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‘Freedom of expression is key to diverse workplaces’

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This week is National Inclusion Week – an annual opportunity to raise awareness of inclusion in the workplace.

Sky has partnered with Inclusive Employers to highlight the everyday practical ways an inclusive environment can be created in your workplace – and Sky News has asked writers from a diverse background to explain why the issue of inclusivity is important to them.

Here, Dame Helena Morrissey writes for Sky News about why welcoming diverse views is key for any workplace seeking to be truly inclusive.

For me, inclusion goes beyond just feeling comfortable to be ourselves – at least when that’s taken to mean “as a woman” or “as a black person”, etc.

Of course, that is vital, but I think we’ve only created inclusion when we can express different views freely and when we give people the license to disagree.

'Welcoming diverse views shows everyone that they matter', says Dame Helena
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‘Welcoming diverse views shows everyone that they matter’, says Dame Helena

Too often, workplaces superficially “include” people by avoiding overt bias, but at the same time encourage people to fit in, to submerge their differences. That’s the opposite of true inclusion.

Welcoming diverse views shows everyone that they matter, as well as helping organisations create the breakthrough moments, to solve problems, or see how to capture opportunities.

The examples when I’ve felt really included have been when the whole decision-making process has been built around encouraging diversity of perspective. It’s not been an afterthought, a self-conscious “let’s make sure we’ve heard the woman in the room”.

When you reach the place where everyone wants to know what their colleagues really think because they have different backgrounds, experiences, qualities – and levels of seniority – you stop thinking rather artificially about “identity” and have a really inclusive environment, as partners.

Helena Morrissey is CEO of Newton Investment Management and chair of the Investment Association
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Dame Helena is head of personal investment at Legal & General

I’ve been lucky enough to experience this a long time before there was a National Inclusion Week.

My big career breakthrough came when I was working for Stewart Newton, the founder of the investment firm where I eventually served as CEO for many years.

Stewart had built the whole investment process on the principle that “no one has a monopoly on great ideas”.

He didn’t just encourage me to contribute mine, he made it clear that he welcomed my differences, including saying to a colleague when I announced (yet another) pregnancy that I “came back better every time”.

That wasn’t strictly true! But just imagine how that comment made me feel, and how Stewart’s encouragement gave me the confidence that it was not just OK, but important, to be myself.

And when I started feeling confident I became better at my job.

It is possible to create a virtuous circle, but not by going through the motions or treating “inclusion” as a special interest project. Inclusive leaders are essential – and if you haven’t got one, it may simply be time to move on.

Smart companies and business leaders get this.

:: For more information, go to Inclusive Employers.

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