Four Cornerstones to a Thriving Culture of Inclusion and Diversity

There is a strong business case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Organizations that are diversely inclusive are more creative and innovative, have employees that are more engaged, have a better understanding of local and global markets and, compared to those that are not, have a stronger financial bottom line.

A 2015 McKinsey report reviewed financial and leadership data from organizations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Latin America and the United States. They found that gender-diverse organizations were 15 per cent more likely to outperform those that were not and the ones that were ethnically diverse were 35 per cent more likely to outperform the ones that were not.

As a diversity and inclusion consultant, I love it when I see data that supports what I know to be true in my gut, but do these statistics tell the whole story? Or do they infer that if you simply hire more people representative of diversity, you’ll be successful?

It All Starts With Inclusion

If I were to lead this study today, I would make an adjustment in the language of the measurements. Is diversity alone the key to reaping these rewards? No. The secret is in the inclusion. You won’t gain the financial benefits, the innovation and creativity — or a thriving culture, a benefit that doesn’t get highlighted nearly enough — without a focus on inclusion.

Diversity is only one part of the equation: diversity + inclusion = beautiful things. One of those beautiful things? A thriving workplace culture.

Diversity + Inclusion = Beautiful Things

But what does workplace culture mean and what does one that thrives actually look like? We all know what a bad workplace culture feels like, so the opposite hold true for a thriving culture. When you feel that you are seen, heard and part of something bigger, when you can grow and develop, that’s when you feel part of a thriving workplace culture.

Moreover, if diversity in the context of the workplace is attracting and hiring people from different cultures, genders, sexual orientations, religious beliefs and ranges of ability, then what does inclusion mean and how can we ensure that those people feel included in the workplace?

The Cornerstones of Defining Diversity & Inclusion in Your Organization

Here are my four diversity and inclusion cornerstones to help you answer those questions and to shift your organizational culture to one that thrives.

1. Consider what culture means to your organization: When I was a recruiter, I would often say that “hiring for fit” was critical. And it wasn’t just me. Senior leaders, my colleagues and the hiring managers at my organization said it too. It was our mantra. We weren’t necessarily wrong, we just weren’t exactly right either. I am not sure that enough organizations spend the time to define what it means.

Hiring for culture fit might mean that you are excluding top talent, people who may be outside of your idea of what “fit” looks like. Can a person in their 40’s be a great hire for a start up tech company that is mostly made up of Millennials? Does your team often go for walking meetings and so you don’t think the person with a disability will be a “fit” because of that?

You may very well be limiting your organization’s opportunity for innovation and could be perpetuating an idea of “who we are” that is holding you back. Yes, it’s important to be aware of who will thrive in your organization and who might not. However, perhaps the better question is, “Does this candidate reflect our values as an organization?”

2. Create a foundational awareness of unconscious bias and intercultural connections: Unconscious bias is a hot topic these days. When Starbuck’s in the United States made headlines in 2018 after a store manager called the police about two African American customers, they announced plans to deliver unconscious bias training to all 8,000 employees in the United States. Many organizations are turning to unconscious bias training as a result of something negative that has happened. Don’t wait — start the conversation now.

Talking about our unconscious biases and recognizing and exploring cultural beliefs is a foundational element of any inclusive organization. Accepting that, as human beings, we are complex, inherently diverse and, yes, flawed, allows us to take the next step.

3. Place an emphasis on curiosity, empathy and vulnerability: In North American workplaces we have long placed a high value on IQ — not so much on EQ (emotional intelligence).

The words “tell me more about that” help us to understand each other better.
As we intentionally create more diverse workplaces and the world becomes a more connected place, it’s time to start building our emotional intelligence muscles.

As we deepen our understanding of bias and culture, we can start to shift towards curiosity rather than judgement. Judgement shuts down a conversation almost immediately. Curiosity can move it forward. It invites the other person to begin to share their perspective or experiences. Live in curiosity — that’s where the magic happens. The words “tell me more about that” help us to understand each other better, to check our own beliefs and assumptions, and build empathy towards each other. Again, thriving workplace cultures have employees who feel seen, heard and valued for who they are what they bring with them.

4. Make the commitment and follow through: Say what you are going to do and then do it. Creating an intentionally diverse and inclusive organization and building a thriving workplace culture is not easy—at first. Taking a check-the-box approach to diversity and inclusion will not help your culture; in fact, I am willing to bet that it will hurt it. Authenticity is vital.

Get your senior leaders to not just buy-in, but to also understand and recognize the merits of diversity and inclusion. Write a diversity statement. Set some metrics, add it to leadership performance expectations, engage your employees in the discussion and tell your customers. Talk about it and do it. Then keep doing it. After a while, it becomes less work and more a natural part of your workplace culture.

A Business Case for Humanity

My first sentence was about the business case for diversity and inclusion. Now here’s the human case: a thriving, diversely inclusive workplace culture is one that brings out the best in people. It helps them to grow and contribute. This all translates to stronger, healthier communities and a more empathetic world. And isn’t that the world that we all want to live in?

 


 

An award-winning diversity and inclusion professional, and principal of Kristin Bower Consulting, Kristin Bower brings her two decades of experience to a wide variety of clients and is a frequent speaker at conferences and in workplaces on the topics of diversity and inclusion and mental health.

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