Most of us have had moments of work when we have felt excluded – left out of a meeting we might have expected to attend or perhaps not invited to lunch by colleagues – as well as time when we have been in the driver’s seat and wrestled over whether or not to invite someone to a workplace event.

Inclusion is an important emotional issue, one that can affect happiness at work and productivity. Gallup research has shown the importance of having someone who cares for the individual at work, having a best friend at work, and feeling one’s opinion counts. A 2014 study by four academics found that being ignored at work is worse for physical and mental well-being than harassment or bullying. It can lead to a feeling of helplessness, social withdrawal and increased intention to leave the job.

Inclusion these days is usually raised in discussions of diversity, and the two ideas can connect. But consultants Stephen Frost and Raafi-Karim Alidina, co-authors of Building an Inclusive Organization, say on the Human Capital League blog that diversity is focused on the mix of people on your team or in the organization, ensuring you are not biased, while inclusion is about making sure the mix of people you have works and no one has to hide parts of themselves.

Inclusion starts on Day 1. Most of us can remember the time we joined a new organization or even perhaps a new unit within the existing company. It can be a lonely, uncertain moment. It’s important that managers think about making that person feel included – and people in the office, no matter how busy they may feel, take time to befriend a new colleague.

This is not just about being kind and considerate to others. The company benefits. Indeed, CEO coach Sabina Nawaz, also in Harvard Business Review, broadens the scope beyond supporting newcomers in their edgy early days to consciously amplifying their voice: “There’s a small window of time when newcomers can share valuable insights as ‘outsiders.’ Even though companies hire externally to benefit from an executive’s experience, newcomers are often considered too new to add value.” So include them early. She also warns not to neglect star new recruits, assuming they are so brilliant they can figure out things on their own. Give them individual attention.

As more and more people work remotely, the dangers of feeling excluded can grow. “Exclusion is most often accidental but it may not feel that way to the remote workers who are missing out on meetings and other events,” blogger Jimmy Daly writes on IDoneThis. “The more spread out your team, the more deliberately you’ll need to address communication. Good processes ensure that everyone has access to the information and people they need to do their job.” He notes that introverts can gravitate to remote work; they like being alone, but that doesn’t mean they want to feel excluded, so don’t treat them like hermits.

Two Deloitte Australia consultants, Juliet Borke and Andrea Espedido, surveyed more than 4,100 employees about inclusion, interviewed those managers identified by followers as highly inclusive, and reviewed the academic literature to come up with the behaviours of inclusive leaders. Those managers make inclusion and diversity a priority; are modest about their own capabilities and create room for others to contribute; are curious and open-minded about others; are sensitive to other cultures; honour diversity of thinking; and provide psychological safety.

At a more concrete level, inclusive leaders ask co-workers how they are doing or what they can do to help them. Karyn Twaronite, global diversity and inclusiveness officer at Ernst & Young, says in the Harvard Business Review that surveys show 39 per cent of respondents feel the greatest sense of belonging when colleagues check in with them, both personally and professionally.

That extends this effort beyond leaders to everyone. An office is a journey together – “team” or “family” are also common metaphors – and everyone likes to be included. Treat others as you want to be treated. When the choice comes to include or exclude for a meeting or a lunch of colleagues, the reasons to exclude may seem compelling and the situation minor but the long-term damage can be significant. Inclusion is serious, too often overlooked, stuff.


  • If you’re serious about building an inclusive workplace, it should extend, oddly, to how you fire people, says consultant Amber Cabral. Handle it with empathy and respect, acting as if the person being terminated was your most beloved family member.
  • Serving on corporate boards helps women become CEOs – while traditionally companies looking for CEOs pick people (usually men) who have already held that post, research shows that serving on a board can substitute in some cases for women. Management professor Catherine Tinsley and technology executive Kate Purmal say companies that wish to groom women for C-level roles should help them obtain a corporate board membership and, of course, women on their own should seek the same opportunity.
  • Data has been on the wrong side of history every time the world has changed, says Johns Hopkins University leadership professor Adriano Pianesi.

The Globe and Mail, August 16, 2019