What Does It Really Mean to Create an Inclusive Culture?

on July 11, 2019

Over the past 20 years, we have seen a proliferation of diversity and inclusion (D&I) efforts in organizations. In some cases, the efforts have paid off. Take Apple, for instance. In the past two years, 60% of their U.S.-based new hires represent minority racial or ethnic groups. This is not happenstance; Apple has been intentional in their recruiting and hiring strategies to create a diverse employee population.

But having a Diversity and Inclusion department does not necessarily lead to a more inclusive environment. I distinctly remember one of my early experiences at Root was leading a D&I project with a Fortune 100 company. At our first in-person meeting, we set up the room and prepared for the Chief Diversity Officer to arrive. When she entered the room, she asked, “Has Root arrived yet?” My colleague and I raised our hands. She replied, “Oh, I thought you were interns here.” Our efforts to create a more diverse and inclusive environment were off to an interesting start!

Unfortunately, many organizations still have “Oh, I thought you were interns here” cultures that are far from inclusive.

D&I or I&D?

Representative diversity is a good thing. But without creating an inclusive culture that welcomes this diversity, companies can face endless challenges that thwart individual contributions and overall engagement. Some mindsets that might create such challenges are:

To begin to address the behaviors, some companies have swapped the “D” and the “I” to now have I&D functions. Dow recently hired their first ever Chief Inclusion Officer. Starbucks has kept the “D” then “I” sequence, but the header on their D&I site states they are, “Creating a Culture of Belonging, Inclusion, and Diversity.” Many others are following suit and leading with inclusion.

From my conversations with HR and business leaders, it seems this overall shift stems from an acknowledgement that creating a culture of inclusion is primary. For a diverse workforce to thrive, you need to develop an inclusive mindset and culture first. By creating a culture of inclusion, organizations can begin to overcome their “majority rules,” “in and out,” and “lonely at the top” challenges.

Inclusion Is Fuzzier Than Diversity

Listing the word inclusion first is only a symbolic gesture.

If you look again at Apple’s page on Inclusion & Diversity, there are great quotes from individuals about Apple’s inclusive culture. But, all the quantitative data is focused much more on diversity than inclusion. There are no data points about attrition, promotion opportunities, or representation at the leadership level.

In many ways, inclusion is much more difficult to measure. Sometimes, engagement surveys ask employees to rate statements like “I feel like I belong here;” “My opinions matter;” or “Managers are fair.” These can be very helpful indicators of inclusion. But, organizations rarely share a demographic breakdown of these survey results. It’s a lot easier to share diversity representation numbers. Is the organization successfully inclusive? That is much fuzzier.

So, What Are the First Steps for Creating an Inclusive Culture?

Unfortunately, often the first step is, “Let’s train our people! Create a workshop! Mandate an eLearning module!” Because, once again, measuring the participation rate of a workshop is easy. We can quickly measure percent completion rates and symbolically demonstrate the importance of inclusion and diversity.

Before sending thousands of people to training, there are three important steps you want to take.

1. Gain actionable insights about the current state. Yes; employee engagement surveys, demographic data, and EEO office complaints can be helpful. However, organizations need to go several levels deeper in order to actually measure inclusion properly. Questions that help reveal this information include:

  • What are the hiring and promotional criteria managers use to make decisions?
  • Whose voices matter more, and in what settings?
  • Why are people really leaving?
  • From the perspective of individual contributors, not leaders, what is driving (or not driving) a sense of belonging?

Without uncovering insights like these, well-intended efforts can miss out on core cultural issues.

2. Get clear on your why. I’ve seen many organizations fast-forward to action, assuming everyone already sees the need to create a more inclusive culture. While those behind the action have the right intentions, successful inclusion initiatives occur when all the decision-makers are on board. So before hitting the “go” button, be sure to ask:

  • What is the organization’s driving purpose behind its pursuit for inclusivity?
  • Is it to attract and retain talent? To drive innovation? Just because it’s “the right thing to do”? All of the above?

In addition to the organizational why, get clear on individuals’ whys. Why is a more inclusive culture important to your undergraduate new hires? What about your employee population in international locations? Is it different for your CEO and executive team?

3. Paint the picture of the future state. What does success look like? Many organizations have stated goals for representation at various levels of the organization because, again, it’s easier to measure. But, setting goals is not enough to start an inclusive culture movement (and some populations even feel threatened by these goals). So, set your organization up for success by asking:

  • How will it feel different in decision-making meetings (and in the meetings after the meeting)?
  • Will our future state of a more inclusive culture impact our customers?
  • How will we recognize and celebrate inclusive behaviors?

Having the Right Intention Is Just the Start

It’s quite vogue to want to create a more inclusive and diverse workforce. But, it is much more difficult than developing and launching a training event. Developing a culture built on inclusivity won’t be accomplished in a day. Take the time now to gain deeper insights, clarify your why, and imagine the future. Develop your compelling story about how a more inclusive environment can transform your culture and your business. Only then can you create a roadmap and start making it happen.

What is your organization’s inclusion story? I’d love to hear your insights!

Thinking

Managing Change
Managing Change