Creating an Inclusive Culture – Why Diversity Alone Won’t Lead to Success

When we think about the culture within an organisation, it’s easy to see how diversity is accepted as an integral part of what an HRD and CEO need to think about strategically as well as operationally through their systems and processes. Having a balance of talent from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnicities is important, whilst reflecting your ability to move beyond prejudice on gender, sexuality, race, religion and age seems like the very least any organisation should be doing.

If you have a diverse workforce within a culture that is not inclusive then you won’t find success.

However, if you have a diverse workforce within a culture that is not inclusive then you won’t find success, because the culture will only be superficial and the thinking will still be inhibiting performance, innovation and the retention of talent.

If you’ve been able to hit all the targets on diversity and it’s still not quite happening in terms of performance then you need to look at inclusion.  In fact, it’s essential.

Inclusion and Diversity.  What Do I Mean, Exactly?

In a nutshell: Inclusion needs to be your DNA. Diversity is a helpful indicator of your baseline.

When your organisation reflects your customer base, the community you serve, the society you’re part of and your employees can be themselves at work, then you have inclusion.  Teams work well, management are fully resourced and the energy of your culture is cohesive.  Your people are able to respond constructively to whatever challenges you face and they love working for you. Customers are happy because they feel understood, they spread that message to others and revenues grow.

When you’re organisation has hit all its targets on culture, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and age then you have diversity.  Diversity is essential but in itself, can be one-dimensional when not part of a robust and holistic organisational model. It’s just the baseline.

Diversity is essential but in itself, can be one-dimensional when not part of a robust and holistic organisational model.

I was speaking to someone recently who was working in a senior HR role with a large organisation. When she became pregnant with her third child she realised her career would be limited and she now faced some awkward conversations with her bosses. This kind of thing is an example of a lack of inclusion.  The organisational thinking is not joined up. It belongs in the past.

Taking things further, awkward conversations with bosses can highlight a multitude of issues around inclusion. Whether it’s over the school run, parental leave for parents of any gender or orientation, having time off for a religious festival or just a lack of empathy for employees we don’t fully understand – such a lack of organisational elasticity will nearly always point to issues around inclusion.

How Do The Best Organisations Get This Right?

Microsoft’s approach is impressive and much can be learnt from how highly they prioritise inclusion:

“Our Global Diversity & Inclusion Strategy:

Maximize the business impact of global diversity and inclusion to empower our people, transform our culture and delight our customers.”

Microsoft, The Business of Inclusion.

It’s encouraging to see how carefully and thoroughly they integrate inclusion with diversity at every level of their organisation:

  • Leaders are given cultural competency training to help them manage inclusion best practices.
  • They have an array of diversity and inclusion training for employees at every level of the organisation.  This includes four distinct programmes on inclusion generally, unconscious bias, cultural awareness and hiring practices.
  • A specific focus and programme which addresses the careers of women and minorities.
  • Flexible working programmes for parents.
  • Pioneering support for LGBT employees including domestic partner benefits.

There are, of course, many other examples of best practice but unless it’s authentically implemented it’s only ever going to be a veneer.  At Boardroom level, inclusion needs to be understood and highly valued – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s in everyone’s best interests.  If it’s not happening in the Boardroom, chances are it won’t be happening elsewhere – even if the ‘talk’ around inclusion seems right.

[bctt tweet=”At Boardroom level, inclusion needs to be understood and highly valued. If it’s not happening in the Boardroom, chances are it won’t be happening elsewhere – even if the ‘talk’ around inclusion seems right.” username=”lets_talktalent”]

Inclusion is A Democratic Process

Beyond the egalitarian thinking needed at board level and the resourcing of management, inclusion needs to be a two-way process.  Beyond having great feedback systems in place, employees need to be shaping the organisation itself.

Through its GenNEXT initiative, Estée Lauder matched their in-house diversity with their customer demographic and allowed their employees to co-create a whole new range of products which perfectly mirrored their ethnically rich customer base and helped them reach new audiences.  It’s another example of how inclusion enables and empowers employees to serve their customers.

Imagine designing a new range of products and services that perfectly match customer needs and that this process was the inevitable result of your own inclusive culture?  For many of my clients, this is their ‘dream come true’.

When companies allow the flow of insight upwards (after enabling it downwards) then something incredible can really happen. Recent research from McKinsey & Co and my own experience (see my article, “Why diversity benefits everyone”) back this all up. I especially enjoyed seeing how PwC reported on how empowering women in the workplace is driving innovation and performance. Examples like this need to add momentum and fuel positive change.  There simply isn’t an excuse for starving talent of an inclusive culture any more.

“Firms that offer an inclusive environment for a diverse mix for employees stand to innovate, grow and outperform the competition.”

Daily Telegraph, The business benefits of promoting diversity and inclusion.

How To Enhance Inclusion Within Your Organisation

For many employees, there’s clearly a gap between what employers are saying and what they are doing. 86% of millenial women for example, think that employer policy on workplace inclusion is important but 71% believe most companies are just ‘talking the talk’ but not delivering when it comes to opportunities.

Inclusion should always be in beta mode, it’s a living process that will always be improving and adjusting.  Think of it as a creative process, but also understand that your culture needs nourishment, structures that help it develop and resources to make it bear fruit:

  • Identify any weaknesses within your diversity policy and ways of measuring diversity.  This will help you set the baseline and improve it if needed.
  • Use user centric design i.e personas to understand who your key stakeholders/customers are and what they want, need and their pain points when designing the right experiences.
  • Resource your leaders.  If managers seem resistant to inclusion this will normally mean they haven’t received the right training or they don’t feel supported enough to carry the vision through, even if they are onboard. Your leaders need to see it as a priority, not as a bolt-on to what they do every day.  Managers should know what makes people tick, whoever they are. Inclusion is integral.
  • Make inclusion visible at every level of your organisation and provide training, support and expertise wherever it’s needed.  Make it part of the air your employees breathe.
  • When people join your organisation (and even before they join) think deeply about how to convey your culture of inclusion to them.
  • Take time to reflect, re-assess and re-strategise your vision for inclusion on a regular basis.
  • Make sure you have the right tools available to measure inclusion and that you have the right people available to use the tools and interpret the data.

Why An Inclusive Culture Means More Than Anything Else

Attracting new talent means you need to stand out.  Your organisational DNA is what potential employees pick up from the beginning of the recruitment process to walking into an interview.  If you want to have incredible people working for you then you need to provide an inclusion-based culture for them to join. So, how is your Careers site reflecting the true face of who works for you? Think about the cues and clues your presence creates and the judgements that are made even before someone submits an application to work for you.  When you reflect the authenticity of an inclusive culture, you’ll inevitably attract the right people.

For your existing people, your culture will either nurture or discourage innovation.  In today’s fast-moving, challenging and complex world you need all the right conditions to thrive and inclusion needs to be at the heart of your overall strategy. It’s so important to articulate what it means to work in your business. From how people develop through to how you reward the right behaviours and attitudes (rather than for performance only), you need to look at how you convey and maintain the right inclusive signals.

When it comes to the bottom line – performance is directly connected to inclusion.  The data backs this up, as does my own experience.  As well as encouraging ownership and responsiveness, the creative thinking it inspires means new solutions can be found to seemingly impossible challenges.  Inclusion is the key ingredient to talent development and that’s how every organisation flourishes. When teams become cohesive through their understanding of each other’s (and their customer’s) differences performance can go through the roof.

The point at which your audience can truly see themselves in your service or product range is also the point at which inclusion has interfaced with your business goals.  This is where the magic is. The key here is to understand how doable this is.  It’s not mysterious or complex, it’s just common sense.

As you can probably tell, I feel passionate about everything inclusion.  Remember to be brave and bold here and celebrate successes – as this area of HR is something that takes time, energy and resilience.

If you’d like to chat with me more and find out how I can help you implement the right changes for your organisation then contact me here, I’d be more than happy to meet with you.

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