Action 1: Across the world firms have created affinity groups that are based around gender, ethnicity, LQBTQ+ and more. These groups provide a great forum to share common experiences and highlight concerns, and when run well do provide a space with high levels of psychological safety. But it is important that firms encourage these groups to hold some events for others who do not identify with the group. Equally, it is important that the firms most senior management actually show up for these events, and encourage others to do the same. Why? If we only show up for the group that we identify with there will always be winners and losers, and unequal systems that reward characteristics that are unrelated to ability, skills and talent will continue to be rewarded. Firms must encourage their employees to champion change in areas that they do not personally gain from. If more people take the time to learn about how others are struggling real change happens. Change happens when a critical mass of people are all doing the same thing and a tipping point is reached. unconsciously. Today, many firms in the financial and professional services operate in environments with high levels of uncertainty. This manifests in terms of increased time pressure, and worries around redundancy and smaller compensation packages, along with a fear of plateauing in one’s career. People do not perform at their peak when they are operating in uncertain environments. It also a time when in-groups are more likely to form7, usually along some dimension of similarity which has a potential detrimental impact for inclusion. Uncertain environments also negatively impact decision making, at a time when choosing the right course of action is more important than ever. In times of uncertainty communication becomes key. Understanding how these communications should be framed, and who the messenger should be at any one occasion are key behavioural science skills that can maximise any communications probability of cushioning fears.
Action 2: A firm that embraces inclusivity to improve business outcomes should use data to hire, promote and reward. When hiring or promoting new senior leaders, examine their history on what they managed to achieve with respect to inclusion retrospectively, going beyond words and towards evidence. Tie rewards, such as bonus pay, to evidence that the person has created an inclusive work environment. Go further and link the inclusivity measure to core business outcomes, to make salient why this focus is important to the firm.
Action 3: Create leaders that bring along all talent in the organisation. This can be achieved by re-focusing on the middle manager and disrupting the type of leadership training available to them. Specifically, moving towards training that equips them with the skillset to i) avoid groupthink, ii) create psychologically safe team environments where dissent is embraced iii) understand how to make changes in their teams and evaluate objectively the effect of these changes iv) communicate in different ways to the inclusion of all talent. This approach has the added benefit of making mid-level managers the change makers of the organisation, which if embraced by a few can result in tipping the culture of the organisation as other mid-level managers see the benefits.