How to be more inclusive
ACCA has always strived to ensure that accountancy is a profession open to everyone and that it enables us all to play a full and valuable role in society.
Now many employers also put diversity and inclusion at the heart of their agenda, and look to recruit staff who appreciate diversity and who demonstrate inclusive behaviour.
Do you fulfil those criteria? If not, do you need to tweak your behaviour or your mindset?
Business psychologist Jan P de Jonge explains: ‘Your mindset lives in you; it’s not immediately visible to others. It is a range of thoughts and beliefs that are also influenced by your deeper values and the ideals to which you subscribe. Your mindset influences and shapes your behaviour that others can see.’
He goes on to say it’s therefore clear that if you want your behaviour to be more inclusive, first you need to focus on adjusting your mindset.
How to develop an inclusive mindset
De Jonge believes the first step is to recognise that ‘inclusion’ isn’t just some abstract concept. ‘Are the words that you say to yourself compatible with inclusivity? If so, you’re half-way there.’
Examine and confront your unconscious biases, too.
‘It is human to make assumptions, it’s part of our make-up and how we survive,’ says Lisa Florit, career development coach and mentor at ALTO.
‘These mental short-cuts enable us to navigate the world around us,’ she explains.
This means that we all have unconscious biases – we categorise people without realising it and we prefer one thing, person or group over others based on unsupported prejudices. In fact, medical research proves that
if you are a human being with a brain, you have biases.
Some common unconscious biases are preferences for race and gender. Another common bias is the tendency to connect with others who share similar experiences, interests and views. ‘We feel safe and secure surrounded by people who are like us,’ Florit says.
This leads to thinking that our viewpoint or way of life is simply the best.
‘But just because someone else’s opinion or behaviour is not the same as ours doesn’t mean that it’s wrong or of little value,’ says Florit.
De Jonge says that the best way to help reduce such prejudices is to embrace exposure to differences: different people, unfamiliar cultures and habits. ‘Be open to opinions and values that are unlike yours. Postpone your judgment, too.’
Being inflexible and stuck in your ways also leads to exclusion of other people and their views.
‘You need to recognise that things change and that you must adjust your mindset and adapt your behaviour all the time,’ says Liz Sebag-Montefiore, people development expert at HR consultancy 10Eighty.
Inclusive behaviour at work
Including other people means treating your colleagues with respect based on the notion that everyone is equal.
It means allowing everyone to be true to themselves and not have to conform to stereotypes, says de Jonge.
It also means allowing everyone to have a ‘say’.
Sebag-Montefiore says: ‘People need to be confident they have a voice and a seat at the table – they need to know that they can get involved and contribute, and that their opinions are valued.’
What can you do to ‘include’ your colleagues more?
Florit suggests you question your first impressions and your behaviour towards people. ‘Take a moment to slow down and observe your reactions and the reactions of others.’
De Jonge adds that, when you scrutinise what you said and did, or chose not to do, and the way you went about it, you should ask yourself how welcoming and ‘including’ your behaviour was.
Also, put yourself in other people’s shoes – how might they perceive a given situation? What would their view be? Ask them what they think.
Florit says: ‘Listen carefully to what they say. And I mean, really listen. Often we are not really listening, we are just waiting to speak!’
Help break down barriers to inclusion, too.
‘Talk to your colleagues – how can you make each other feel more valued and respected? What biases and behaviours help or hinder inclusion?’ Sebag-Montefiore suggests.
Always set a good example and be accountable for your own behaviour.
‘Also, demand accountability from others when their behaviour causes people to be, or feel, excluded,’ de Jonge says.
You can also suggest a reverse mentoring scheme. ‘In this way, you can share your perspectives with the more senior colleagues and therefore help make your workplace more inclusive,’ says Florit.
Misconceptions about inclusion
If the assumption is that everyone is equal, does it also mean we are all the same? What about our unique talents? What about ‘standing out from the crowd’? You are so often told the latter is necessary if you want to have a successful professional career.
‘It’s a misconception that inclusion equates having to give up your uniqueness,’ de Jonge says. ‘In fact, inclusion celebrates our individuality and allows multiple identities to coexist.’
Some people perceive inclusion/exclusion to be just about gender, race and cultural background.
‘But it also involves other traits such as age, disability, sexual orientation, marital status, political affiliation, even thinking style,’ Florit says. You need to recognise all these potential unconscious biases to be able to adjust your behaviour and be more inclusive.
Another common misconception is that unconscious bias can be fixed. ‘We can increase our understanding of it and of the impact it has but we cannot fully eradicate it,’ says Florit.
That is why it’s so important to continually ‘check’ your behaviour and make adjustments as and when necessary.
Finally, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that inclusion is solely the responsibility of HR or leadership. ‘We should all contribute to building a culture that champions inclusion in the workplace,’ says Sebag-Montefiore.
Discover what else you can do at ACCA’s Inclusion in action hub
Iwona Tokc-Wilde, journalist
This article was first published in Student Accountant in March 2021