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Bernardo Villarreal, a man who has low vision, sits with a group at an office building and they all look at his laptop screen.In the fourth industrial revolution, we need people with a combination of both digital and soft skills in order to help businesses innovate. In fact, the skills shortage is one of the top emerging risks faced by organisations, according to a recent Gartner report. One way to meet these shortages and grow your talent pool is to have a diverse workforce.

According to McKinsey & Co, companies that are more diverse and inclusive drive value creation and performance in four key areas:

  1. A diverse and inclusive workplace is central to attracting, developing, and retaining talent. Diverse organisations have broader talent pools to successfully compete in this changing world.
  2. Diverse groups make faster, better quality decisions, which in turn, pushes better business performance.
  3. Inclusive and diverse teams are more creative and innovative. They can give a better customer insight into diverse customer markets, serving the community better and increasing value.
  4. It improves employee satisfaction, collaboration, and loyalty, creating an environment that’s more attractive to high performers.

At Microsoft, we’ve been taking part in this journey to become more diverse and inclusive—not only to grow our talent pool, but also to be more innovative and creative, and build a better future for all. An important part of this is creating an open culture and ensuring everyone feels like they belong and contributes with their authentic self.

Here are 10 behaviours we’ve identified from our own journey that will help you create a more inclusive workplace.

1.      Include and seek input from people across a wide variety of backgrounds

At Microsoft, we design products and services for all human experiences and needs so we need to hear from a wide variety of people. You may too. Or perhaps you want to improve customer relationships. Cognitively diverse teams solve problems 60 percent faster. So, whatever work you do, having a diverse input will give you a better, more well-rounded result, at a much faster rate.

You will cater to a broader set of customers if you build your product or service with diverse input. Not only will this increase profitability, but it will also boost innovation. Your employees will be empowered and excited to be part of a positive, supportive environment.

Tip: take advantage of employee resource groups when starting a new project and include them from the early stages.
Woman uses Skype with captions in a meeting

2.      Listen carefully to the person speaking until they feel understood

Listening is an active process you undertake to make sure you understand what the speaker is saying. It’s also important to respond appropriately to what they’re saying.

Remain impartial as you listen. Remember that a natural part of speaking includes pauses, so leave any questions, clarifications, or comments until the speaker has finished. Use verbal and non-verbal cues to show you’re actively listening.

Don’t forget to leverage technology. Both Skype and PowerPoint now feature live captions and subtitles. This will make it easier for those who are hard of hearing, in a noisy office, or speak another language to actively listen or be heard.

Tip: active listening is a skill that can be learnt. Remember:

  • Pay attention
  • Show that you’re listening
  • Provide verbal and non-verbal feedback
  • Remain impartial
  • Respond appropriately

3.      Make a habit of asking questions

Questions are key to learning. That’s how detectives solve cases and how inventors invent. It also opens the floor for discussion and innovation. Don’t ask questions you already know the answer to. Ask questions to broaden your mind and deepen your understanding. This will help you gain knowledge and learn from new experiences.

Tip: start with open-ended questions before delving deeper to gain a better understanding.

4.      If you have a strong reaction to someone, ask yourself why

The best way to deal with someone who causes a strong reaction in yourself is to turn inward. Pinpoint these triggers and address them. After all, they didn’t create those triggers. Doing this will help show you why you have this response so you can anticipate, soften, or alter your reaction.

Tip: we can’t all get along all of the time, but that doesn’t mean we can’t all work productively together in a professional, supportive environment.

5.      Address misunderstandings and resolve disagreements

Everyone has a different point of view. There’s often no right or wrong, just different life experiences that create different opinions. Active listening will reduce misunderstandings in the office. It will also make disagreements easier to resolve in a mature, communicative way.

Try to think of the situation from the other person’s—or an outsider’s—point of view. Be professional in your response and try to address the issue directly and once it’s resolved, move on.

Tip: remember that we’re all working towards a common goal and have the same values at heart.

6.      Act to reduce stressful situations

Sometimes stress is unavoidable, but we can change how we react to defuse the situation. Identify what is causing the stress and see if there are ways to reduce the triggers. Is there a practical solution, or is it only a temporary feeling? Even if you can’t do anything about it, sometimes just acknowledging the feeling helps.

If you see an employee under stress, offer them support. They could be taking on too much or they might need help on an urgent project. They might need a break, or even just a kind ear to vent to. Supporting your employees with their work-life balance will not only minimise stress, but it will also maximise their ability to contribute to the business.

Tip: offer well-being resources and create a culture where employees know it’s OK to talk about stress.

One male and three female coworkers in office conference room. One woman is standing and writing on whiteboard wall. Another woman is seated at table using a Surface Laptop, open to Windows 10 home screen. A third woman is standing and taking notes on a tablet with a pen. A male worker is leaning over a chair. All are looking at the whiteboard.

7.      Understand each person’s contribution

A big part of working in a team is understanding everyone’s role. No matter how big or small, each employee is a piece of the jigsaw that completes the puzzle. You won’t be able to innovate unless you have a great team ethic and a common goal to work towards.

It’s important to keep communication lines open. Apps like Microsoft Teams make it easy to collaborate and communicate together no matter where employees are located.

Tip: know everyone’s role and skill set so you can use their talents to get the best out of them.

8.      Examine your assumptions

When we understand how assumptions and bias influence our behaviour, we can act to create an inclusive culture. We compiled a set of learning resources to help our employees at Microsoft understand the impact of bias. These might also help you empower your employees to create a more inclusive environment in your business.

Our unconscious bias training will help you understand what it is. We also show how to counter it to support a diverse and inclusive culture.

Tip: changing assumptions doesn’t happen overnight—it requires continuous and proactive attention. Try to spend 10 minutes a week using these tools to stay familiar with them.

9.      Ensure all voices are heard

The softer spoken, quieter members of our team can contribute just as much as the more extroverted employees. It’s important to recognise the different ways employees contribute to the conversation, and make sure their voices are heard. This could involve following up on conversations via email or in Teams, or perhaps having smaller meetings or one-to-ones.

Tip: ensure you keep the lines of communication open for employees and assure them you’re taking their thoughts and opinions seriously.

10. Be brave

Something we’ve learnt from our own journey is that it doesn’t end. We’re committed to continuous improvement and learning. Key to this is making inclusion a core priority. In fact, it’s built-in to our employee KPIs—all employees are expected to play an active role in creating inclusive environments.

We know that being diverse and inclusive is better for business. It helps us attract and retain top talent. And, more importantly, it’s helping us build a better future for all.

Find out more

Re-imagine Accessibility

Our journey to an inclusive workplace: