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Women's Lifestyle Magazine

Creating an Inclusive Work Environment with Graci Harkema

Sep 25, 2018 12:26PM ● By WLMagazine

By Brianna Massey | Photography by Alex Lahood

Employers are often in search of ways to increase their company’s productivity and wealth. With an increasingly diverse population, creating an inclusive work environment may be the solution.

“An inclusive work environment is going to produce better business results when employees can effectively work as their whole selves instead of leaving parts of themselves at home,” said Graci Harkema, Inclusion and Diversity Manager at TEKSystems, a Grand Rapids-based company dedicated to helping other businesses achieve their goals. “Allowing employees to be supported in an inclusive environment allows more collaboration and diversity of thought, which will ultimately produce a better product or a greater service.”

According to a study done by McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm, organizations that embrace diversity and inclusion see financial benefits. The study states that “companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.” And, those “in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns.”

So, what is inclusion? And how does one create an inclusive work environment?

“A culture of inclusiveness is rooted in trust and respect, but it is much more than that,” said Jane Miller, Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of The Gallup Organization, a company dedicated to helping leaders solve their most pressing problems. “It’s making sure employees know that their contributions and opinions are noticed.”

Harkema suggests workshops, training and team- building exercises as a few of the ways employers can create inclusive workplaces. She also mentions the website as a good starting place for those unsure of where to begin.

According to the website, Diversity Best Practices “offers information and strategies on how to implement, grow, measure and create first-in-class diversity programs.”

“If someone has always felt included, then they may not understand the journey of someone who doesn't feel included,” Harkema said. “The challenge is getting the whole team on the same page where people can objectively understand the experiences of others.”

But, why is it important to have an

inclusive workplace?

“I felt like I couldn’t be myself in previous work environments,” Harkema expressed. “I was so focused on covering up aspects of who I was instead of being able to focus 100 percent on my job.”

Feeling excluded in the workplace is detrimental to health and employee retention. According to a 2014 study conducted by several professors at the UBC Sander School of Business in Canada, exclusion at work has worse mental and physical health effects than harassment. The researchers found that those who felt excluded in their workplace were “more likely to report a degraded sense of workplace belonging and commitment, a stronger intention to quit their job, and a larger proportion of health problems.”

While Harkema acknowledges that the work to create an inclusive business is “continuous,” she

says employers should check in often to see if they are on the right track.

“The test of knowing whether your environment is inclusive is if all those in the organization feel included and they feel like they have a chance and an opportunity to reach their potential and their dreams,” Harkema said.