Designing Inclusive Employee Experiences.

Designing Inclusive Employee Experiences.

What is an Inclusive Employee Experience? I would define it as an experience by which every employee feels positively connected to their organisation by being consistently recognised as a valuable individual. If you think this is easy to obtain status, think twice. Why? Because most of your processes, even if often designed with all the best intentions, are made to make people feel all but valuable individuals. Way too often, we adopt efficiency criteria to develop one-size-fits-all approaches, that ultimately neglect each and everyone individuality.

I think that the crafting of Inclusive Experiences for employees is truly the next step of Inclusion and Diversity programmes that aim a building a real sense of belonging for the employees. And I think this is an essential element of the Intentional Design Process we want to carry forward, as it creates the connective tissue between the individual and the organisation.

With this post, I want to quickly cover the practical aspect of aligning the Experience of an organisation to its diverse employee base. The first aspect to consider is the revision of policies and processes to make them inclusive. This is the “hard part”, the essential plumbing that is needed to make 

June has been named “Pride Month” since a couple of years, and I’ve decided to use this occasion to examine what’s up with LGBTQ+ rights on the workplace. In a series of posts, I will try to explain my view and personal experience trying to see it from the different angles that I use in my blog.

  1. Personal: Myself, Out at Work.
  2. People: The value of Diversity for LGBT+ people
  3. Organisation: Designing for Belonging, not just Inclusion.
  4. Experience: Designing Inclusive Employee Experiences (this post).
  5. Inspiration: 10 Essential Diversity and Inclusion Blogs.

I will also publish two book reviews on topics that are connected with Inclusion and Diversity. I’ve written more on the topic in the past. Two good places where to start are: The Business Case for Diversity and Belonging and From Diversity and Inclusion to Belonging.

Why Inclusive Experiences?

The reason is simple. We all react differently to events. A one-size-fits-all approach does not serve us well as human beings. Unfortunately, the excessive focus on pure efficiency has driven us away from the Human Touch necessary for many of our HR processes to deliver value.

This is further amplified by the diversity connotation of each individual. My propensity to interact with the organisation might be impacted by my gender, racial Belonging, marital status, sexual orientation, religious and political views and so on. To give a current example, some studies already show how the Covid-19 pandemics is impacting different communities differently. And this will have a significant impact on the return to work, especially where mental health concerns are met.

So how do we design Inclusive Experiences? There are two steps: fixing the policies and processes to remove any discriminatory content, and then genuinely reflecting on what Experience means through the concept of the Moments of Truth.

Policy Alignments

When we think about diversity in Employee Experience, we often immediately think about “Service Alignment”. The basic idea is to ensure that what you offer to employees is not discriminatory, and you try to extend services and benefits to all diverse employees. Let’s see some examples.

On e of the area where this alignment needs to take place is around Life Events. From a policy perspective, the adjustment might seem simple, as in many cases, it is just about extending existing practices. However, there are a few concerns to mention. If we focus on LGBT+ diverse employees, for example, the significant alignments should be around the following items:

  • Marriage or Civil Partnership. Same-sex marriage or alternatives such as civil-unions are now a reality in more than 40 countries. The extension of life events policies and processes can mean, for example, adapting Leave of Absence policies to include these events. Issues may arise if the country does not yet fully recognise these unions. Many companies do recognise a union also if celebrated in another country. Of course, some aspects mandatorily need to be aligned with local legislation (surname changes, for example). But there is a lot that can be done to align policies internally. Same needs to be also recognised in terms of dissolution cases.
  • Child Adoption. Legislation about Child Adoption is even more varied, and often the question here is broader than LGBT+ diverse employees. Some countries, for example, do not recognise equal rights in case of adoption compared to people naturally having children, in fact, for instance, of paternal leave. Also, here, there is a lot of room for organisations to align policies, trying to make them consistent from an employee perspective independently from specific local legislation provisions.
  • Gender Transition. This is one of the most problematic events in many countries, due to the restrictive legislation that many countries have. Which is also why it is not uncommon for some people to seek support for the transition process in another country. The question of gender transition is, of course, much broader than simple policy alignment, but I often see significant flaws in this area. Almost every Life Event can potentially be impacted by a Gender Transition process. And the Transition itself becomes a milestone event for the person involved. It’s not just about the adjustment of personnel records, but it is also about the entire management of internal communication. Elements like dress policies and many behavioural rules (like bathroom usage) all need to be reviewed. An external specialist help might be required to be indeed inclusive here.

The area where a lot of focus needs to be given is Benefits Alignment. I want to concentrate on two aspects which are very important here specifically:

  1. Dependents Inclusions: many benefit plans include the optional or automatic extension to dependents. Here is where it is essential to consider the specific status, for example, of same-sex couples, independently from legal recognition. In many countries, it is already familiar to recognise extension to the partner also if there is not a formal statutory provision. Unless forbidden explicitly by local legislation, it is crucial to specifically allow this, and verify with the benefits provider all the related rules (one of the biggest problems is often linked to the formalisation of these de-facto unions, and their dissolution, another is the possibility of naming as a beneficiary for example of a life insurance a person with whom there is no formal linkage).
  2. Health Benefits Extensions: an area that is often more problematic to be thought through, is that of Health Benefit extension to specific issues, such as gender transition (which in many countries can be a costly process. Should the health care package cover the entire process?) or surrogacy practices. What about psychological support? Many elements need to be reviewed, and also here what is important is taking an inclusion lens, looking at good practices implemented, but especially checking what is valuable also from a business perspective.

The alignment process can be a lengthy one. Many companies often face the issue of asking “do we really need this?” just because they never had a concrete case. The case of Gender Transition is a perfect example. There are so many cases of people who chose to leave their job, to avoid inquiring for support internally. In my experience, the step of creating inclusive policies and making people aware of this will help prepare yourself when there is a case.

Moments of Truth

Policy and Process alignment is only the first step. The reality is that we need to consider, as we have already discussed, the real Moments of Truth. But which are the one that matters from a diversity perspective? Here a (not final) list of possibilities:

I acknowledge my diversity

This is probably the most challenging moment to describe in terms of process and steps. Also, because we often assume that diversity is always visible. But we know it is not always like that. Recruiting is often the process where this might happen, and the first live interview is where people live this Experience. But there are cases where the MOT occurs later. Let’s see a few examples of where things might go wrong (based on my experience).

  • Oh, you’re a woman!. This case happened in Italy where a candidate carried a typically male name. During the first live interview with the hiring manager, he started the conversation with this sentence. Not the best way to set the scene for a good interview. The same can happen with other diversity elements, such as race, disabilities, religious beliefs (for example when displaying religious symbols) etc. But it can also emerge from the conversation. How often are there family-related questions during interviews? For an LGBT+ that might be the moment in which they might (or might not) declare their diversity. In any case, the problem is always how to manage the anxiety of the candidate at this moment, and the risk for them to possibly feel discriminated (or, on the contrary, well accepted) because of the diverse background they have.
  • Oh, you are gay?. This case happened in the HR admin office when an employee had presented some documentation related to the Pension Plan, where he had introduced the details of his partner. There are many cases where employees are not fully open about their sexual orientation at work. Maybe by choice, they have limited this to only a few people. Whatever the reason, this is often a crucial moment for a gay person, because it “makes it official”. From that moment on, there is a formal trace on some system about your diverse status. Also, here, the risk of feeling judged is an essential factor in the Experience.
  • WTF? This case happened in a store, when an employee returned, after a medical leave, and introduced himself back as male, after having lived for 22 years as female. The medical leave was due to breast removal surgery. In this case, the company had a process to manage a return to work, but only in the office. Stores typically do not have full-time HR staff, and the return for this employee was poorly managed, even if at the end, the entire team was indeed able to handle the situation well over time.

The common aspect here is How good will the employee feel about the consideration of their diversity during these moments? What do we do as an organisation to ensure these become positive moments for the employee? BTW, I have used examples on LGBT+ cases, but the same can happen in case of disabilities, changes in religious confession and so on. Managers play an enormous role in these Moments, confirming how important they always are in the management of the Experience.

I voice a contrary opinion.

This is probably one of the essential Moments of Truth for any relationship between an employee and an organisation because it tests the culture and the leadership capability of a manager. When thinking about this moment, there are two aspects of inclusion that we should consider:

  • The inherent value of diversity: the entire concept of Inclusion and Diversity programmes is to increase the difference in opinion in any level of the organisation. This is the prime element that drives the business case for diversity, as it enables creativity and innovation.
  • The propensity of diverse people to express themselves. Different studies show that groups of diverse people have different tendencies to voice their opinions. We need to build a keen awareness of this aspect. Typically women tend to express their contrary opinion less than men. But differences are depending on their racial Belonging, for example.

The aspect here is How good will the employee feel about the consideration given to their voice? A critical moment, which is not linked to the acceptance of a different perspective, but rather to its inclusion and attention in the discussion.

I apply for an internal role or project.

This Moment of Truth aligns in many ways with the first one we have just covered. However, there is an additional element to be considered here—the perception of fairness in the selection process. I am mainly focusing on the internal one, because it is the one where employees collect more “impressions”, from career movements they see, gossips and feedbacks from colleagues and so on.

Internal career management is already a complicated issue for any organisation to manage. Fairness is a very complicated issue to manage internally because it is mostly based on perception, not solely hard facts.

Also here, one of the aspects that organisations need to manage is the propensity of individuals to apply for the next steps. We are aware, for example, that women typically think twice before proposing themselves for a new job. This can be amplified by other diversity factors.

The factor to observe here is How good will the employee feel about their opportunities to succeed in obtaining the job? The process needs to be fair, but above all, the narrative around it needs to support the fairness of every selection. BTW, one of the issues for many companies in trying to retain diverse talent is precisely linked to the fact that many feel there is not enough fairness, and don’t even try the internal application process route, preferring to leave the company.

I ask for a salary raise.

This is always an exciting Moment of Truth (and one for which tons of articles are written, often purely from a negotiation technique point of view). I want to see it from a particular angle though: an employee that ask for a raise because he has evidence of a diversity pay gap.

In many countries, there is emerging legislation both around equal pay and pay gap, particularly around gender. Although these phenomena are different (equal pay refers to the fact that people are paid equally for the same job, whereas pay gap refers to the fact that group of people are paid, on average, less or more than other groups considering an entire organisation), they have been driving a lot of action from many companies. Gender Pay Gap reporting is now mandatory, for example, in the UK. With data now available, there is now the question on what can I do with the information?

Fixing pay gaps is particularly not comfortable. The cost impact of an immediate alignment would be challenging to manage for most businesses; plus, there are also other elements to consider linked to career access.

In any case, I wanted to simply raise the awareness that discussions around pay gaps can become more frequent, and often will encompass the demand for fairness and equality in pay.

The factor to observe here is How good will the employee feel about equality and fairness in pay?

Conclusion: Driving Value through Inclusive Employee Experience.

Deloitte reports that the behaviour of executives and managers can drive a difference of 70 percentage points between the proportion of diverse employees who feel included and those who do not. Recognising the Moments of Truth where diverse employees interact with specific expectations with the organisation is critical in ensuring that there is a defined and positive perception of respect. This is the only way we can truly drive a sense of belonging, which is our ultimate goal.

Middle Managers, as usual, have a truly vital role to play in this. Particularly with their ability to recognise bias in what they do. Again, the issue is about Intentional Design of all the aspects of the organisation. Even if we design the correct cultural artefacts (values, diversity statements), and run the appropriate training to the entire population, we need to develop the touch-points so that they are consistent in carrying the inclusion message.

The journey is complicated, and so far, I have not yet heard enough attention and focus on this specific angle of viewing Employee Experience.

With this article, I also conclude my “Pride Month” series. I started with my personal story, have looked at the concept of Value of Diversity and how the Organisation Evolution Framework can support an intentional design for Belonging. I hope to have stimulated some discussion and a bit of awareness on the topic. 

Please feel free to add your notes and comments below.

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Cover Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

  1. […] Designing Inclusive Employee Experiences. […]

  2. Avatar of Jennifer Castro
    Jennifer Castro

    Hi my name is Jennifer Castro and I came across this blog due to a homework assignment. But I am glad I did because I never realized the importance of inclusive experiences for employees. Every person is one of a kind and there should be an inclusive experience for everyone not just what fits under the one size fits all. Diversity needs to be recognized more so no one is feeling like their rights are being taken away from them or they are not being acknowledged. An example that was used in the blog is why can’t birthing parents and adopting parents receive the same rights? But at the end of the end they will both be welcoming a newborn to their family. In conculsion there should be equality for everyone no matter the diversity.

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