Belfast Telegraph

The importance of inclusion and belonging during the war for talent

Claire Brereton
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When we hear the words ‘Diversity and Inclusion’, we often think of the benefits that a diverse group of employees can bring, and the different traits they might have.

However, I feel that sometimes we focus too much on the diversity aspect, and not enough on what inclusion really means, and just how important it is for the employee experience.

To me, inclusion means feeling safe, feeling welcome, feeling heard and feeling that I belong. You might well have a diverse workforce, in terms of a mix of gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ability, etc., but your employees might not all actually feel heard and valued. Diversity is the mix; inclusion is making the mix work.

According to recent research, what leaders say and do makes up a 70% difference as to whether an individual feels included. Therefore, maybe it is time we all reflected on what we say and do at work. For example, are you truly treating everyone fairly and respectfully? How do you show people that they are valued? How do you and your colleagues behave? Moreover, how are your organisation’s policies and practices inclusive?

Contrary to popular belief, retention and employee satisfaction are not all about competitive benefits and pay, but instead making sure that all employees feel comfortable in their work environment, and feel like they belong. At the heart of this inclusion is recognising and understanding who your people really are, and keeping this in mind when working together. For example, when organising a work social event, do you organise it for a time and day that suits different religions? Are partners invited? How do you cater for people who would not be comfortable around alcohol, large groups or loud noises? Think about your own experiences, if people do not show up, do you assume the reason why?

People are usually willing to reveal their true selves when asked, and often that open conversation is the missing piece.

Do not forget that we also have more generations in the workplace at once than ever before. As well as all of the advantages that this mix brings, it is even harder to keep close to what really matters for employees. For example, the new generation are hyper-focused on care.

This can be a lot to consider, but makes perfect business sense. Having a work environment where people can be who they really are, and where their talents and perspectives are heard, respected and valued, helps employee retention but also boosts organisational performance, creativity and innovation.

If we want to attract and retain key talent, we must weave inclusive practices and behaviours into the fabric of our organisations, and this is all of our responsibility. We can make the diversity of our teams work, if we put the feeling of belonging first.