentorship.

  1. Take a holistic approach 

Legal firm, Baker McKenzie, says that an effective DE&I programme should span all business processes and all elements of the employee experience – from recruitment to inclusive onboarding initiatives, teambuilding culture, performance reviews, succession planning, mentoring and sponsorship. “It goes without saying that the execution of these processes must be underpinned by a clear, genuine and committed tone from the top, which filters into the microcosms of the organisation.”

  1. Think beyond the employment equity categories 

Transforming the workplace and the management team to be more representative of the country’s racial and gender demographics remains as important as ever. However, forward-thinking organisations are also looking at how they can be more inclusive of people of different ages, sexual orientations, religions and cognitive styles.

The window of opportunity 
Inclusion matters more than ever, given that poor and working class communities have faced higher infection rates during the pandemic, while many women have shouldered a larger burden of home and caregiving responsibilities at great cost to their careers.

There is a window of opportunity for forward-thinking organisations to create a more inclusive workplace in the wake of the crisis. Now is the time to look beyond the compliance aspects of diversity and equity towards how inclusion can help nurture a more sustainable and high-performance business.











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