Photo courtesy of Freepik.
An inclusive culture is one where everyone feels values and respected as a person. I’ve put the emphasis on that word, everyone, because an inclusive culture is one that includes everyone, regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, ability, religion, etc.
It’s nice to think that most workplaces value inclusion. But that’s not really the case, is it?
Organizations may have inclusion as a company value. They may print it on their posters and advertise it in their recruitment efforts. Yet, we see time and time again the same people being hired to fill skilled trades positions.
Let’s take women, for example. There’s been a call to increase the numbers of women in trades since the 1980s. As of 2020, women only make up about 5% of tradespeople, so not much progress there. And what of immigrants? While many people work in the trades in their home countries, how many of them are welcomed into teams here in North America.
There is still a very long way to go. However, it’s heartening to know that progress is definitely being made. Many organizations now allocate time, resources, and budget to fostering an inclusive culture. Executives view inclusion as a business imperative and consider how it affects retention and engagement.
So, does it? Surveys tell us it certainly does. Even in more traditional areas of business, such as skilled trades, 80% of employees state inclusion is important to them when choosing an employer. At this time, technicians truly do have their pick of jobs. They choose to work in a company that values diversity and inclusion. This factor is most important for millennials, with lessening importance for Gen-X and Boomers. This isn’t much of a surprise. The world of trades is still a traditional one, and values that existed decades ago differ from those of today. As Boomers and Gen Xers retire, millennials will force a significant change of view of inclusion.
Creating an inclusive workplace culture is less about how things look and more about how they feel. What employees are saying is that an inclusive culture is one of authenticity, flexibility, and purpose.
Authenticity: This is about working in a place where employees can feel comfortable being themselves. They can use their strengths and knowledge and feel safe in sharing their perspectives.
They expect to feel safe where they work and that they matter. Let me share an example. Today I spoke with someone who had recently left his job. He went to work for the competition, and is actually taking a cut in pay. According to him, it was worth it to get away from his toxic boss, who bullied and abused people verbally as a regular practice. The boss would yell at people and hurl profanity and hateful language at them. This man tried to get upper management to do something about the abusive manager, but it had no effect. So, on his last day, when asked why he quit, he told them it was to have a shorter commute. They didn’t want to hear or act upon the truth, so he just told them what they wanted to hear.
In this example authenticity is also about the company being true to its word. This company talked about respectful workplaces, but it didn’t follow through.
Flexibility: Many people working in the skilled trades can’t work from home. However, there are other ways employers can offer flexibility. This can be done via vacation policies, opportunities for advancement, work schedule, and having a clear appreciation for work/life balance. And what of paid time off? 58% of tradespeople want paid short-term family leave should they have to take time off to care for family members. The reasons for flexibility are many and varied.
Here’s an example: I spoke with a manager who complained that employees ask for time off during summer months, when work is at its peak. This person had been working in the industry for a long time and was used to this policy. He groused about people not wanting to work there if it meant they couldn’t “go camping in the summer”. I suggested there may be more to this. Perhaps they had young children and wanted to spend time with them when they’re out of school i.e. the summer months. Maybe they had family events or dream vacations planned and didn’t want to sacrifice them. Or maybe they loved going to their cottage at the lake for a couple of weeks every summer. It’s their happy place and they needed to go there to rest and recharge.
Purpose: People want to know their work, and their companies, are making a positive impact. They want to know that what they do, and who they are, has value. They want to feel heard and understood and that they matter. Those who feel their work has purpose tend to be happier, healthier, and more productive.
Think of the example of the custodian at NASA who, when asked what he did, replied he was helping to put a man on the moon. Now, that’s purpose! And you just know that man felt extremely proud, knowing he’d made a contribution, when that rockets landed on the moon.
Here are some things for organizational leaders to consider when integrating inclusion into the workplace:
- Examine the work environment. Would workers feel safe and welcome? Review bullying and harassment complaints and then check to see if anything has been done about them. Take note of how the environment allows for differences. Are people made fun of? What about abusive or derogatory language? If you think that doesn’t happen in your workplace, think again. It’s common for comments like “Don’t be such a p*ssy” to be thrown around at job sites. It’s clearly a slur against women, so how should female workers feel about that? Similarly, is there language that immigrants might find abusive or exclusionary? “Bro culture” comments should not be accepted, and people who do not appreciate these comments should feel safe to speak up about them.
- Work with union leaders to understand equity doesn’t mean equal. Take a look at collective agreements and carefully consider the language used. Look at other factors as well. For example, employers may provide PPE, but do they have a wide enough size range to accommodate the women working there? PPE made for men doesn’t fit a woman. Not only is this an inclusion issue, but it’s also a safety issue. Be sensitive about religious needs too. I once worked on a site with a Muslim employee. He asked for a quiet and private place where he could pray at certain times of day. His coworkers were angry about the so-called special considerations given to this employee. However, once I explained why he was taking a few minutes away, they accepted it work went on. What everyone appreciated was the respect for the individual shown.
- Commit to inclusion throughout the organization—from leadership and all the way through. This means going beyond just talking about inclusion and actually putting policies in place to protect it.
There is much we all can do to encourage more inclusion in our workplaces. Here are some resources to help:
Be More Than A Bystander: This program, offered by BC Centre for Women in The Trades, supports organizational and cultural shifts towards more inclusive, safer and respectful workplaces.
These will serve as inspiration for your own searches into programs in your area. Please reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help you find what you’re looking for, wherever you’re located.