Diversity and Inclusion Part 2: Creating an Inclusive Culture

Last week, I wrote about the importance – and the benefits – of creating a diverse workforce. But the work doesn’t stop there. In order for all employees to thrive, organizations must have a welcoming, supportive environment for all, where opportunities exist regardless of one’s race, religion, gender, or other demographic. In other words, it needs to be inclusive of all people.

When we speak about diversity, we are referring to something that is an absolute. You can measure the percent of diverse employees in your organization and set target goals for improvement. Inclusion, on the other hand, is relative to how everyone else is treated. For example, if there is an inner circle at your organization made up people who are most similar to the CEO, it suggests that the organization is less inclusive of diverse individuals. As a result, inclusion can be trickier to understand and measure than diversity, but just as critical.

There are some key strategies a company can implement to improve inclusion:

  • Be diverse. You can’t be inclusive without a diverse workforce. You can find our tipsin last week’s Trove, but ultimately, the first step is to make diversity a priority. Critically, there needs to be an understanding of the specific targets of the organization in order to know how to attract, support, and retain specific groups.

  • Make inclusion a priority. Creating an inclusive atmosphere should be a part of the foundation of an organization, represented in the company’s values, mission, and strategy. Top leaders in the organization must be committed to inclusion for it to be successful, and they must be vocal about it. They can make public statements about inclusion being a priority and about decisions they are making to increase inclusivity at the organization.

  • Create internal resources for support. You need mechanisms in place to make sure D&I is a priority. This may mean having someone focused on D&I at a top leadership level, or creating employee resource groups based on demographics, career goals, or interests. Create peer and upward mentorship programs. Lastly, offer D&I trainings to your entire population to help broaden your team’s understanding of what D&I means, the benefits of diverse perspectives, and how to better value diversity and be inclusive within the workforce, client groups, and vendors/suppliers. Overall the benefit of these resources is showing that inclusivity is a priority to the company, the organization supports diverse people, and the company is actively addressing systemic barriers.

  • Ensure equal treatment of employees when dispersing opportunities. Work roles and assignments, developmental opportunities, and resources should be fairly distributed and the unique backgrounds of each associate should be used to the company’s advantage. It is important to regularly measure these ratios and see where opportunities are being evenly distributed, and really diving into the areas where it isn’t to determine the cause. Being transparent about the decision process helps increase views of fairness. Furthermore, all employees should be recognized and rewarded in the same manner for their accomplishments, both formally and informally.

  • Be cognizant of diverse groups when designing communications. This includes both internal and external communications. When designing communications, it is important to think of language barriers, translations, methods of sending the communications, and more. Include diverse people in the creation of communications or have someone from the D&I council review communications before they are considered final.

  • Measure inclusion. Getting a complete picture can be difficult to do in an all-inclusive employee survey, but it’s critical to understand how employees view this issue. You might consider measuring D&I separately in its own survey, holding focus groups to dive deeper into survey findings, or even resurveying or completing pulse surveys to go beyond initial findings. The key is not limiting yourself to a couple items on a large survey, but going the extra step to make your understanding as robust as possible.

Additionally, there are some individual-level strategies that are just as important:

  • Establish cultural humility. Cultural humility means to encourage personal reflection and growth of others; it leads to empowerment, partnerships, and respect. Initially, teaching the concept can be a part of D&I training, but one of the best ways to establish cultural humility is for leaders to emulate the behavior they expect and make it an organizational norm.

  • Encourage people to be advocates. Anyone can be an advocate, and encouraging advocacy will improve inter-office relationships while fostering an inclusive environment.

  • Ensure a diverse make up of project teams when possible. Hiring a diverse work force is not enough; make sure that projects include a diverse mix of employees. Having a diverse mix of employees will not only foster an inclusive environment, but it will likely also create an opportunity for more ideas to develop. It is key to ensure the people selected are being placed based on merit and ability as well. Employees should never be placed in an area simply for appearances.

While certainly not an exhaustive list, these recommendations provide a starting point for your inclusion efforts. Every organization is unique, and your initiatives will depend on your specific needs. But focusing on this as a priority is the critical first step towards improvement.