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Bullying doesn’t just happen in schools. Here’s how to turn a workplace bullying culture into a culture of innovation

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Bullying. Inclusion. Exclusivity. diversity. Innovation. I just wrote that down and it struck me how much these words seem to contradict each other. They don’t even seem to come from the same vocabulary, let alone the same subject. But they are. And as with any change in attitude, we need to understand the problem in order to act on a solution and make some change.

Diverse teams are not just a nice add-on strategy. They can create a culture that unleashes the full power of innovation. But only when management drives this culture and develops the ability to guide it through their actions. Only if everyone in the company understands that the key to winning lies in accelerating learning, creating and innovating across teams at multiple levels of the organization.

Related: How to disrupt workplace culture to drive high-performing…

The problem with bullying culture

The term bully conjures up images of a child on a playground, knocking others down and stealing their lunch money. But the impact of adult bullying in the workplace is no laughing matter.

A recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that one in three employees believe bullying occurs in their workplace. This figure is especially troubling as some respondents said their organization had an anti-bullying policy. The survey also found that most organizations do not have a procedure to deal with bullying at work.

A toxic culture can lead to an inability to recruit and retain talent, lower employee engagement, lack of creativity, a bad reputation and ultimately low profitability. Bullying creates an environment where people are afraid to speak up, challenge the status quo and take risks.

This means you end up with a company full of people who are too afraid to try new things, too afraid to make mistakes, and too afraid to innovate.

This culture has stifled innovation in many companies because it suppresses true creative thinking. This is because the exclusivity of bullying reduces self-esteem, making people less likely to take risks or come up with new ideas. It also prevents diversity of thought and action – two key ingredients necessary for true innovation.

How did we get to this point? How did we create such toxic workplaces? And what can be done to change them?

Building an inclusive culture to drive innovation

The culture of bullying is a culture of fear, and it is a culture that stifles innovation. You need to trust each other and have safe conversations so that you can challenge each other’s ideas.

According to a McKinsey questionnaireracial and ethnically diverse companies outperform industry standards by 35 percent.

  1. Innovation happens when different people with different backgrounds, skills and experiences share their ideas, knowledge and insights. If all your team members are alike, they won’t bring many new ideas to the table. Having more homogeneous teams is like two people looking at the same problem from two different angles – they will end up seeing the same thing. In contrast, diverse teams bring new perspectives and experiences to problems, leading to new ideas and innovative solutions.
  2. Inclusive leaders understand that innovation thrives in diverse environments. That’s why Google’s engineers believe that the company’s success depends on its ability to attract a workforce that reflects the diversity of its users. So is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who recently released a memo sent to all employees reminding them of the value of bringing different perspectives together.
  3. The inclusive leader is key to creating an inclusive culture. This leader ensures that all employees feel supported, respected and valued, regardless of the differences. She or he also builds a culture that promotes diversity of thought and encourages everyone to contribute to the best of their ability. The inclusive leader embraces diversity by bringing more diverse people into the organization, hiring people across the spectrum of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, etc.

Related: Creating a Culture of Innovation Starts with the Leader

Diversity beyond numbers

Diversity is about more than just numbers, as we often see in many companies today. It’s also about how we treat our colleagues and create a culture of innovation that takes advantage of their diverse opinions and backgrounds.

In a recent questionnaire van Deloitte, 80 percent of respondents indicated that inclusion is important when choosing an employer. But what makes a leader inclusive?

Inclusion goes beyond diversity to ensure that people feel welcome, respected, supported and valued for who they are. It’s also about creating an environment where people are encouraged to go to work every day to the fullest.

The logic follows that if companies have a more diverse workforce, they will have a more diverse customer base and therefore will understand and serve those customers better. However, diversity in itself has not produced the desired result. Studies have shown that diversity has little impact on productivity or innovation. This happens when leaders don’t actively create an inclusive environment in which employees can maximize their contributions.

The inclusive leader can challenge the status quo, embrace diversity of thought and listen with empathy to create an environment where everyone can give their best and innovate.

To take off

The Diversity Index should no longer be seen as a box to tick or an exercise to pursue. It is an essential requirement in a digital world where the talent pool is constantly growing.

It’s time for a groundbreaking approach to analytics, where we stop segmenting people and start seeing them all as whole individuals. It is time for us to replace the culture of bullying with a culture of innovation and create leaders that include all people. We should make social profiling more about character than numbers. By doing this, we can all be better equipped to guide ourselves and others through life’s ups and downs in our increasingly connected world.

Related: Bullies at Work: Eradicating Abuse in the Workplace

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