Last week was 2020's National Inclusion week, an annual opportunity to celebrate everyday inclusion and share inspiring inclusion practices and ideas.  This year's theme was Each One, Reach One and I took the opportunity to join two virtual round table discussions covering the meaning of inclusion and how employers can become more inclusive, as well as listen to a podcast on how we can achieve virtual inclusion whilst we remain remote.  October also marks Black History month, a time for celebrating and remembering the achievements of Black people, how they have helped shape our world and the future impact they will have.  It's an important chance for me to learn and to support our business in raising the visibility and understanding of Black History Month.  October has so far set a strong foundation for coming together, celebrating difference and creating a sense of community that we all need at this time. 

Last week I watched the EDF Supply Chain National Inclusion week round table discussion and Inpulse's National Inclusion week webinar discussion.  My key takeaways from the EDF panel discussion included a call to action for organisations to drive a more people centred approach as we are still someway out from where we all aspire to be.  The panel discussed how inclusion is the most important thing of all if people are to be enabled to be the best they can be in the workplace.  Inclusion was described as a feeling, an emotion, whereby individuals feel respected, valued, safe and have a strong sense of belonging.  There was agreement that inclusion needed to be made mainstream, that it was the responsibility of all of us to get involved and that leadership had a crucial role to play in setting the right environment for inclusion by considering company values, expecting difference, role modelling and allowing people to be bold and brave.  

The group touched on imposter syndrome,  when an individual doubts their skills, talents or accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a "fraud" (wikipedia) and how it can affect anybody.  They suggested we can all feel marginalised at times.   The panel offered a perspective on whether a company's employer brand and talent attraction strategy attracts or repels people and went on to encourage organisations to consider how they better show themselves as inclusive employers.  In addition, the audience were prompted to consider 'integrating' new joiners into a business rather than thinking of it as onboarding.  Setting targets, taking micro-actions every day to drive inclusion and active selection of under-represented groups were also practices the panel championed.  

Key takeaways from Inpulse's webinar discussion included the panel sharing their experiences of inclusion and the barriers they had felt at times in their careers such as family responsibilities and needing to leave meetings early to pick the children up, as well as how there is a conscious bias to better educated, higher academic achievers for certain roles in an organisation which expanded the debate to social mobility inclusion. The panel agreed that there often isn't an intention to exclude people, colleagues do this unwittingly sometimes because of lack of awareness of what is happening in other people's lives or from a lack of understanding and knowledge.  We all have a responsibility to educate ourselves on such areas.

Suggestions from the panel included establishing mentors, and in particular reverse mentoring, as a great initiative to support inclusion.  They also encouraged leaders to listen more, walk the talk and boost talent pools with a more diverse range of candidates.  Some organisations were cited as having implemented listening groups, to enable stronger employee voice and for leaders to be more visibly championing inclusion in their communications and culture of the business.

I listened with interest to HR Grapevine's podcast about the importance of workplace inclusion even whilst we're remote. With the coronavirus pandemic impacting employee groups in different ways, the presenters shared insights from HR professionals at Twitter, Aster Group and Guinness World Records about how the HR function can achieve virtual inclusion. Ideas included using neutral descriptions for virtual socials (rather than virtual drinks) and setting them at a time that is convenient for everyone to get involved, regular coffee mornings to keep in touch with people, regular pulse surveys, virtual committees, and providing the opportunity to take part in virtual games and activities that bring people together.  The presenters highlighted how running virtual events are by their very nature inclusive as they enable a broader audience to attend such as disabled people and those with caring responsibilities.

Plenty of food for thought then on National Inclusion week and I look forward to learning more and sharing more as we progress through Black History Month.  Look out Tomiloba Aluko's post, HR Advisor at Pick Everard on what Black History month means to her.

Elizabeth Hardwick-Smith is Director of HR and Training at Pick Everard.