• Inclusion; The key ingredient for successful diversity

    Author(s): Tom S. Davis, DNAP, CRNA, MAE

    Social media is abuzz with strong opinions about diversity, social justice, and equality for all.  Facebook, twitter, and professional discussion boards such as AANA connect display hundreds of comments from passionate people who want their opinions to be heard.  Overnight, diversity has become a hot topic for discussion throughout our society.  While cultural diversity is important, it is the assurance of inclusion, both in society and in the workplace, that adds equality to the equation.

    Diversity versus Inclusion; what’s the difference?


    Throughout its history, the United States has been referred to as a cultural melting pot.  We are a nation of immigrants where most people found their way to our country seeking an opportunity for a better life while others were captured, enslaved, and brought to our shores against their wishes.  Regardless of the circumstances for immigration, every individual currently in our society adds a unique perspective to the diversity of the nation.

    Without question, we are a diverse nation; however, that does not ensure that all people are respected and treated equally.  The decades of struggle by women and African Americans to obtain the right to vote highlights an instance of segments of a diverse population that were excluded from full citizenship and serves as an example of diversity without inclusion.


    Inclusion is living one’s life with the belief that all people are important and deserving of respect.  It is overtly manifested by behavior affirming that the best and most creative ideas arise from many ideas and mandates participation by each segment of our diverse population.  Writing for Forbes.comauthor Dan Schawbel stresses the importance of workplace inclusion by noting, “Inclusion is a call to action within the workforce that means actively involving every employee’s ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches and styles to maximize business success.”

    On the job, behavior ensuring that every member of the team can participate fully and equally in creative thinking, problem solving, and the development of innovative practice protocols are examples of inclusion.  In an inclusive environment, all voices are heard, and all opinions are thoughtfully considered.

    Creating inclusion in the workplace produces positive consequences as noted by The Denver Foundation;

    • Higher job satisfaction
    • Lower job turnover
    • Higher employee morale
    • Improved problem solving
    • Increased creativity and innovation
    • Increased organizational flexibility
    • Improved quality of applicants for open positions
    • Decreased vulnerability to legal challenges

    There is no downside to a culture of inclusion in the workplace.

    Avoid subtle forms of exclusion

    Overt exclusion involves behavior that is blatantly discriminatory and is illegal in most workplaces; However, covert forms of subtle discrimination are more difficult to identify and occur more frequently.  Author Jane O’Reilly identifies behavior such as failure to respond to a greeting from a colleague or looking at the phone while talking to a person as being dismissive and are examples of social exclusion.  Psychology today author Lynne Soraya adds to the list of workplace behavior that exclude team members and increases polarization of the workgroup.  She identifies the following as killers of inclusion:

    • Publicly reprimanding of an employee
    • Selectively not inviting all stakeholders to a meeting
    • Using sarcasm / ridicule when speaking to another employee
    • Dismissing those who do not speak up quickly as having nothing to say
    • Judging a colleague as less than committed if he/she does not participate in off duty activities
    • Committing a colleague to travel or extra work without discussing it with them
    • Punishing an associate for speaking up truthfully when something is not right
    • Cutting off and dismissing a person if they have a complaint
    • Finishing a sentence or thought for another person if they speak slowly
    • Bullying in any form

    Writing for Quill.comauthor Lindsay Kramer adds isolation, minimizing, and ignoring to the list of subtle behaviors that exclude people from full participation on a work team; behavior that must be taboo in the workplace.

    Build an inclusive workplace culture

    Human Resources has done their job and staffed your workplace with a multi-cultural, multi-gender, and multi-generational team; they have created diversity.  Now, it is up to you to add the magic ingredient of inclusion to capitalize on the ingenuity that each person adds to the group.  Here are some behaviors that will promote inclusion and transform the culture of your workplace

    Examine your assumptions and become aware of hidden bias that you may have.  Ask yourself, “What if the opposite were true?”   For example, instead of assuming that James is not capable of taking on a project, consider that he is fully capable but has never been encouraged or given the opportunity to show his talent.

    Seek opinions and ideas from a broad range of people.  Move beyond the comfort zone of your inner circle and ask for opinions from staff members who will most be affected by your decision.  Have a small, diverse group of workers meet to discuss issues and go around the table to ensure that each person speaks.  Listen attentively and if someone does not express an opinion the first time around the table, go back to that person and ask him/her to comment on a suggestion made by another person.

    Focus, listen, and ask questions when you are speaking to others.  Even the quietest people among the team have opinions and often they are quiet due to a history of being marginalized.  Actively listening and asking questions to expand the person’s train of thought sends a clear message that they are valued and builds a sense of inclusion.

    Defuse drama and have zero tolerance for gossip or bullying in your workplace.  Drama focuses on a problem, creates a victim and is divisive to a team.   Instead, focus on finding a solution and encourage mentoring and coaching.  My previous article, 4 keys to eliminating disruptive behavior has additional tips for leaders who actively fight drama in the workplace.

    Showcase the achievements of each team member and tie their individual accomplishments to the success of the team.  Demonstrate your belief that all jobs are important and praise grassroots workers for their commitment to the job and the team.  Post a Kudos Board in the break room and spotlight each team member several times per year and turn all birthdays into special days hailed by the entire team.

    Promote cultural awareness by celebrating ethnic special days.  Plan festive displays in the break room for Cinco de Mayo, Kwanzaa, St. Patrick’s Day, Ramadan, and other holidays that are celebrated by individual members of the team.

    Encourage multigenerational collaboration among team members.  The Boomers on your team were born and raised in a world without cell phones or computers whereas the youngsters cannot imagine a world without them.  My previous article, Older workers strengthen the team,notes that combining the street sense of the elders with the tech savvy of Gen Y & Z is a great formula for success.  In a highly productive workplace, mentoring is two way and trans-generational with each demographic learning valuable lessons from the other.

    Build a gender-neutral environment where rewards and recognition are based on achievement.  Harvard Business Review author Tara Sophia Mohr advises against listing qualifications for a job because women don’t apply unless they meet 100% of the items whereas men apply when they meet 60% of the qualifications.  Rather, list the desired behavior and achievements expected from the new person and more women will apply.  Writing in Forbes Magazineauthor Peggy Yu advocates gender neutral language in all management policies to include pay and benefits.  In addition, she notes that gender friendly bathrooms complete with pads and tampons promote an inclusive culture.

    Diversity and Inclusion

    Several centuries of American history have documented that diversity without inclusion marginalizes segments of the population and sets the stage for the protests that we are currently witnessing across the country.  Politicians can pontificate and pundits can tell us what we ought to do, but meaningful change will only happen at the grassroots level.  I cannot change the world, but I can change my world starting with my workplace and that mandates a culture of inclusion.  It is time to stop talking and get to work.

    Tom S. Davis, DNAP, CRNA, MAE, is the former Chief of the Division of Nurse Anesthesia at The Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, and former Chief CRNA at (Baylor) Scott and White, Main OR in Temple, TX. Col. Davis, USAF (Ret.), is well-known throughout the Nurse Anesthesia community for his leadership in clinical anesthesia, including developing the first distance education model while on the graduate faculty at Kansas University Medical Center.   Recognized for his expertise in team-building across department lines, Tom is a sought-after speaker, educator, author, and leadership trainer. Follow @procrnatom on Twitter.