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World Economic Forum: Inclusion in Today’s Workplace

The panel Inclusion in Today’s Workplace, held Wednesday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, kicked off with an interesting factoid: In a survey of about 11,000 workers in 17 countries, 62% said belonging was more important to them than salary.

From there, the panel — moderated by Kimberly Lim, Reuters’ Director of Editorial Operations — moved directly from the term of inclusion to the more emotional terrain of belonging.

“Can we just celebrate that we’re talking about belonging and working in one breath?” asked Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America, encapsulating the mood of the panel. “Employees today expect more humanity from their job.”

Caroline Casey, founder of The Valuable 500, said she’d like to see a Chief Belonging Officer take the place of the Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer. “My sense of belonging is that I am safe to be who I am,” she said. She is registered as blind, but for years didn’t tell her coworkers. “I so wanted to fit in,” she added. “Now I’m out and proud, and I feel safe.”

“Can we just celebrate that we’re talking about belonging and working in one breath?”

About 90% of companies claim to care about diversity and inclusion, Casey noted, but only 4% are specifically doing anything to address people who are disabled. She termed this “the inclusion delusion.”

Tony Prophet, the chief equality officer for Salesforce, also stressed that belonging cannot be grounded in assimilation — learning to love the same football team as your leadership or learning to dress like them. “It starts with people understanding your identity, being clear about your identity, even having the words to talk about it,” Prophet explained.

The intellectual argument for diversity, said Frankiewicz, was settled 20 years ago, but the panelists still took a few moments to lay out some of the benefits of diversity and inclusion. Frankiewicz pointed out that without a more inclusive environment, employees in the younger generations will simply leave. “They will choose with their feet to go somewhere else,” she said.

Indeed, her point echoed those made in a previous panel on workforce issues: Today’s workers demand to be able to bring their full selves to work.

The role of customers

But customers play a role as well. “The intelligence needs to be in the business,” said Casey. “If we look at the different experiences of living, that’s where the opportunity for innovation is. So, we can have a competitive advantage — that is the other side of it.”

Benjamin Pring, director of Cognizant’s Center for the Future of Work, agreed. “You need to expand to new markets, new opportunities, and new audiences, because where else are you going to get the growth?” Pring asked. “Ultimately the business imperative is going to crack the case here.”

That left two important questions. First, what are the barriers to creating a workplace in which people feel like they belong? And, two, what should leaders do about it?

“This notion of a big leader getting it right from the get-go is withering”

All of the panelists agreed that the fear of making a mistake can inhibit necessary change. Prophet said there needs to be a “measure of grace” when someone uses “the wrong word in good faith” or otherwise makes a mis-step.

“The biggest problem is not beginning,” Casey said, adding we all should face up to the fact that this area requires innovation, and with innovation will come some failure. “It’s okay if we don’t get it all right,” she added. “I don’t know what your lived experience is, and you don’t know what mine is.”

Pring agreed. “This notion of a big leader getting it right from the get-go is withering,” he said.

Prophet outlined four steps to overcoming some of these challenges. He said the very first is to be humble and acknowledge that “we have work to do.” Second is to be clear about one’s values. Salesforce, he said, has four core values, and one of them is equality, “not because we get it right every time, but because we cherish it.”

Third was data. He pointed out that Salesforce makes its data about equality publicly available, “not because we’re proud of it,” explained Prophet, but because it provides a way for stakeholders to hold the company accountable. Finally, there is “how you lead as a manger,” Prophet said, adding that creating employee resource groups and a workplace that is inclusive for primary caretakers of children, for example, demonstrates how someone leads. Throughout, he said, “it must start at the top.”

Casey said it was important for everyone to refrain from making assumptions about other people based on how they show up. “We just have no idea,” she said. “We need to remember there’s hearts and fears and emotions here.”

Andrew Green of Thomson Reuters contributed to this report from Davos, Switzerland.

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