The premise of my work is captured in the sub-title of my book, Difference Works: “Improving Retention, Productivity and Profitability through Inclusion.” My work is about helping business leaders be more successful. I think everyone should understand the link between inclusion and better results.
There is a lot of research showing that businesses with employees who are more engaged get better results. For example the Corporate Executive Board published “The Effort Dividend, Driving Employee Performance and Retention through Engagement” in 2004. Gallup has demonstrated that engagement is a leading indicator of financial outcomes. And the 2010 book Re-Engage: How America’s Best Places to Work Inspire Extra Effort in Extraordinary Times explores ways to maximize engagement in tough circumstances.
What is “engagement”? Essentially engaged employees feel valued, included and cared about; they have a sense of “belonging.” In today’s diverse workforce, engaging the bulk of your workers may not be as easy as when there was less diversity. To capture the upsides of engagement, it must be wide and deep. It will not work if engagement is limited to those employees who look, think and act like those at the top. To have broad engagement, all kinds of employees must experience a sense of belonging. That is where inclusion comes in.
Think of a time when you were in a familiar group where you felt liked or regarded. What happened in that situation to your energy and focus? How “engaged” did you feel? Now imagine a situation in which you felt like an outsider; you felt different; it was hard to be heard or understood. If you are a minority in a workplace that is primarily Anglo American, you may experience this often. If you are a member of the majority in your workplace, imagine a time when you were with people different from you. You may have been the only male at a meeting of business women. You may have been an American in another country where the language and customs were foreign to you. You may have been the only heterosexual at a Gay Pride gathering. In this situation, where was your focus? Did you spend energy worrying that you “stuck out like a sore thumb” or trying to figure out the norms of the group or how to fit in? What did this do to your “engagement”?
At work, when an employee’s energy or focus spent in these ways, it takes away from focus on getting the job done. It is harder to do one’s best work. Inclusion minimizes the number of employees who spend energy trying to fit in. It maximizes the number of employees who feel accepted and valued. And so it maximizes the number of employees who feel engaged and do their best work.
This is why the skills of inclusion are so important to today’s leaders. It is not about “them.” It is not just the “right thing to do.” It is about getting the best results! Inclusive leaders create cultures where engagement is broad and deep, which results in higher productivity and a better bottom line.
How have you seen engagement—or a person’s comfort level—influence the quantity or quality of work?