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Inclusion: WD-40 for Your Workforce
by Nancy Ahlrichs

DIVERSITY OF PEOPLE IS a fact, not a goal. Look around you on the street, in a store or at work. According to diversity experts at Roosevelt Thomas Consulting, diversity is “any collective mixture characterized by differences, similarities and related tensions.” Acceptance of our diverse reality is the first step toward creating a highly productive, inclusive workplace.

Inclusion is an act. The object of inclusion management is to embed inclusion into management practices and the culture, since culture is “how we do things around here.” In organizational cultures where all people feel heard and supported to do their personal best, there is inclusion. Diversity exists; inclusion must be created.

Personal experience

My job title dictates that I read extensively, attend training and bring “best practices” to employees at United Way of Central Indiana. One of my first assignments was to develop a Diversity Plan to ensure that diversity and inclusion are woven throughout our culture and all of its practices.

As you would expect, I researched diversity plans on the Web sites of large corporations. The companies who post their plans online are proud of their efforts and want the world to know how important diversity and inclusion are to their organization. The plans were very straightforward: track who is hired, promoted, on committees, on the board, is a vendor, etc. I zeroed in on metrics so that I could prove that diversity and inclusion are measurable cultural elements.

Still, something was missing. Plans tend to be very clinical and lack emotion. No plan described what inclusion looks or feels like.

What inclusion looks like

Exclusion is visible and strongly felt. We are givers and receivers of exclusion every day. We divide the world into those worthy of our gaze, smile, “Hello,” question, help, kindness, time and even love. We feel it when someone chooses not to give us any one of those things. Inclusion is “and” instead of “or.” It is saying, “Yes,” instead of “No.”

I remember choosing between two equal job offers with two high profile companies. Now I realize that I chose the one with the inclusive culture. I chose the employer where all visitors and all employees feel welcome all day, every day.

Inclusion looks like:

  • a handshake with everyone all around the group;
  • a smile and a hello when passing in the hallway;
  • a wave when there is too much distance;
  • an invitation to lunch or to a meeting’
  • sharing food;
  • making the effort to draw out the “quiet ones” in a meeting;
  • listening to their thoughts and ideas; and,
  • offering a ride when combining cars makes sense;

Inclusion feels safe, warm, welcoming, energizing and filled with potential.

Inclusion is the “WD-40” that smooths the business practices that move the organization forward in this competitive marketplace. It reduces the friction between the drivers and the doers. It charges the atmosphere with positive energy. Whether you are Anglo or Hispanic, African American or Asian, young or old, staff or management, Catholic or Muslim or Jewish, we all know inclusion when we see it — because we can feel it.

Nancy Ahlrichs is VP-Workforce Development and Diversity at United Way of Central Indiana. She is also author of three books: Competing for Talent, Manager of Choice and Igniting Gen B and Gen V: The New Rules of Engagement.

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