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Inclusivity: a consciousness muscle we must continue to flex

July 7, 2020
By Ioni Doherty

Emerging from shutdown, the Embrace Difference Council connected virtually in late May to consider its inclusivity plans and calendar of events for the remainder of the year.

The Embrace Difference Council Toolkits and Scorecards are about to be rolled out, with expectations that the toolkit will prove especially relevant as businesses review key learnings from COVID-19.

The Create Difference workstream is looking to bring some Embrace Difference events to life in the back half of the year, with both virtual and face-to-face options as venues start to open. State Chapter events will be hosted online as national webinar forums. (Details to come.)

During the meeting it was generally agreed that since March, strategic planning for diversity and inclusion in workplaces has taken a bit of a back seat.

But the leader of the See Difference workstream, Madelyn Ring, challenged the notion: “This pandemic has meant that we have never been more inclusive.”

Nicole Stanners, leader of the Leverage Difference workstream, agreed saying that workforces have had to adopt a more inclusive style of leadership during the crisis.

“Operating in virtual crisis mode has necessitated working on creative solutions, pivoting to utilise a wider breadth of opinions and implementing two-way channels of transparent communication,” she observed.

“This experience is living proof that inclusive leadership is integral to doing business well, not just an adjunct abstract proposition. I hope it is a consciousness muscle that we continue to use when we all return to the office.”

The pandemic has been a great leveller and there will be many learnings to come from this time. Sixteen weeks in and HRDs have gone from authoring policies on pandemics to re-writing policies on remote working, along with considering how they can better equip their people to work from home.

Businesses of varying sizes have split their teams and staggered office returns have begun. For many, it is unlikely that the full team will be back on deck this side of Christmas.

It is a new phase and a new COVID related challenge for business leaders: Given the splitting of teams, how is it possible to ensure that the sense of belonging remains?

When you have one team dialling in remotely, and one team in the office, how will leaders facilitate and strike the balance, so employees remain equal, all feel invested and valued, and all feel heard in the decision-making process? Where are the decisions being made? In the boardroom or on Zoom?

Thoughtful planning around this currently consumes a significant part of many leaders’ days.

“Working virtually has taught us some brilliant behaviours,” says Simon Durrant, Chair of the Embrace Difference Council and Managing Director, Campari. “Our meeting etiquette has improved greatly, and this is one of the many behaviours that absolutely should be taken with us on the way back to the office.”

Central to these behaviours is a mindfulness, a discipline and a diligence around how we conduct ourselves during meetings.

Simon suggests that meetings proceed only after detailed preparation, with an emphasis on pre-work being completed and a detailed outline of objectives being communicated. He believes this is essential to keep the meetings as brief, productive and as engaging as possible.

“During the meeting itself, the onus for creating inclusivity must sit with the person running the meeting. Facilitators need to be attentive if they are to manage the entire audience well,” he says.

“Make sure cameras are on for the most part, ask more questions of everyone, maintain eye contact and engagement, and check in with everyone in attendance.”

Facilitators also need to be mindful of keeping the conversation relevant to teams in the office as well as those working remotely. Exchanges between those physically present in the office should not be at the exclusion of those attending virtually. (It should be acknowledged that this sense of exclusion has long been a frustration experienced by satellite offices dialling into meetings with head offices and hopefully our comfort level with Zoom and Teams will see an end to that.)

“It is important that we maintain face to face visible connections,” Simon said. “When meetings have split attendance with people in office meeting rooms and people working remotely on Teams or Zoom, those in the office must have their computers on and faces visible. We have all gotten used to seeing people and feeling comfortable being seen on screen.

“Going back to blurry outlines of people’s faces breaks the connection and creates unnecessary barriers.”

Campari will not have a fully functional team in their Sydney head office at any one time and for any major meetings, cross-functional teams will be physically brought in all at once, if possible and only when necessary.

Entire teams will not be physically reuniting to toast each other anytime soon – pretty tough for an industry with celebration at its heart – and video conferencing is here to stay. Best we all learn to love Zoom and learn to do it well.

One thing we can hope will endure in workplace culture from this time is something far more significant: a sense of belonging and of inclusivity, right across the board.