The Whitehall & Industry Group: Creating a Culture of Belonging in the Workplace

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Rungway Founder Julie Chakraverty recently led a discussion at The Whitehall & Industry Group, (podcast available here). 

In the session, Julie highlights three main themes: 

  1. The importance of genuinely listening to your workforce as individuals

  2. How to create a culture of belonging in the workplace 

  3. How to implement new forms of data intelligence to address issues quickly

Listening to the workforce as individuals: 

The workforce and what good management looks like has changed significantly in the last ten years, with two particular transformations: 

  • Risk management is now a major consideration - Risk assessment is much more formalized now as boards recognize its potential to impact performance and brand. With unexpected political events such as Brexit and Trump, boards are preparing for potentially radical government policies that have never been tested before.  

  • Transparency – The publishing of gender pay gaps and the #MeToo movement would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. These events are now forcing boards and companies to become radically more transparent. 

Transparency can have alarming results. Take mental health, for instance. Statistics powered by Metlife, The Law Society, Deloitte and The Banking Standards Board have revealed some shocking developments regarding how workers truly feel: 

  • 70% believe that admitting to a mental health issue would have a negative effect at work 

  • Less than 1 in 5 feel that organizations have a positive outlook on mental health. 

  • In banking specifically, 40% feel under excessive pressure, and one-fourth believe the job has a negative effect on their overall wellbeing.

  • 39% of legal trainees have suffered a mental health issue, double the year before

  • Almost 50% feel they have a pressing issue to tell their leaders but are too afraid to 

  • 1 in 5 women won’t speak up at all for fear of being seen as a pest 

These statistics show a worrying trend of increasingly disengaged workers who do not feel confident to take action or feel supported. Any experienced leader can imagine how the continuation of unheard voices and lost ideas will depress future strategy, performance, and the talent pool.     

How to create a culture of belonging in the workplace 

Most organizations will have at least one format of surveying employees, and will most likely have a Diversity & Inclusion function that might cover training (e.g. unconscious bias training), target setting (on gender / ethnic pay and leadership representation) or specialist coaching (“fixing” the minorities). 

However, while these could certainly increase the “amount” of diverse people in your company, they are unlikely to materially change whether those people feel included. 

Julie Chakraverty highlights that this is because inclusion is what we do and the behaviour we demonstrate every day, and that doesn’t come from initiatives or policies. Creating an inclusive culture means management need to start seeing how they are coming across to people.  

Bias has many dimensions and the world around us shows bias against colour, gender and many other attributes. Can we be truly certain that we would have equal trust in someone completely different to us? Inclusion has to mean that someone very different from us will genuinely have an equal opportunity to shine. This is not an HR or business or policy issue; it starts and finishes us as individuals. 

Implementing Data Intelligence to Address these Issues

Leaders need to address this head on, by opening up new conversations and new opportunities for innovation, allowing people to take risks and creating environments without judgement, where all can grow and make a contribution. 

Julie discusses how on Rungway, it’s all about belonging. The technology enables people from all walks of life to post questions anonymously, receiving company-wide responses in real-time. All colleagues can follow the dialogue and share in that learning and role modeling. Companies themselves surface so much learning from those questions, and can start to change how their business sees, thinks and feels. 

In some clients, women are a third of the workforce, but they ask two-thirds of the anonymous questions. Although the Rungway platform allows questions to be posted either anonymously or named, metrics reveal that 95% of users prefer anonymity. 30% of all posts reference one word: manager. 

Why does this matter? In a post-Brexit climate, in-office “banter” about nationality can create a real awkwardness for those who find it hard to speak up or truly fit in.      

The digital platform also directly affects the level of psychological safety in the workplace, where employees (particularly women) feel the need to look like they have everything ‘together’, that they know all the answers and are always competent. But unless people feel genuinely safe - safe enough to ask any question they like - it’s hard to create a culture of true belonging and trust.     

The best leaders know they need to understand their employees’ emotional wellbeing, to be responsive, engaging and authentic. They provide a true voice for everyone, no matter who they are, and for the fruits of those conversations to be shared with everyone. 

 
Julie Chakraverty