How to Create an Inclusive Workplace for Women and Men

Elizabeth Harrin | March 7, 2019

Create an Inclusive Workplace
left Image

It’s widely acknowledged that a positive, inclusive office culture leads to better morale and higher productivity amongst staff. Figures from research by Deloitte and The Female Quotient show that 67 percent of knowledge workers believe that diversity and inclusion drive creativity in the office. Nearly 60 percent believe that diversity improves profitability, and you don’t have to look too far to find other results that support these.

My own experience backs this up. I’ve lost count of the number of project team meetings I’ve been in where someone else brings a different perspective, something I’ve not thought of. One of the most interesting places I’ve worked was the global head office for a financial services firm. People from all over the world came together for “all-hands” meetings. It was also a very female-friendly firm.

Personally, I would rather spend time working on making my work culture inclusive and positive for everyone. While there’s definitely a need for diversity and inclusion programs to support employees, I’ve seen the ripple effect that a shift in office culture has on everyone.

For example, one IT team I worked in introduced a policy of flexible working. You were expected to be at work during core hours, either in the office or available from another location like home, but the hours before and after the core were flexible. As long as your work got done across the week, no one much minded exactly when you put the time in.

That program had a positive effect on everyone in the team. From the father doing the school run in the morning to the woman working in a stable, colleagues need the flexibility to manage their caring responsibilities. We all have lives outside of work. Employers should have woken up by now to the fact employees balance a multitude of responsibilities, and yet many firms still approach work time as something that should be held sacrosanct above all else. Sorry, but that doesn’t work in today’s environment.

The core hours approach is relatively simple, and it doesn’t have to be an office-wide policy. You can make that call for your own department. It’s not the only thing you can do to improve the workplace for everyone? Here are some more ideas.

Flexible Benefits

Offering a flexible benefits system is normally something that needs corporate buy-in, but the rewards can be significant. Employee retention and morale can be improved by making your workplace a great place to be.

Flexible benefits schemes let employees choose from a range of benefit options. For example, one workplace I know has a great program for helping employees buy bikes to cycle to work. However, not everyone wants or needs a bike. A flexible program would offer other alternatives to pick from, like a discounted gym membership or health screening.

You can even make this work on a smaller scale, by negotiating a discount at your local sandwich shop, for example. Even small things can make a difference.

Finally, let’s not forget that adequate childcare is a huge factor in whether women on-ramp and get back into work. Employers can support all working parents with childcare voucher schemes, with on-site crèche facilities, or by simply being flexible enough to allow parents to fit their family responsibilities around their day job.

It’s worth saying here that offering flexibility and being supportive of flexibility are two different things. You can offer flexible benefits and flexible hours, but if the office culture is such that no one is prepared to take them up, then that says more about the leadership than your team’s commitment.

Remote Working Tools

Software that allows you to do your job remotely is almost essential these days. Many project teams rely on colleagues who aren’t in the same building as them. Even if some of the time everyone is together, there are always days where someone needs to be at home to deal with a plumbing emergency (me, last week) or pop into school to meet the teacher. Software that lets you be remote if necessary allows everyone to work more flexibly.

A word of caution: just because you equip your team with tools like LiquidPlanner that let them work on their projects from home doesn’t mean they should be always working. It’s a good idea to set ground rules around work expectations. For example, it might be convenient for you to start a new discussion in your project management tool at 10 p.m., but you shouldn’t expect replies straight away.

An Attitude Change

As I alluded to above, the most important thing for creating a positive office culture is to change attitudes. The raised eyebrows when someone leaves the office at 4 p.m. have to stop. We need workplaces that are open and honest, where there is a culture of trust. This goes both ways: if you say you are going to complete a task on a certain day, it needs to get done. Flexible working isn’t an excuse to do sloppy work. If your colleagues trust you, and you trust them, it’s easier to make the most of flexibility, diversity, and inclusion initiatives. You need to trust that the outcome is going to be what you need, even if the route to get there isn’t what you would have chosen yourself.

A culture of trust and respect is a big driver of productivity in project teams. It takes a while to change attitudes, and it starts with leading from the top. As a project leader, you can set the tone for the team and make sure everyone feels valued for the contribution they make.

A positive office culture that supports working women and broader corporate diversity and inclusion is definitely something to aspire to. Leaders struggle when they think they’ve got all the pieces in place and then let things drift. Culture is something we need to constantly pay attention to and reinforce.

The more businesses do that, the more inclusive and supportive the working world will become for everyone.

Elizabeth Harrin is a project manager, author of several books, and a mentor. Find her online at her blog, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

Discuss