"Hi, my name is Nuzhat, and this is what inclusion means to me"
Inclusion for me conjures up many images, thoughts and feelings that relate to a sense of ‘belonging’. I believe it is an integral part of any inclusive experience. The quality of that human experience is measured by a range of honourable behaviours such as respect, personal courage, fairness, valuing difference, and compassion.
Let’s focus on personal courage, a courage which enables us to speak up– rather than mute us into bystanders. A courage that inspires us to challenge a person and/or situation when we witness exclusion. A courage when applied to inclusion can bring the strength of different perspectives to problem-solve in the workplace. It is true that while personal courage can highlight complexities and the risks involved, wouldn’t you agree that being heard to impact change is better than sitting on the side lines?
Inclusion at its best
My top three criteria of what inclusion means to me at work:
- Our Boards and senior leadership reflect and represent the communities we serve and leaders are out there fronting inclusion, leading impactful change.
- Our culture is one that facilitates and encourages difficult meaningful conversations, where everyone is heard, and can speak up without fear.
- Zero tolerance for actions and behaviours that prevent people from thriving, and sustaining optimum wellbeing.
Faith and Belief inclusion
According to the 2011 census approximately 75% of the UK adult population profess they have a faith or belief, yet we know that conversations about one’s faith and belief seldom enter the workplace.
Early on in my career I made a conscious decision that I would ‘bring my whole authentic self’ to work. My faith is an integral part of who I am, it underpins my values and drives me to serve humanity. I share this because I feel it is vital to understand what makes staff deliver their best and feel included, helping us as leaders to nurture healthy teams and successful organisations.
Being heard and respected for one’s opinions and contributions can only make staff feel valued and appreciated. Inclusion for me is a workplace that facilitates, encourages and welcomes conversations about faith and belief in all it’s business.
Exclusion on the other hand creates a hostile work environment affecting mental well-being and performance. Furthermore, it prevents organisations from harnessing employee talents for organisational success. A 2017 study conducted by research consultancy ComRes, highlighted that up to a million people in Britain may have experienced faith and belief related discrimination at work.
How faith and belief inclusive is your workplace?
An inclusive workplace is where people who practice their religion or belief are able to do so with ease and no fear of detrimental impact. Inclusion to me means creating an environment that supports staff to be the best they can be by bringing their whole authentic self to work.
Having witnessed faith inclusion & exclusion across organisations during my extensive career, below are 10 inclusive practical things I’d like to encourage:
- Religious attire, such as headscarves, turbans or other symbols of faith, are welcome and promoted, and do not impede/hinder career development and progression.
- Allocated space for people to pray, meditate, or reflect whilst at work, for use at any time.
- Respect that some colleagues practising their faith and belief might need to pray 2 to 3 times during standard working hours. Prayers can take as little as 5-10 minutes.
- Staff afforded time to attend congregational prayers if they wish. It’s a religious observance for Muslims to attend Friday prayers, Friday being the holiest day of the week for Muslims. It falls within standard lunchtimes (1-2pm).
- Staff cafeterias, events and parties offer halal/kosher/vegan food.
- Several faiths; Bahism, Buddhism, Islam, Jainism, Sikhism, some Christian sects, can discourage or prohibit alcohol and being in its presence. As such, thinking about offering alternatives to after work socials that don’t centre around bars/pubs would be inclusive to colleagues. This gesture can go a long way to dispelling feelings of exclusion, that force some colleagues to decline the only social opportunities to bond.
- Knowing when your colleagues celebrate their religious festivals and that they may want to take time off to celebrate and better still celebrate with them!
- HR policies are reflective of employees' faith and belief practices.
- Development and promotions - Forensic analysis of staff data that informs you about who is progressing up the grades or not and act swiftly to improve.
- Most importantly be inclusive. Be inclusive in recruiting diverse Executive Boards and senior leaders that include visible people of faith and belief in senior roles, who feel comfortable and confident talking about how their faith and belief adds value. Be inclusive in speaking up and recognising how wider events may impact employees of specific faiths or beliefs. This is an indicator and product of great leadership and management.
Inclusion is not a natural consequence of a diverse organization; rather it is designed strategically to transform the organisational culture to one where everyone’s skills and talents have no borders.
While the Civil Service is steering in the right direction, Covid- 19 has sharply brought in to focus the need to act faster. Together let’s make 2020 the year that we send out a message of personal courage; that Faith and Belief Inclusion is celebrated, promoted and supported in a Brilliant Civil Service.