While an inclusive workplace needs to be established and encouraged through organisational policies, it works better when individual team members are enthusiastic and committed, and put conscious effort towards inclusivity.
"Inclusivity is a mindset," said India-based Bamby Abraham, ACMA, CGMA, CPA (Australia), pricing and commercials lead and an inclusivity supporter at IT company Capgemini. "It's the reflection of your respect, compassion, and empathy towards another person, whoever that may be."
Being inclusive means that we make co-workers feel valued and accepted without forcing them to conform. Inclusivity is important in all aspects of life, but it plays a particularly significant and valuable role in the workplace, Abraham said.
Organisations that have made a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) need to go beyond establishing high-level policies and hiring DEI officers. And it is not enough to just bring on team members from diverse walks of life. To be effective, DEI efforts need to engage and involve the entire team.
Whatever policies the organisation might have, it's ultimately the people in the organisation who convert the policies into value. "In my organisation, people are the major element. Inclusiveness is key. It's another way of attracting and retaining the right talent," Abraham said.
It's not enough to recruit employees from diverse groups just because the organisational policies demand it. It is equally important to give them the same respect and opportunities. They must be included in team events and meetings, their opinions must be sought, and they should also have the chance to become the face of the organisations.
"Are you really taking them along?" asked Rohit Kharbanda, FCMA, CGMA, CPA (Australia), head of finance services and growth at IHG Hotels and Resorts in India. "You may have a very strong team. You might be fulfilling all your DEI requirements. However, if you end up interacting only with the mid-management, ignoring those who are working from the ground, you might be missing crucial information that can help build your strategies and policies."
Practical steps to become inclusive
How do individual members of staff ensure that they embody inclusivity in their behaviour at the workplace? Here are seven ways for finance professionals to practise being inclusive:
Open up "the stage". Some employees may be inhibited in how they express themselves. Anybody conscious of their accent, use of words, and mindset may appreciate the opportunity to practise presenting themselves, open up, and communicate confidently.
"We hold events [along] the lines of Toastmasters within the teams [and] organisation where they are encouraged to share their thoughts," Kharbanda said. "We can help them set their communication and outreach goals, inspire them 'to go for it', and that's how we all grow," he said. When all members of the team comfortably voice their opinions, organisations profit.
Become a listener. Don't interrupt others when they are speaking during team meetings and brainstorming sessions. This is not only courteous but also a critical factor in raising the ability to perceive, use, understand, and manage emotions, which is important despite shortening attention spans, Abraham said.
Also, reach out to team members on issues that are not directly linked to work and performance. "In our new normal, it's difficult to connect with individual team members," he said. "Hence … we allocate time for our teams to come together virtually and share [conversation] about general topics pertaining to work and outside of work. In these circles people often open up. And then, it's important to listen."
Give friendly support for capacity building. While top-down approaches like regular training in identifying hidden biases and prejudices and ways to deal with them might help many employees, for those who would like more support, the individual buddy system works very well, Abraham suggested. "We attach ourselves … of our own accord to one person at a time on a rotational basis to the one who wants support. We work together and help them polish their communication [and] presentations — usually the soft skills," he said.
Abraham suggested finance professionals ask themselves: "Are there any programmes or events that your team members can attend and from which they can benefit? Evaluate your body language — are your gestures friendly and welcoming for your team members?"
This doesn't mean intruding into someone's private space. Finding the right balance is key.
Break down silos. Organisations often have focused trainings, programmes, and policies, but they might not easily be accessible for those who need them most, Kharbanda said. Also, organisational approaches may put employees in silos.
Abraham agreed. If you are a CFO, he suggested, can you organise small, interdepartmental events every alternate week? Could there be opportunities for learning from different teams, or simply events where members across the organisation come together? These gatherings are potential opportunities to showcase people and their talents.
Team members feel supported when their ideas and aspirations find validation. "It's on each of us, regardless of our roles, to break down these silos and proceed to accommodate others," Abraham said. Check if all the resources are in place for your colleagues and ensure that the parking space for co-workers using wheelchairs or accessible parking for others is available for their use. "Just keep your hands stretched out," Kharbanda said. "Encourage" is the mantra, he added.
Use emotional intelligence. It's sometimes not easy to break the ice with people unfamiliar to us. We might not know what will hurt them or encourage them. Start by considering them as equals. Interact as you would with anyone else. If you still feel inhibited and uncomfortable, breathe, take a walk, and face your own fears and beliefs by applying emotional intelligence.
Practise respect and empathy. Everyone understands the languages of respect and empathy. Observe people's behaviours, Kharbanda and Abraham suggested, and find if there's anything especially hard for them, where they might need help. Help silently. Be compassionate and try not to hurt people's self-respect. Let everybody tell their sides of the stories and listen patiently and respectfully. Intent listening does lead to increased empathy.
Strengthen your team with diverse skills and backgrounds. Include more members from diverse backgrounds in your team, Kharbanda and Abraham suggested. Explore their skills and appreciate them. Once members understand that they are part of an environment that knows and values them, their commitment and satisfaction will grow.
— Swati Sanyal Tarafdar is a freelance writer based in India. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.