When individuals feel that they cannot be themselves at work, they will not engage fully as part of the team or in assigned work. For example, an employee may feel that sexual orientation or a hidden disability cannot be revealed due to fear of reprisals. This type of ‘closed’ environment can significantly impact an individual’s involvement in the organization, potentially resulting in low staff morale, increased absenteeism, decreased productivity and retention difficulties.
Organizational leaders play an important role in setting the tone for the shift towards increased diversity and inclusiveness in an organization. Open, effective communication, as well as clear channels for feedback optimizes the opportunity for discussion of issues related to inclusion and discrimination. Every organization starts from a different place and in a unique context, but all have room for improvement.
An educational approach can help to negate many fears that people have when it comes to addressing diversity. Both managers and employees fear that they may say the wrong thing, be perceived as discriminatory or be stifled by rigid rules of political correctness. Employees need to know that while there are standards and expectations for appropriate behavior in the workplace, a focus on diversity isn’t about being perfect. Diversity and inclusion is best nurtured in an open workplace where mistakes can be used for learning – not for embarrassing or shaming individuals.