Marisa Bomis, Salt Lake Chamber
Sara Jones, CEO of Utah-based consulting firm InclusionPro, conducts a professional development seminar on leadership, inclusion and diversity at the Salt Lake Chamber on Thursday, March 14, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — Building an inclusive workplace goes beyond race or gender, a Utah industry expert told some of the state's business professionals Thursday. It should be an effort to invite the best work from all involved.

Speaking to an audience of business professionals at the Salt Lake Chamber offices in downtown Salt Lake City, Sara Jones, CEO of Utah-based InclusionPro — a consulting firm that develops diversity and inclusion plans for executives — said leaders need to understand the importance of building effective inclusion strategies that every employee can learn and implement.

"Culture is built from changing your behaviors," she said. "Everybody has inclusive skills. It's just that when they work with people that are different than them, a different set of behaviors start to kick in."

She said that people should be intentional in wanting to change their behavior to promote a more inclusive environment by recognizing when new people are coming onto their teams and proactively engaging them at their highest (intellectual) levels. She noted that unconscious biases often prevent people from working and interacting as effectively as they could.

"Inclusion is a way to think about how to overcome those unconscious bias behaviors," Jones explained. "How do I get my team to understand when that is happening and be intentional about it?"

She defined inclusion as "asking people to contribute at their highest levels," which don't necessarily have to focus on diversity characteristics. People want to be valued most for their talents and capabilities in the workplace, she said, not for their minority or gender status.

"I just want my thinking to be appreciated and I want to be able to give you my best thinking and my best work," Jones explained.

Adopted from Korea as a child by an American family, she said her firsthand experience has helped her learn to understand the impact of implicit bias and how to deal with it in the professional workspace.

She also noted that people aren't always aware of their bias and sometimes need help in recognizing it and the unintended consequences such behavior can pose to workplace productivity.

"Inclusion is thinking very intentionally about how (leaders) are actively engaging everyone to contribute," she said. "To help us problem solve, to help us build our teams (and) to help us do the work of building our companies."

Jones told the audience that diverse teams offer a broader scope of life experiences and professional viewpoints. Those attributes can be valuable to an employer as they work to grow and prosper, she said.

When companies are going about the business of solving daily issues, inclusivity from a diverse team offers a greater base of knowledge to pull from and tackle critical issues, she said. Building an inclusive culture through smart, thoughtful leadership is the best way to make it happen, she added, but leaders have to avoid the unconscious barriers that often prevent enhanced productivity.

"There is a very performance-driven aspect to inclusion," Jones said. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable interacting with people who are different than themselves — such as race, ethnicity or gender identification, she noted.

"When those barriers happen, we tend to have exclusion," she explained. "That's when you have people say they don't want to spend as much them with (that co-worker)."

She said inclusive leaders inspire better organizational performance, more innovation and greater job satisfaction from team members. Effective inclusion programs help make for better work environments, she said.

For some in the audience — like Melanie Jordan of Zions Bank, a Hispanic woman with a physical disability — the workplace can sometimes be a challenging place to find an inclusive culture.

"My experience is that there are a lot of unconscious biases and people get really defensive when you say, 'You've benefited from a system that was designed for you,'" she explained. "This (seminar) helps me have hope that next time I speak up I'll have allies that are going to have my back."

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She said having people understand the difference between diversity and inclusion and the hard work that needs to happen to turn diversity into inclusion, resulting in better business returns. When that happens, the better the work environment will become.

Dustin Allen, consumer deposits manager for Zions Bank, said the training was valuable because it acknowledged the existence of bias and offered ways to help breed a more inclusive work culture.

"It's one step to be conscious of (your bias), it's another step to make an effort to include other people," he said. "Start with the person first. That's been one of my core values that I've been able to adopt more and more over the years as I've had more experiences."