How health leaders can foster a truly inclusive workplace culture

By Lauren Anderson*
Monday, 13 November, 2023

How health leaders can foster a truly inclusive workplace culture

In an era where diversity and inclusion have rightfully taken centre stage in workplaces around the world, it’s alarming to see that many Australian workers still feel the need to hide their true selves at work.

According to recent data from Indeed, a staggering 65% of Australian employees report concealing aspects of their identity in the workplace, a figure that has risen by 17% since 2020. This issue is particularly pronounced among marginalised groups, with 71% of LGBTIQA+ individuals, 76% of First Nations peoples and 69% of migrants admitting to being unable to express their true selves at work.

The data serves as a stark reminder that fostering a truly inclusive workplace culture is an ongoing challenge for many leaders. Inclusive workplace cultures are essential for the success and wellbeing of hospitals and healthcare organisations.

The consequences of failing to create an inclusive environment can be profound, impacting performance efficiency, patient outcomes, staff engagement and, ultimately, the overall healthcare experience. It can also negatively influence teamwork, staff morale and staff retention.

The journey towards an inclusive workplace culture begins at the most senior level, where leaders must take a proactive and visible role in promoting diversity and inclusion, and in clearly communicating their commitment to ensuring these values run throughout the organisation. When leaders demonstrate a genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion, and show they are willing to listen to concerns and feedback, it sends a powerful message throughout the organisation.

This commitment also should be embedded in recruitment and hiring policies and processes. Healthcare organisations should strive for a workforce that reflects the diversity of the communities they serve.

When individuals from diverse backgrounds hold leadership positions, it sends a message that diversity is valued and that different perspectives are essential for success. When recruitment processes are designed to reduce bias and to be accessible to people of all backgrounds, identities and abilities, diversity within the workforce will likely follow.

The use of inclusive language in the workplace is also a clear indication of a commitment to diversity and inclusion. This includes avoiding gendered language or terminology that may be exclusionary. For example, encouraging employees to personalise their emails or name badges by adding pronouns or symbols of cultural significance is one way to support employees in being their true selves and to position your organisation as an ally to all.

Implementing recognition and rewards systems that celebrate and acknowledge contributions from diverse individuals and teams is another way to establish a culture of inclusion.

This not only fosters a sense of belonging but also encourages individuals from underrepresented groups to excel and take on leadership roles within the organisation. It sends a clear message that diversity is not just valued but actively promoted and recognised as a source of strength and innovation.

Creating an inclusive workplace culture involves recognising and celebrating the differences that make each individual unique. This goes beyond mere tolerance — it’s about embracing the lived experience of each individual and the value they bring to the organisation. The celebration of cultural events and traditions, ensuring each colleague has equal access to the resources required to do their job, recognising that individuals have commitments outside of the workplace, and offering flexible leave policies will all help foster greater respect for all colleagues across the organisation.

It’s important to remember that not all organisations will be starting in the same place and that some will be further along in their diversity and inclusion journey than others. Leaders who are starting from scratch should consider first assessing their existing cultural norms before attempting to shift the dial. Conducting cultural audits can help identify areas where inclusivity is lacking or where certain groups may feel marginalised.

Cultural audits often consist of a combination of surveys, interviews, focus groups and document analysis. These methods should be chosen based on the organisation’s size, culture and specific objectives, with the end goal being to provide an objective assessment of an organisation’s culture, identify areas for improvement, and outline meaningful steps leaders and staff can take towards creating a more inclusive workplace.

Once the data is collected and analysed, a comprehensive action plan that outlines specific strategies, policies and initiatives to be addressed or improved should be drawn up. It’s important to remember that cultural audits are not one-time events but are part of an ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. Regular follow-up audits should be conducted to track progress, further refine strategies and adapt policies in response to shifts in wider society.

Inclusive workplace cultures are built on the foundation of respect and safety for all. Healthcare leaders must demonstrate zero tolerance for harassment, discrimination and bullying, and offer clear and confidential reporting mechanisms, with reports taken seriously and promptly investigated. Alarmingly, Indeed’s data reveals 45% of all working-age Australians have either witnessed or personally experienced an act of discrimination at work.

Holding individuals who engage in discriminatory or harassing behaviour accountable for their actions is paramount, as is providing support and resources such as counselling or legal support for individuals who have experienced harassment or discrimination.

Changing the culture of an organisation is a complex and ongoing process. It involves a thorough examination of existing norms, values and behaviour, and an unwavering commitment to changing these over time. It requires leadership, cultural change and the active participation of every employee.

The consequences of failing to foster inclusivity are far-reaching, affecting not only staff but also patient outcomes and the overall effectiveness of healthcare organisations. By setting the tone for inclusivity, acknowledging differences and taking immediate action against discrimination, healthcare leaders can pave the way for a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future in health care.

*Lauren Anderson is a Talent Strategy Advisor and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) Specialist at Indeed.

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