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Using recognition to create a culture of inclusion

Written by: Amy Stern
(View Author Bio)

There are many factors that go into changing your culture to be more inclusive, but perhaps the most powerful way is through recognition.

How often are your diversity and inclusion leaders talking to your recognition and rewards team? Probably not enough.

When it comes to building an inclusive culture, it needs to be part of the way employees experience working for your company on a daily basis. They need to feel like they belong and can be themselves.

There are many factors that go into changing your culture to be more inclusive: leadership alignment, communications, learning, events, career-pathing, and even the physical space employees work in. But perhaps the most powerful way to influence culture change is through recognition.

Here are three ways recognition builds a culture of inclusion:

1. People feel valued when they are recognized. In our 2020 New Rules of Engagement study, we found that 42 percent of employees who were told they make a difference at work in the past month felt included, versus just 16 percent of those who were not given any praise. To make recognition even more meaningful, offer it in written form. In the same study, we found twice as many people felt included when they were given a note, email or other forms of written recognition within the past month.

2. Recognizing inclusivity prompts more inclusive behaviour. Inclusion is not built from a single point of contact – employees need to engage in inclusive behaviours on a daily basis. We know from our research there are several key behaviours that lead to an inclusive culture. We also know that what gets recognized will be repeated. As a company, it’s best to create a consistent set of behaviours that align with an inclusive culture and your organizational values. Then, recognize those behaviours whenever they are seen. Use the behaviours below as an initial guide of what to look for but make sure to customize them to fit your unique organization.

Behaviours to recognize to build an inclusive culture:

      • Outstanding contribution, for showing someone how their job makes a difference
      • Collaboration, for making connections with those around you
      • Expanded horizons, for learning something new, personal growth or helping another grow
      • On the rise, for career growth or advocating for another’s career growth
      • Boldly transparent, for leaders who share important information
      • Do the right thing, for anyone who is honest and ethical, even when it may seem to pay not to be
      • Got your back, for those who support and help one another recover from a mistake
      • It’s not all about us, for those who put another’s interest before their own
      • Think outside the box, for those who suggest crazy ideas
      • Keep an open mind, for those who value all perspectives and take crazy ideas seriously

3. Recognition draws people together. It’s well known that gratitude improves social relationships and strategic recognition creates gratitude for both the giver and recipient. The recipient is grateful to have been noticed and recognized by a colleague. The giver is often showing thanks and appreciation for something the recipient has done. Recognition can enable connections between people on the same team as well as people who otherwise do not interact often, who may not have met or who may be at different levels of the organizational hierarchy.

Although recognition is just one tool for creating a culture of inclusion, it is a powerful one that shouldn’t be overlooked. Its power stems from impacting inclusion in three ways: helping employees feel valued, reinforcing inclusive behaviours, and building connections across the organization.

To learn more, watch our "The path to growing diversity and inclusion in your organization" webinar recording below to hear three diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) experts as they share resources on how to create an inclusive culture where all employees can thrive.

Watch now

Amy Stern

Amy Stern

Managing Director, Research and Strategy, BI WORLDWIDE

Amy Stern is Managing Director of Research and Strategy at BI WORLDWIDE. Her research has resulted in peer-reviewed publications, invited lectures, research awards, and valued insights for many clients. Amy’s deep understanding of employee experimental psychology allows her to combine critical thinking and creativity to create custom research that gets to the heart of diversity, equity, and inclusion at work. She advises companies on how to create an equitable and inclusive workforce where all employees can thrive.

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