The most progressive organizations are rapidly discovering the great benefits of leading with inclusion—namely, engaging every single individual in delivering on the goals and the mission of the organization. Fortunately, when organizations embrace diversity it opens the door to innovation. However, diversity is a just number, it is inclusion that encourages non-homogenous  groups to collaborate.

Catalyst Senior Director, Research and Corporate Engagement Partner Anna Baninger joins us to discuss how to engineering teams can best leverage inclusion.

Can you explain the difference between diversity and inclusion? And how some companies might confuse the two?

Diversity relates to the demographic makeup of a workforce in an organization. A diverse workforce includes individuals representing more than one gender, racial/ethnic group, sexual orientation, national origin, socioeconomic stratum, or other characteristics. These diverse groups provide a variety of experiences, viewpoints, backgrounds, and interests.

Inclusion is feeling a sense of belongingness within a group and knowing one’s unique perspective and skills are valued. Inclusion is essential to organizational effectiveness, but can be invisible and difficult to grasp.

Diversity is a fact, inclusion is a choice.

Why are diversity and inclusion particularly important for engineering and R&D teams? 

Engineering and R&D teams’ success depends on their ability to collaborate and be innovative. However, if teams are made up of people with too much commonality and too little individuality, it can stifle creativity and lead to groupthink. Diverse teams inherently create more unique ideas because individuals have had different experiences and view problems in different ways. They challenge one another and ultimately develop stronger solutions. In order to capitalize on the benefits of diverse teams, individuals must feel included. Catalyst research shows that when individuals feel that they belong to the group, and are valued for their unique perspective and skills, they are more cooperative and innovative.

Catalyst research shows that from day one, women are less likely to enter STEM industries upon graduation, and of those that do actually join, are more likely to leave their first job to work in another industry. Women start out on unequal footing—despite earning the same high-quality education, women are significantly more likely to start out in entry-level positions and experience a gender pay gap due to these lower paying, lower level roles. Of the women who stick it out, there are significant barriers to advancement. Women are outsiders from the start, lack female role models to pave their way to the top, and face vague evaluation criteria.

STEM organizations are missing out on talented women, but companies that intentionally address these barriers and create an inclusive culture can become an employer of choice for women and gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
What advice do you have for organizations looking to kick-start or maintain an inclusion initiative?

First and foremost, you must have a diverse workforce in order to be inclusive. Organizations need to ensure they are recruiting, developing, and advancing women and employees with diverse backgrounds. Catalyst research shows that significant barriers still remain that hold high-potential women, including women of color, back in organizations. These barriers must be addressed to level the playing field.

To ensure that diverse employees feel included, leaders throughout the organization should adopt four key inclusive leadership behaviors: empowerment, accountability, courage, and humility:

  • Empowerment—enable team members to grow and excel by encouraging them to solve problems, come up with new ideas, and develop new skills.
  • Accountability—show confidence in team members by holding them responsible for aspects of their performance that are within their control.
  • Courage—stand up for what one believes is right, even when it means taking a risk.
  • Humility—admit mistakes, learn from criticism and different points of view, and overcome one’s own limitations by seeking contributions from team members.

Catalyst has a series of free online courses called CatalystX that provide inclusive leadership training grounded in this research.

What are some of the common missteps organizations make along the way? How can they avoid them?

Organizations can fall into the trap of focusing too heavily on policies and programs and not providing enough attention to the human side of change. Catalyst research shows that an organization’s formal efforts to promote inclusion may be effective, but if there are disconnects with the informal culture, exclusion can persist. For example, an employee may feel grateful for her company’s leadership development program, but at the same time dread interactions with team members because she feels her ideas are constantly dismissed in meetings. To overcome this challenge, organizations should promote inclusive leadership behaviors among all employees and visibly and explicitly reward these behaviors. When exclusionary behavior does happen, interrupt it. It’s also important that leaders validate employees’ experiences of exclusion by transparently acknowledging barriers and setbacks, and highlighting efforts to amplify inclusion.

How can collaboration technologies – and visual collaboration tech, in particular – help (or hurt) in fostering inclusion?

For team members to feel included they must feel a sense of belongingness within a group and believe that their unique perspectives and skills are valued. Collaborative technologies can be leveraged to connect team members (sometimes across geographical locations) and encourage the sharing of ideas freely, promoting cooperation and innovation. However, to benefit from these technologies, everyone must have equal access and be included in discussions. Just as in face-to-face interactions, it’s critical that side conversations not happen as they can create feelings of exclusion on teams.