a)plan coaching

The Business Case for Inclusion in the Workplace

In a recent episode of the All You Need Is A Plan podcast, we were joined by the charismatic, Mahama Nyankamawu, who brought with him a treasure trove of perspective on the value of inclusion in the workplace. Mahama is an a)plan coach whose mission is to empower the long-term wellbeing and impact of leaders, often achieving so through his work in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB).

Mahama recently wrote a great article, titled, The Inclusion Conundrum: How does the Elephant Fit In?, in which he breaks down some of today’s biggest challenges involved in achieving true inclusion. Mahama’s insight around this “inclusion conundrum” is important food-for-thought for any business leaders willing to reflect on their own actions to better understand how they are both helping and/or failing to facilitate inclusion.

This specific post considers a handful of compelling statistics around the business case for inclusion in the workplace – something Mahama highlights throughout our podcast episode. Thank you again to Mahama for a fantastic discussion, and for providing the foundation for this article.

What Is Inclusion in the Workplace?

Inclusion in the workplace can be defined as achieving a diversified mix of people who all feel comfortable to show up as their true selves in the workplace. To truly achieve inclusion, all those involved at an organization should feel valued, heard, and empowered to participate. Inclusion is often associated with belonging, as the ladder is typically a result of achieving the former.

Diversity vs. Inclusion

In defining inclusion, it’s important to also define diversity vs. inclusion. While these two concepts are similar, there is a clear distinction. To best understand the difference, consider the following metaphor, originally penned by Vernā Myers, and shared below by Mahama in our podcast episode:

Inclusion is not just being asked to join the party, but also being invited to dance… If you don’t feel like you’re a part of the party’s environment, then you’re still going to experience some feelings of exclusion. But there’s even a level deeper than that. You go to the party and you’re invited to dance – but what if you had a say in selecting the music as well? Then we begin to achieve equity… This is how you get deeper into what it means to be included and feeling like you belong at the party.

Mahama’s take on Vernā Myers’ metaphor shows what it takes to achieve inclusion on top of diversity. Inviting a mix of people to the party achieves diversity, but what if someone sits alone the whole time? Ensuring that person is asked to dance, and allowing them to influence the environment, is achieving real inclusion.

Inclusion Isn’t Just About the Business Case

We dearly hope a “business case” is not the only reason to work on inclusion at your organization. At a)plan coaching, much of what we do is inspired by what we believe is “right” in the world. This includes elevating marginalized voices, challenging implicit bias, improving representation in positions of power, and more. Many of these ideals fall under the umbrella of inclusion.

In other words, business case aside, companies that are mindful of inclusion are simply doing good in the world. We applaud all those who are helping improve inclusion in the workplace, and all those who are eager to do better.

That said, some top studies around the quantitative benefits of inclusion are quite compelling. The numbers don’t lie. And you might be surprised just how deep the correlations go between inclusion, performance, morale, retention, and more.

The 52 Million Dollar Difference

In a 2019 study covered by the Harvard Business Review, some intriguing data points were revealed as they relate to the value and importance of “belonging” at work. The study considered “belonging” to be a “sense of being accepted and included by those around you.” 

The findings are nothing short of eye-opening. A sample of about 2,000 US employees revealed that feeling a high sense of belonging was tied to the following: 

  • 56% increase in job performance
  • 50% reduction in turnover risk
  • 75% reduction in employees taking sick days

According to the study, for a company of 10,000 employees, these inclusion-related improvements can add up to $52M in savings per year. So not only is it the right thing to embrace inclusion; clearly it’s also a smart business decision.

How Coaching Fosters Inclusion and Belonging

So where exactly does coaching come into the equation? Mahama shares a handful of practical ways in which coaching can lead to improved inclusion at all types of organizations. First, he sets the backdrop with the following metaphor.

“Coaching helps paint a beautiful picture of where someone is today and where they want to go,” says Mahama. “Imagine a gold mine. It takes courage to go in and find the right places to mine the gold. We all have these areas within us. Part of being inclusive is having the courage to go and find those places.”

In other words, many business leaders, executives, and managers have the capacity (and desire) to be more inclusive. But finding that inclusion gene and mapping out ways to embrace it in the workplace takes effort. And as Mahama reminds us, sometimes this work is uncomfortable.

Adjusting Process Design to Better Embrace Inclusion in the Workplace

Understanding the need for more inclusion in the workplace is a major step. From there, the questions at stake should get a little more tactical around process design. How does this organization review and discover talent? Resumes? Is the culture conducive and willing to lean into the discomfort of new people? New worldviews? For Mahama and others at a)plan coaching, these are the kinds of questions under the microscope in a cultural transformation.

At its core, a)plan helps diagnose the gap between where an organization is today, and where it wants to be at some point in the future. This includes what the organization is doing well, what it’s doing okay, and where it can improve. What we’ve found in our DEIB-focused engagements is that there are always opportunities for improvement. Or as Mahama would say, undiscovered bits of gold exist in all of us, and they’re just waiting to be mined.

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