Feelings of Exclusion in the Workplace: Impacts and Solutions 

October 5, 2022 | Maureen Frank

What I have observed is that feelings of exclusion in workplace – where an individual feels excluded either once or over a longer period of time – can either “make or break you”. 

When we feel excluded, we feel like we can never really fit in – whether that’s in our place of employment or in social settings.  

In my own personal experience, I think it probably “made” me, but I’m very conscious of the fact that many of the people that I have mentored and supported have not necessarily had the same persistence and determination to really say, “Well, I’m going to prove to you that you’re wrong.” 

You can view a recap of my story about feelings of exclusion in this vlog:

My background story to feelings of exclusion 

I grew up in a family where my parents were immigrants to Australia.  My father was of Persian origin. My mother was born in Ireland.  

Now, my father in moving to Australia was asked by his uncle who was here and sponsored him in to change his name. So, our family name was in fact, Aziska, which is a Muslim name. And my father to his dying day, 10 years ago, was aghast that I would tell people this. 

In his mind, as a professional who had done profound things in his own right, he still was nervous and scared about being excluded and dealing with those feelings of exclusion – because of his race, because of his background.  

I knew right from the get-go when we were younger that we were different.  

My father was different. He cooked different foods, he behaved in different ways, and it was kind of a secret. We didn’t really tell people outside our household. 

And that’s the environment that I grew up in. 

I think for me, that built a determination to succeed. I was going to survive anyway.  

Hearing the stories of the racism my father had experienced before he arrived in Australia or in other parts of the world, made me angry and my anger turned to, well, pure determination. 

Where I would think and say: “I’m just going to show you that I can do things differently.” 

Feelings of exclusion in the workplace 

So, I have always unashamedly talked about my cultural background, but I do recognise that there are lots of people in our environment, in our work environment who have changed their names, who don’t want to talk about their cultural background and who are genuinely fearful about how they will be treated.  

But I do think – going back to it can make or break you – it can certainly “break you”. You can certainly feel like, well, what’s the point? I’m never going to quite make it. 

If you are one of those people who have been able to really overcome some big challenges of exclusion in your lifetime, don’t forget to look around with that lens of understanding.  

And knowing that just because you have succeeded with this, doesn’t mean everyone will.  

Consider what skills and what strengths you have used to help overcome feelings of exclusion to help others feel like this is not a barrier that they can overcome. 

The solution to exclusion 

In my almost 20 years of experience in the diversity and inclusion space, I can say quite confidently that the solution to exclusion – particularly in the workplace – is inclusion. 

It’s acknowledging that difference exists, maybe also admitting that you’re unsure of how to manage difference – and stepping into a space of inclusion solutions.

Diversity is only one part of the D&I equation. And to experience impact on the organisation’s bottom line – as a result of diversity – you must also empower inclusiveness within your workplace. 

What does inclusion look like? 

It looks like leaders: 

  • Acknowledging the uneasiness of difference 
  • Communicating as one team 
  • Intentionally challenging the status quo 
  • Getting vulnerable, trusting, and harnessing the power of the team 
  • Being courageously curious 
  • Tailoring fairness to the individual 

When leaders exhibit inclusivity in the workplace with their team, they are stepping into a space that promotes an environment that is fair, safe, equitable, and creates a sense of belonging for each individual. 

When we feel like we belong we go the extra mile and that can have massive impacts on the bottom line for organisations. 

The research tells us time and time again that creating a sense of belonging is imperative if organisations want to:  

  • Leverage the benefits of diversity  
  • Encourage innovation  
  • Ensure psychological safety  
  • Impact the bottom line  
  • Engage your employees  
  • Increase productivity  
  • Develop an agile workforce  
  • Grow your talent pipeline 

Feelings of exclusion means that we don’t feel like we belong 

Maybe, as an organisational leader, you’re not really invested in making your people feel like they belong. Maybe you’re of the mindset that you keep your work lives at work and your home lives at home.  

This is common. But I’m going to start a courageous conversation with you and ask you: 

If this is the case for you, consider asking yourself if you actually feel like you belong to your organisation? 

And if not, you aren’t alone because research from BetterUp shows that 1 in 4 employees don’t feel like they belong.  

But this is problematic from a business point of view because essentially this means that 25% of the workforce does not feel:  

  • Safe or psychologically well  
  • Engaged  
  • Innovative  
  • Collaborative  
  • Productive  
  • Agile  
  • Talented  
  • Customer focused 

And as a people leader who either doesn’t feel like they belong, or who is not invested in encouraging their team to feel like they belong – what do the outputs against each of these areas look like or feel like for you and/or your team? 

Is it time to move towards inclusion? 

Empower your people leaders to learn more about not just how to be inclusive but the benefits of being inclusive. 

Some leaders already think they are inclusive, when really, they’re ticking and flicking diversity quotas. 

Which, don’t get me wrong, are a very important aspect of our workplace landscape, but they aren’t the be all and end all. 

Once we get diversity in the door and working with us at the table, we need be consciously closing the gap and understanding more about how we can leverage all our people’s unique set of skills, abilities, and lived experiences for the betterment of the organisation. 

And the journey towards being inclusive does not have an end point. It’s continual and it takes ongoing awareness and conscious micro actions. 

Take the first step today by finding out if our flagship inclusion program is a right fit for your organisation’s D&I goals. 

Complete our 2-minute questionnaire and we will get back to you with your next steps. 

Take the questionnaire here

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