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Silver Linings: Building An Inclusive Workforce & Recognising The Value Of Diversity

Join me in my exploration into how we have inadvertently been building inclusive workforces in response to COVID-19 alongside the monumental worldwide recognition that Black Lives Matter - a movement that cannot loose momentum.

We have had to cut through so much of the red tape over the last four months in order to adapt to this volatile state we are in. We must capture and embrace some of these attitudes towards change and utilise the pro-active nature we’ve come to adopt. Here we will discuss the challenges we have faced through the worldwide pandemic interspersed with the Black Lives Matter movement getting the attention it has deserved for so long - following tragedy after tragedy that we can no longer turn away from.

Our urgent need to respond to the challenging circumstances we have faced in the last few months has forced us to adjust in areas that were perhaps previously uncharted territory. We went from putting out fires to testing the waters to beginning to embed innovative solutions and effective change. We have to remember to fully engage, mindfully ascertain and break down barriers and evolve, developing a better world for our workforces.

Over the course of this pandemic we have inadvertently been building a more inclusive workforce. In response to the urgent need for effective homeworking we have seen huge growth in company’s cultural and technological innovation. In the initial stages we saw this as temporary measures but over time it has become more evident that we need to champion and make these changes more robust. Inclusive initiatives have often taken a backseat, ironically, now they have become paramount to everyday working. Strategies have had to flip turn to accommodate a recognition of work life balance like never before. We have begun to value individuals and the complex intricacies each individual brings, we have had to empower, trust, engage and respond to create a workforce that is cohesive and collaborative whilst navigating the technological transformation tools and changing levels of flexibility necessary to continue to innovate and work towards our goals. Inclusive initiatives have meant cultural change and empowerment, trust and autonomy have had to be carefully choreographed with the dynamic pressures this time of uncertainty continues to bring.

Proactive engagement and empathy have inadvertently become vital in day to day functionality - when we empower our workforce we increase the potential for personal development, the act of entrusting leadership and ownership more - almost as default because of remote working- we have been practising inclusive leadership.

When we ask our colleagues and fellow workforce what keeps them well, how we can support them, how they best communicate, how they best learn, what times work best - we open up a dialogue enabling a better understanding of individuals within our workforce - establishing the needs and experiences of individuals in our workforce to find out how best to support them and their wellbeing and enable our workforce to function effectively. Through initiating dialogue - utilising open questions, in these terms, we actively respond in order to sustain a level of wellbeing within our workforce to lower risk of stress and lower productivity that can impact massively on business outcomes and success. Flexibility has become a default throughout the pandemic and has inadvertently led to a deeper understanding of breath of inclusion, the need for inclusive strategy and how well it can work if implemented carefully.

For many, newly clarifying values and behaviours centred on compassion, openness and honesty through unstable times of doubt and fear, we are proactively demonstrating and promoting kindness, respect and empathy. Recognising the value of appreciation, fairness, honesty and transparency we are shaping our modern workforce on values we can be proud of. Reflecting further on the element of trust, we see a level of autonomy and respect grow as a result. If we can hold on to, develop and strategize these changes we can build truly inclusive workforces.

Actively engaging with our workforces regularly is critical, especially now – the translation of evaluation review into actionable steps has had to happen with urgency. Active engagement allows us to learn to adapt in a responsive and more effective way. We learn to guide and support others, demonstrating a commitment to staff wellbeing. Active engagement gives us the opportunity to respond to the disparity of need within, even the smallest of workforces. We inadvertently have begun to tackle issues previously associated with bias and diversity – once so challenging and obscure. We are more approachable and confident to normalise difference and acknowledge adaptation as a matter of course. The more confident we become at implementing these steps, the more resilient and agile our collective and workforce culture becomes. The more familiar we become with finding solutions, the less rigid strategy starts to evolve. If we allow these developments to continue in a positive light, our response becomes preventative and proactive in managing wellbeing as opposed to the reactive approach we most likely started off with.

The value of diversity can only be seen when we foster inclusive principles. Systemic bias, oppression and the stark reality of the huge inequity of opportunity rooted and embedded in all areas of life is an ongoing challenge that requires us all to take action. This requires us to respond on two levels: individually and societal. We all need to become accountable, educate ourselves and act. We need to learn how to utilise our privilege in ways to empower those who face injustice to be equal in opportunity and circumstance - to thrive alongside as equal – we need to rise up together on a level playing field. How do we create that level playing field? Well, we need to acknowledge the gap in knowledge we have, and only then - can we work together to change it. Champion and raise the platform for others to be heard.

We are living in a world of inequality – ignorance and complacency are passive excuses that we can no longer stand by. To acknowledge difference, to see value and invest in the potential in people from all walks of life is not a risk – it is a monumental part of privilege. How can meritocracy work if the starting-lines are so far apart? When having to prove yourself is a daily task that you take huge responsibility for. When you’re met with doubt before you even enter a room. When you can’t react the way you want to in the face of daily injustices because you fear completely unjustified retribution and doubt – when your reaction is a reflection of the injustices in a system that does not strive for resolution. When your inequity becomes internalised and accepted as a fault within you and you stop fighting the system. When inequity absorbs all your energy and there are no reserves are left. When we fall prey to a system that has failed us. The answer? Understand that the game is rigged.

We entered into this volatile time with a reactive nature, to build temporary solutions and putting out fires if and when they came about. Now we can embrace the riches we have learnt, continue to evolve and develop elegant solutions in the long-term – recognise the benefits of shifting priorities and establish robust pro-active modelling towards strategic intervention and innovation, generating new technological tools to support new strategies – cross new territory, cross discipline and diversify the strands of input and methodology – innovate without fear. We need to come together and unite – get out of our comfort zones, sustain and develop fundamental changes from the inside out. If we don’t fit the mould – change the mould. We are not reinventing the wheel – we are redefining the journey.

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