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How to maximize inclusion in your workplace

First published October 20, 2014 on Constructive Thinking

We believe diversity is key to providing the creative solutions that our clients demand. To share insight into how inclusion builds perspective, we spoke with Maja Egnell, a vice president of human resources focused on talent development and diversity.

How do you define inclusion?
Inclusion is a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are, and having the support and commitment from others so you can be yourself and contribute at the top of your abilities. But inclusion is also a sense of being unique, and being recognized for your differences. An inclusive organization is a workplace that is free from exclusion, marginalization and harassment, a place where no one feels the need to hide aspects of themselves out of fear for not being accepted.

Inclusion is about mirroring the communities in which we operate, developing and utilizing diverse trade contractors, and giving back to society locally through active involvement in community activities.

Last year’s Diversity & Inclusion Week theme was Inclusion Works. What’s the central message of this theme?
We wanted to stress how important it is for Skanska to be an organization where everyone can feel welcome and able to fully contribute with their strengths and talents, a place where everyone can reach their full potential. Inclusion is equally important for us externally: for our clients, our subcontractors and suppliers, and for the people we recruit. Inclusion makes us the company we want to be, and because it also happens to make perfect sense from a business perspective.

How has inclusion been shown to impact a business’ bottom line and performance?
When employees feel included, they are better team players and more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, such as through suggesting new ideas and improved ways of getting work done. This can boost overall organizational performance. Inclusion also lowers something called “minority stress” that can occur when a person’s minority status exists in conflict with dominant values of the surrounding social environment.

Looking at diversity, there are many examples of studies showing that mixed gender teams outperform male-dominated teams. Research shows that boards of directors need a critical mass of 30 percent women to outperform – measured by return on equity – all-male boards. Other research has shown that a racially diverse workforce is positively associated with more customers, increased sales revenue, greater relative profits and greater market share. Yet another study showed that firms that implement LGBT-friendly policies experienced increases in firm value, productivity and profitability. So it is easy to see how increasing diversity and inclusion has a huge impact for the business.

How do you ensure that you’re recruiting a diverse workforce?
In order for us to recruit the best and the brightest, we need to access a wider talent pool. To accomplish this, Skanska USA has set a target that at least 35 percent of our new graduate recruits are either women or ethnic minorities. Additionally, we work hard to establish relationships with predominately minority universities and their engineering programs, and do active recruitment at ethnically-diverse schools through career fair participation.

We also find that external posting of employment opportunities through social networks and job boards increases visibility for non-traditional candidates.

What do you hope people take away from this year’s Diversity & Inclusion Week?
I hope people feel inspired to become more curious: in their colleagues’ thoughts and experiences, but also in the outside world and our stakeholders there. What is their perspective of the world, and how can I learn from it?

I also hope that people realize how much is in their power to change our culture to make it more inclusive. Inclusion is not only an issue for leadership, it is everyone’s responsibility. Becoming more aware is a great first step, and allowing that awareness to affect the way we act towards each other will make Skanska an even greater company for which to work.

What are some ways people can help increase inclusion in their own workplace?
The first thing you can do is to take a long and hard look at yourself and identify your personal assumptions and beliefs. What attitudes do you have, and what are the behaviors you show your colleagues? Try to question your own frame of reference.  Many times, exclusive behaviors stem from an – often unconscious – personal bias that needs to be dealt with.

The next step is all about acting consciously. Involve and encourage your colleagues in discussions and decisions, and include all team members in social and office/project events. Try to stay open minded to new ideas, seek to listen and understand others’ perspectives, even if they seem foreign to you. Don’t engage in private jokes during team meetings, and make a point of challenging someone who exclude or show bias.

Inclusive leadership is all about making employees feel valued for the unique talents and perspectives they bring —without emphasizing their differences so much that they feel alienated.

What key traits do inclusive leaders exhibit?
1. Empowerment: Enabling team members to grow by encouraging them to solve problems, come up with new ideas and develop new skills.
2. Courage: Standing up for what they believe is right, even when it means taking a risk. A good example of this is directly and openly challenging an excluding or derogatory comment from a team member.
3. Humility: Admitting mistakes, learning from criticism and different points of view, and mitigating their own weaknesses through actively seeking contributions from team members.
4. Accountability: Holding team members responsible for aspects of their performance that are within their control, and through doing so showing confidence in their abilities.