A leap of imagination is needed to truly understand inclusion

Written by
Trish Driver

18 Jul 2017

18 Jul 2017 • by Trish Driver

The business case is clear: Diverse organisations are more likely to be profitable and productive (As cited by McKinsey in their report “Why Diversity Matters”). Deloitte noted in their report “Waiter, is that inclusion in my soup?” that employees who feel included at work are significantly more likely to be high achievers, and to feel good about the organisations they work for. So follow this thought process through, and it’s obvious that as employers, all we need to do is to make sure all our employees feel included. Simple. Right? Or not. 

It can be hard for people to truly understand inclusion, and the changes they need to make to ensure that others feel included. At Capgemini, we are working hard to understand what is needed – one of the steps we’ve recently taken was to run our first Active Inclusion survey last summer – a company-wide survey in the UK to understand the perspectives of our employees on a wide range of inclusion topics. This gave us a great insight, and we’re taking forward the key learnings from this survey to shape our inclusion journey. 

Inclusion must be proactive and positive

Even with the type of great data we gained from our survey, truly understanding inclusion requires a leap of imagination. First things first – inclusion is so much more than just an absence of exclusion. A lack of exclusion is a zero. It takes us back to nothing. It is not what makes people feel included. Inclusion has to be proactive and positive. Because for the majority of those who feel in some way excluded, that is the change it will take to move beyond the zero. 

So why does this require a leap of imagination? It all comes down to “in groups” and “outsiders”. I thought that as a woman who has worked in male-dominated environments my whole career, and who, in my very early pre-Capgemini career, experienced sexual harassment at work, I really understood the topics of inclusion and exclusion, and what it felt like to be “outside”. In fact, as a straight, cisgender woman, my experience of “outside” is in a completely different league to, for example, my colleague Eloise, who last December came out as transgender at work, and started working as a woman in January. 

Hearing Eloise’s story knocked me for six. For many reasons, but one in particular – she thought that if she came out at work, she would lose her job (she obviously didn’t). Even with her rights protected under the law, Eloise thought she would lose her job if she came out at work. And she’s not alone. Only 36% of trans respondents in Stonewall’s recent survey felt comfortable being out to all their colleagues at work. Only 31% of LGB people questioned felt comfortable being out at work (as a side note, Stonewall measure the experiences of trans respondents separately to LGB respondents in their surveys). And it applies to other protected characteristics too. According to recent research conducted by the NHS 48% of people with a mental illness don’t feel comfortable talking about it at work. And a report by the Everyday Sexism Project and the TUC found that more than half of women recently surveyed have experienced sexual harassment at work, but only 27% of those felt they could report their experience. 

Do you feel able to be your real self at work?

So if we think about the “in group” in a working environment, those who don’t fear to be their real selves at work, it is going to take a leap of imagination for them to understand how it feels to be on the outside. That’s one of the reasons we host events such as our IDAHOT day conference which took place last month – the event sought to grow understanding of potential allies through brilliant role models sharing their stories. This is the most important contribution that can be made by those of us who have been “outsiders” – to follow the lead of those at this event, and colleagues like Eloise, and share our experiences, to help make that leap to understanding exclusion a bit less scary, and to show what proactive inclusion looks like. 

And as for those on the “inside”? The most important contributions they can make are taking the time to listen, and really, truly hearing and trying to understand, then taking proactive steps towards inclusion. Happily we have role models for this too at Capgemini – two of our great sponsors for Active Inclusion, Martin Scott and Craig Mill – both comfortable to admit that they are part of the “in group”, and both passionate advocates when it comes to building their understanding of the perspectives of others, and acting as real change agents for inclusion. After all – what’s the power of imagination without the motivation to do something great with it?