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Inspire Inclusion this International Women’s Day

‘Inspire Inclusion’ is the theme for International Women’s Day (IWD) 2024. It is important for individuals to hold themselves accountable and understand how we can all inspire inclusion, and to not sideline this responsibility just for those in leadership positions. Especially when, as reported in the latest Women in the Workplace report of 2023, only 40% of managerial roles are held by women, of which only 13% are women of colour, and 28% of C-suite positions are held by women, with only 6% being women of colour.  If we sideline the responsibility of inspiring inclusion to just leaders, we are statistically likely to underrepresent the very groups we are seeking to elevate.

Championing diversity and inclusion is a core value at Roffey Park, throughout the entire organisation. With 65% of our workforce, 58% of our management team and 57% of our executive leadership team being women, as well as our CEO, Dr. Arlene Egan, being our second female CEO, we take pride in working towards our beliefs and values. Despite this, we understand that the journey to diversity and inclusion is, for us and others, ongoing and we will continue to support and role-model the behaviours and interventions explained later in this article.

IWD emphasises the importance of intersectional female diversity and empowerment in all aspects of society. Inspire Inclusion encourages everyone to recognise the unique perspectives and contributions of women from all walks of life, including those from marginalised communities. So how can we inspire inclusion? What can we all do at a local level that can collectively influence sustained change on a global level?

A diverse group of women

Inclusivity from the roots up

Practicing being inclusive is a responsibility that comes down to all of us, in every walk of life as well as in the workplace. When we think about inclusivity in the workplace, it is sometimes an uncomfortable thing to talk about as most people believe that they would never consciously exclude somebody else based on a difference of characteristics.

In a previous navigator webinar event held by Roffey Park and led by the author of ‘INCLUSIVE LEADERSHIP’, Sile Walsh, participants were asked if they exclude people intentionally. 18% answered yes and 82% no. When asked if they have ever felt excluded, the response was 50%/50% (note: these figures do not include answers from only women and do not account for other factors that may contribute to feeling excluded, i.e., race, ethnicity, ableness and so on). So, how can there be such a disparity between practising inclusivity and feeling included?

We understand inclusivity, or feeling included, is not an exclusive club and issues arise in many different and diverse situations. However, here we will address the issue of gender inclusivity for women in line with International Women’s Day. We all have a good sense of the importance of inclusivity and the psychological distress that not being included can bring. Collectiveness and unity encourage a sense of belonging and feeling included, it is not something that can just ‘be done’, it is something that a compassionate organisational culture breeds.

To be inclusive is to be curious. Exclusion is a natural part of human processes, innately it is easier to exclude than to include as we find comfort in belonging and uneasiness in the unknown. Being aware of the decisions that we make every day will help to consciously eliminate any unconscious biases.

An inclusive organisational culture

A compassionate culture can be encouraged both in our everyday interactions, attitudes and incentives from the C-suite down. It is useful to understand that inclusion does not lie strictly with the senior leaders of an organisation; it is up to us all to influence when possible and necessary.

This is where adopting an Organisational Development approach can become hugely beneficial for organisations and individuals. Sometimes what individuals think will make them feel more included does not necessarily match what will truly improve their experiences. Organisations need to challenge these assumptions and make data-driven decisions to improve the experience for women in the workplace.

Completing self-assessments and championing open conversations could be a more effective way of trying to enact change rather than enforcing power. Other considerations include internal practices, middle and senior management rewarded for being inclusive, formal leaders championing inclusion, organisations fostering a learning environment, using coaching approaches in conversation and awareness of inclusive leadership, psychological safety and its relationship with performance.

It is easy to feel disheartened when understanding that significant change mostly results from the actions of people in the public eye, powerful figures or larger organisations role modelling the behaviours to influence society. However, most organisations decisions are driven by the behaviours and actions that have been championed by the people throughout all levels of the hierarchy. Demonstrating inclusive behaviours, consciously being wary of excluding and partaking in open and honest conversation can be infectious and can influence your colleagues, managers and friends to do follow suit. Enacting what it means and takes to be inclusive at a local level can encourage change at a global level.

A diverse group of women

Disrupting traditional assumptions

Gender bias and stereotypes are two contributing factors as to why, despite the number of women entering the workforce increasing, there is still a lack of women in senior leadership positions. Research conducted by the University at Buffalo unveiled that “men tend to be more assertive and dominant, whereas women tend to be more communal, cooperative and nurturing. As a result, men are more likely to participate and voice their opinions during group discussions and be perceived by others as leaderlike.” 

Furthermore, women are statistically more likely to report feeling imposter syndrome than men. Traditional interpretations of imposter syndrome attribute it to being an internally driven anxiety. A more convincing and contemporary analysis of imposter syndrome is that it’s a symptom of non-inclusive systems which don’t provide the space for minoritised individuals. This includes organisation cultures that tolerate gender biases – consciously or unconsciously.

We must deconstruct traditional and outdated perceptions of women if we are to foster an intersectional and inclusive workplace. Organisations can help achieve this by providing sponsorship for women to invest in their professional development so that they have the confidence of qualifications, knowledge and experience to fall back on and use this self-awareness to confront sexist ideologies. They can also encourage more women to attend industry events and conferences to provide women with the opportunity to network and develop a community.

Inspire Inclusion at Roffey Park

Steps we have taken as part of this journey include working closely with influential women to produce impactful research and blogs on gender bias in the workplace, women in leadership, women’s history in OD, and the impact of hybrid working on women at work. We have also used our platform in the world of OD and Learning and Development to amplify the voices of influential speakers such as Shelly Hossain, Linda Holbeche, Sile Walsh and even Roffey Park CEO, Dr. Arlene Egan, at our annual OD conference and monthly navigator events.

Shelly Hossain speaking at Roffey Park Institute's Annual OD Conference, 2023
Shelly Hossain speaking at Roffey Park Institute’s Annual OD Conference, 2023.

Laura’s story

Across our organisation we have women employees from a variety of backgrounds, with varying life experiences. One of which is 23-year-old Laura Byrnes. Laura is one of Roffey Park’s Proposal and Content Writers and below is her experience working at Roffey Park Institute:

“I think Roffey Park is unique in its composition. So many of my co-workers are female, including our CEO and numerous senior leaders, each of whom comes from differing parts of the UK and Ireland. This means I am constantly exposed to female role models in the workplace who inspire me and encourage me to be the best version of myself both professionally and personally. I have been lucky that Roffey Park has sponsored me to obtain professional qualifications and that I have been given the opportunity to attend networking events.

Roffey Park CEO, Dr. Arlene Egan, talking at Roffey Park Institute Annual OD Conference 2023
Roffey Park CEO, Dr. Arlene Egan, talking at Roffey Park Institute Annual OD Conference 2023.

I work with a variety of powerful women (and men!) who I have seen make space for any familial commitment and not be rebuked for them. Likewise, I haven’t witnessed anyone be shamed for being career-driven. This creates a sense of community, choice, and understanding. Roffey Park has created this sense of security through its flexi hours which I have seen coworkers utilise to strike a balance between their home lives and their careers, whether it be starting/finishing earlier or later to drop children off, attend school events or other reasons.

Employee-run groups like the Menopause Café further contribute to this inclusive culture. This group is open to everyone across Roffey Park. It is an inclusive space for those experiencing, or supporting others who are experiencing, peri/menopause to share, vent and exchange tips with one another. I think in the current climate, where society is finally acknowledging the impact that peri/menopause can have on women, it is important for organisations to take this seriously and provide women with the space to safely air their challenges and offer recommendations to ease their experience.”

OD Conference 2024

If you would like to hear from Sile Walsh and her expertise surrounding the area of diversity, inclusion and equity then join us at Roffey Park on the 24-25 October 2024 for our annual OD conference where Sile is one of our leading speakers. This year the theme invites us to ‘Think Globally and Act Locally’. By this, we mean to recognise that we all have opportunities to have a positive impact on the planet and each other by considering the actions we take at home and work and the way we relate to those around us.

By Laura Byrnes & George Barnes


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