Active or Passive inclusion: What’s your style?

Active or passive

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we have no idea what’s going to happen next. To survive the next stage, businesses have to be reactive, and to do that they need teams which are diverse in every sense. For the organisation to be able to pivot to face whatever comes, teams need to be feeding in multiple information streams and perspectives with confidence that they will be heard.

Leaders have to evolve, and fast. Countless studies show that inclusivity improves engagement and performance. In our experience, some leaders accept the link, but that doesn’t mean they fully understand how to create and foster an inclusive environment.

Where are you on the inclusivity spectrum?

In between ignoring inclusivity and championing diversity, inclusive behaviours and attitudes can be expressed and demonstrated to different degrees. Take a common example: a large company has acquired a smaller company and absorbed its employees. There are two different approaches.

In a team where inclusivity is at worst ignored, and at best, tolerated, the team-leader might kick off the meeting with their own ideas and jump straight into the content without acknowledging the new employees in the room. They might demonstrate no curiosity about how their new employees operated at their old organisation. They may suggest that new employees hold back their opinions until they’ve ‘learned the ropes’. All too often, they’ll use acronyms, project names – a sort of private language – without explaining. When the new employees ask perfectly reasonable questions, they’ll listen, but their body-language will betray their impatience. Then, finally, they’ll give key follow-up projects to the ‘old-guard’ and direct the newcomers to read past reports and familiarise themselves with the HR systems.

Does that sound like a recipe for success? Obviously not, and yet, it happens all the time.

In a team where inclusivity is a respected value, the team-leader will behave differently. They’ll take the time to meet newcomers before the meeting, explaining any short-hand and contextualising the work they’re about to be part of. During the meeting, they’ll allocate time to welcome new team-members, ask them to share previous experiences, and draw attention to how those experiences can add value. They’ll actively encourage input, and they’ll have prepped the ‘old-guard’ to respond to that input with curiosity and respect. They’ll make it clear that the newcomers aren’t automatically bottom of the hierarchy by responding constructively to suggestions. Real inclusivity is threaded through the whole organisation and present in every meeting, so those newcomers will be involved in or even lead key follow-up projects. Soon, they won’t feel like newcomers at all, but like engaged and important parts of a team building something together; naturally, their performance will sky-rocket. 

What we’re talking about is practicing inclusivity with purpose. Being tolerant of diversity isn’t enough. It’s a low bar, and furthermore, it’s pointless, because if you don’t embrace inclusion you won’t improve performance.

Any work with leaders around inclusion has to help them understand how to move across the inclusion spectrum – from passive inclusion (good manners) to active inclusion. Once leaders recognise the benefits available for those who embrace inclusion – managers rewarded by increased staff engagement, team-members feeling valued, organisations seeing greater collaboration and innovation – there’ll be no looking back.