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The Great Resignation must lead to more inclusive workplaces

Written by Dr Grace Lordan on Wednesday, 06 April 2022. Posted in Leadership, HR, People

With employers being crippled by resignations and team churn, the instinctive response is often to revert to old habits, shore up long-term employees and look in the same talent pools for new recruits.

The Great Resignation must lead to more inclusive workplaces

With employers being crippled by resignations and team churn, the instinctive response is often to revert to old habits, shore up long-term employees and look in the same talent pools for new recruits.

However, it shouldn’t just be employees that are using the pandemic as an opportunity to reconsider their values and options. Employers too need to use this period of change and introspection to consider what they stand for and how they can create more inclusive environments.

My hope is that The Great Resignation is followed by The Great Recruitment – where companies will actively embrace inclusive practices. Furthermore, the future of work needs to take into account the demands of existing employees. Offering sustainable and inclusive cultures keeps employees loyal to the businesses they work for. And retaining talent is certainly cheaper than hiring new employees. 

To create this inclusive culture, I would urge businesses to invest in creating inclusive leaders. 

Often when people think of culture change they think about tone from the top. Tone from the top includes the ethical values and principles exemplified by people with high levels of seniority in an organisation, typically at the executive level. By having top-level executives lead by example and having these values included in organisational policies, the desired inclusive behaviours can spread downwards and be adopted by other employees, thereby influencing internal culture.

However, tone from the top may be unsuccessful in shifting workplace culture when people are resistant to change. For various reasons, employees may not embrace the changing culture and could refuse to adopt pro-inclusion behaviours. As a result, efforts towards inclusion stagnate.

In organisations with a clear hierarchy, middle managers are often the critical point where culture change initiatives get stuck if they do not assist in pushing forward an inclusive culture.  Should middle managers embrace an inclusive leadership style, it won’t be necessary to highlight the tone from the top to convince middle managers of the benefits of diversity and inclusion. It will also be much easier to attract and retain diverse talent amidst the great resignation. 

Separately, when people think of culture change they may also think of compliance-based inclusion.   A common approach of compliance-based inclusion is setting quotas or targets an organisation should reach to employ diverse groups at each level within an organisation. 

Having tangible diversity goals can be a great asset to improving an organisation’s D&I strategy. But compliance-based mechanisms will only bring a firm so far. If an individual gets a seat in the C-suite because of a target or quota, they will have more of a voice compared to before they had the seat. However, their voice will be less impactful than if they were brought to the C-suite due to their credentials alone.  Therefore, there is always a gap between what compliance-based mechanisms can achieve in setting out to inspire organisational-level change and what large numbers of inclusive leaders can achieve collectively.

Increased diversity does not naturally lead to increased inclusivity or better outcomes. Therefore, it is necessary to nurture inclusive leaders. Something important occurs when a team has an inclusive leader. The progression of each team member is determined only by their skills, ability, and effort. In other words, there is a true meritocracy. Inclusive cultures occur when organisations have a sufficient number of inclusive leaders to ensure that tipping takes place. In other words, there are enough teams led by inclusive leaders so that the organisation as a whole ends up with an inclusive culture.

Moving forward, I am certain that inclusive leadership is a substantial factor in countering The Great Resignation. Positive business outcomes will result if business leaders can put inclusion at the heart of their leadership style in the workplace. The businesses that invest in the creation of inclusive leaders will emerge as winners and build cohesive work cultures where the best talent is retained. 

Dr Grace Lordan, Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative and Associate Professor in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics.

About the Author

Dr Grace Lordan

Dr Grace Lordan

Dr Grace Lordan is Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative and Associate Professor at the London School of Economics. Grace is an economist and her research is focused on quantifying the benefits of inclusion within firms, as well as designing interventions that level the playing field for under-represented talent. Grace is an expert advisor to the UK government and is on the Women in Finance Charter’s advisory board. Think Big is her first book.

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