11 April 2024 | Dr Jo Kandola

The 4 key behaviours of an inclusive colleague

Being inclusive goes beyond being aware of diversity and inclusion issues. It’s about taking action. We take a look at the four behaviours of inclusive people and what they do that makes them different.

‘Being inclusive’ can seem like a rather nebulous concept. How are inclusive team members different from their non-inclusive counterparts? What do they do that sets them apart? Our many years of experience at Pearn Kandola have shown that there are four key inclusive behaviours that individuals display that are crucial for creating a culture of inclusion at work.

Research consistently shows that inclusive companies and workplaces perform better than non-inclusive ones. For a start, there are huge benefits in terms of creativity and profitability, with studies by Deloitte showing that inclusive workplaces are six times more likely to be innovative and twice as likely to meet or exceed their financial goals. CIPD research into inclusive workplaces has also found that when people feel included, they report higher levels of performance, productivity, satisfaction and well-being. Yet we also know that inclusion doesn’t just miraculously ‘happen’. What makes the difference is people proactively behaving in an inclusive way.

Inclusive behaviour no. 1: Recognition

Inclusive people are able to recognise exclusive behaviours. We might think it’s easy to spot when someone is behaving in an exclusive way, but this isn’t always the case. While overt behaviours are usually easy to identify, small exclusive behaviours, known as micro-incivilities, can seem trivial or insignificant to outside observers and may even pass under the radar altogether.

A quick glance at the clock, mispronouncing someone’s name or failing to make eye contact might not seem particularly important to others, but these small behaviours send powerful signals to the person on the receiving end that they don’t belong and that they aren’t valued – and their cumulative impact can be huge. In a nutshell, if we don’t know what exclusion looks like, then we can’t do anything to stop it.

Inclusive behaviour no. 2: Empathy

Inclusive people are also empathetic. Being empathetic isn’t about feeling sorry for people or seeing them as victims, but rather about taking the time to understand their different lived experiences and perspectives. All of us have been on the receiving end of exclusion at some point in our lives. We may have encountered exclusive cliques at school, or been left off an event guest list, or had to sit on the bench while others got picked for the team – so we know how it feels.

As a result, therefore, we might be confident that we will be able to relate to other people’s experiences of exclusion. However, our own experiences of exclusion won’t necessarily be the same as someone else’s, and the further removed we are from the identity of a particular group, the less able we are to naturally empathise with their experiences. Educating ourselves about different cultures, backgrounds and points of view enables us to develop empathy with people who are different to ourselves and to better understand when they are experiencing exclusion – and how it affects them.

Inclusive behaviour no.3: Action

People who are inclusive also take continuous and appropriate action to support those who are subjected to exclusion. They’re active allies who seek to understand the experiences of colleagues from marginalised or minority groups and know how to take appropriate action to support them if they are being treated unfairly or being excluded.

We’ve all seen things happen to other people that we’ve not been comfortable with but haven’t acted. This might have been because we didn’t know what to do, or because we were concerned about how any intervention might be received. We may have been afraid of getting an aggressive response from the person who’s exhibiting the exclusive behaviour – or we might have wanted to do something but been worried about getting it wrong. However, the simple fact is that if people don’t take action to challenge exclusive behaviour, it’s going to continue.

Inclusive behaviour no. 4: Psychological safety

Finally, inclusive people know how to create psychological safety – spaces where people feel safe to speak up, make suggestions, ask questions or raise concerns without the fear of any negative comeback. Recognition, empathy and action all contribute towards the creation of psychological safety.

When people know that others recognise exclusive treatment and empathise with them when it happens, they feel more able to voice their feelings and concerns and share their experiences. And when individuals feel that their colleagues and leaders genuinely care about their well-being and are prepared to take action to support them, they are much more likely to want to bring their whole selves to work, contribute to the organisation and give their best.

Start creating an inclusive culture in your organisation

Creating an inclusive culture at work can improve employee satisfaction, foster a sense of belonging for all and help your business thrive. Want to know how to get more of your people being more inclusive, more of the time? Get in touch with us today to find out how Inclusive Teams training can help you to create an inclusive working environment for your people and unlock their true potential.