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Q&A with Shirley Engelmeier: 4 steps for implementing inclusion in the workplace

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Shirley Engelmeier is the CEO of InclusionINC. She helps Fortune 500 companies implement inclusion and meet their key business metrics. SmartBrief interviewed Engelmeier about why inclusion is becoming so important in the workplace and how companies can come up with a successful inclusion strategy. An edited version of her answers follows.

What signaled the shift of importance from workplace diversity to workplace inclusion?

“Diversity Fatigue” has become an epidemic in organizations across the U.S. because focus on race and gender alone has not created a significant and measurable business outcome. Hiring and promoting women and people of color — which was once the “correct” thing to do — has only served to produce representation metrics and little accountability to business objectives.  This was clearly demonstrated by the elimination of several diversity-related jobs in corporations during the recent recession. When forward-looking business leaders increased the participation of the workforce in the business process, the value of a diversified workforce increased markedly internally and externally.

How can companies make the shift to focusing on inclusion without leaving behind the important aspects of diversity?

Diversity is still important, and should be seen as a foundation to inclusion strategy. But it’s not only about getting different groups in the door — the key is bringing all of these different people to the table and allowing their voices to be heard. Diversity by itself won’t make an impact unless it is connected to the business.

Why is inclusion so important?

The tactics for developing a diverse workforce need to go beyond talent acquisition — they need to result in retention, engagement and productivity through increased ownership. A company that embraces and practices inclusion as a business strategy improves workplace effectiveness and creates a significant business advantage.

What are the most important initial steps for a company when implementing inclusion?

Some important steps include:

  1. Commitment by leaders to creating a culture that listens and invites participation.
  2. Communicating the connectivity between inclusion and improved business performance.
  3. Creating a culture that fosters and rewards input from everyone.
  4. Creating strategic alignment in and deployment of this activity at all levels within the workforce.