In the third of a series of interviews, Head of Insights at the FSCB Kate Coombs speaks to our academic collaborators, London Business School and UCL associate professors Aneeta Rattan and Raina Brands, about diversity and inclusion focusing on exclusion.
5% of employees surveyed by the FSCB in 2021 reported feeling excluded by their colleagues at work. Compared to White British employees, Black British and Asian British responded more negatively to this question. Disabled employees were also more likely to respond negatively than non-disabled employees.
Kate: Questions formulated around inclusion are commonplace in employee surveys but this is not the case for exclusion. Are firms missing out by failing to consider both?
Aneeta: You cannot know what you do not ask. That is why in psychological measures we usually ask questions in two directions: the positive and the negative. I believe that firms are losing something that has been long known in the science of measurement about how to assess inclusion and belonging. The reason that we asked about both inclusion and exclusion is because we thought they might evoke different things from people. If you simply ask me how included I feel at work, I might think about interacting with my everyday work team and I feel included working with them. However, if you ask me whether I feel excluded at work, what will come to mind are, if they exist, times when I feel excluded. One might think, ‘’Yes, every time I have to speak with my bosses, every time I have to give a presentation that goes outside of my team and/or anytime I am not with people who I have trusted relationships with’. That is precisely why we wanted to ask these questions.
I think that organisations need to be seeking out information on exclusion because otherwise it would be easy to see most people feeling included at a company and therefore to fundamentally, but systematically, overlook the exclusion experiences of various minorities or underrepresented groups. If an organisation is trying to prove it is an inclusive company and they ask only about inclusion, they are not asking the question that they need answered.
In my experience of working with leaders, a single experience of exclusion really sticks with people. It is very foundational and formative to their understanding of an organisation and to their understanding of the relationships that they will have with people. When that exclusion is tied to their social identities such as, disability status, race, gender, it is a very formative and focal aspect of all of the other interactions that they have in the workplace. Any company that is serious about diversity and inclusion needs to be proactively assessing, and systematically addressing, experiences of exclusion.
In some of the workshops that Raina and I run through our Career Equally project, we will have managers observe a meeting beforehand, and note down how many times and for how long different groups, for example women and men, speak. They are shocked when they see their own data because these very micro practices are so non-obvious to members of the privileged or majority group.
Kate: In our 2021 survey, employees who reported feeling excluded were asked to explain what contributed to these feelings. Analysis of the data reveals a significant portion of employees referencing leader behaviours in and around team meetings. Is that something that surprises you? What can we do with this information in terms of change and improvement?
Raina: I do not find that surprising. Leaders set the tone, right? Leaders are the human link between you and the organisation. The leader’s values about diversity and inclusion signals to you the organisational values around diversity and inclusion. Leaders signal who is valued and who is not by asking for feedback from certain people, acting on the advice of some and not others, and responding positively or negatively to certain people (e.g., who gets a smile, who gets a sigh). If your leader systematically favours some groups, like men, and you are not a member of those groups, it is natural that the message you take away is that “I am not valued here and I do not belong here”.
Aneeta: I have to add that, with respect to this, there is no excuse for continued failure. Because these behaviours are so teachable, they are also trackable. They are so valuable. What organisations and leaders need to do is to commit to the training and evaluation that will foster better behaviours. That is not solely a diversity and inclusion practice in my mind. That is simply good business practice because when leaders do these things well, they will have better functioning teams and they will have teams that trust the performance evaluation systems and trust the procedures and processes of the organisation. They will simply have more meritocratic organisations and every company should be deeply incentivised to try and achieve that.
Raina: You do not have to change everything all at once. There are always moments in organisations that matter more for others in terms of how you assess your belonging and inclusion. It is about really intervening in those moments. Really simple things like implementing a rule that the first person to speak cannot be a senior white man, it has to be someone else. Things like that can make a real difference.
Aneeta: Or having a planned order or saying, ‘Any time you interrupt you get put to the back of the line for making comments’. One thing I’ve done recently in an interaction was encourage someone to have a time limit for responding to subordinates and to monitor when they fail and, of course, what they found as a result. They found that they had a subordinate who has a disability who requires some accommodations, and that is the subordinate that this leader takes the longest to reply to. That is absolutely a negative inclusion signal, right? It is so obvious for everyone but the leader themselves. From facing their own data, I was then able to work with the leader to fix the processes that drove this difference.
Find out more about our upcoming masterclass on creating gender equality initiatives that are fully inclusive please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay tuned for our ‘Meetings Matter’ blog series which reports on the findings from a recent field experiment conducted by FSCB Insights and Imperial College Business School on increasing psychological safety in team meetings.