Take pride in inclusiveness

Clients want to work with companies that reflect the diversity of the markets they are operating in. How can businesses create a culture of inclusiveness?

Differences make us stronger. Whether background, gender, experience or sexual orientation, diversity is fundamental to creating the highest-performing teams.

And diverse teams are the route to delivering excellent service. But when these differences are out of sight they can often be out of mind, and all the more difficult to embrace. What can you do to ensure a culture of respect where all staff members are comfortable being their whole selves?

Consider lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual (LGTB) employees, for instance. One way to help determine whether your company is promoting inclusiveness to its full potential is to think about whether LGTB employees are supported through company benefit programs. Does maternity and paternity leave, for example, apply to LGTB employees? When developing inclusiveness strategies, even companies with the best of intentions can overlook such issues.

These everyday litmus tests, no matter how big or small, can keep your company on the path to creating a truly inclusive workplace. But what’s important is sustaining these efforts over the long term and finding ways to push inclusiveness to new heights. Only when all employees feel authentic can they give their best.

The benefits of inclusiveness aren’t lost on clients either. Increasingly, clients are bringing up questions about company culture, asking, is the engagement company diverse? Does the engagement team mirror its company’s team? Are we getting the most innovative ideas from the broadest talent base? Clients want to work with companies that reflect the diversity of the markets they’re operating in as well as their own inclusiveness values.

In recent years, businesses have made great strides in addressing some of the challenges LGTB employees face in the workplace, but confronting invisible differences still proves challenging for many. How can we make inclusiveness real — not just for LGTB employees but for all staff?

We can begin with the following seven steps:

Lead deliberately: corporate culture change takes place more quickly when the policies that promote change are conspicuously led by the C-suite. It’s about setting the tone from the top.

Talk; people are listening: knowledge, awareness and change are most effectively made real by the simple act of communicating — a lot. And be careful not to use language that assumes partners of the opposite sex.

Take on the tough issues: don’t shy away from addressing challenges that affect LGTB employees, whether it’s same-sex partner benefits or relocation support for global assignments. The most successfully engaged company leaders are proactive, not reactive, on LGTB issues.

Focus internally and externally: whether they originate from inside or outside the company, valuable ideas that support inclusiveness — and effective strategies for implementing them — should be encouraged. Consider sponsoring external events or programs that promote best practices and engage a wide audience.

Shift from diversity to inclusiveness: companies can create an inclusive workplace for everyone by changing a diversity-focused culture of “them” to an inclusiveness-centred culture of “us.”

Invest with vision: it’s not always possible to measure the value of LGTB inclusiveness by traditional metrics. That’s why it’s important to set goals for your inclusiveness efforts at the outset. Identify how you’ll measure success.

Document your accomplishments: tracking progress against goals is integral to the success of future initiatives. Gathering an archive of success demonstrates to the workforce that your company’s efforts are effective agents of change.

Company culture doesn’t change when someone writes a new policy; it changes one person at a time. Don’t expect overnight success; more important than getting inclusiveness done quickly is getting it done right. Set attainable goals and have an action plan to achieve them. Remember: lasting success is an ongoing process.

About the Author

Fiona Macfarlane


Fiona Macfarlane is managing partner of EY's British Columbia practice and the firm's chief inclusiveness officer.

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