Diversity & inclusion15 min read

11 step approach to creating a more inclusive culture

💪 We are happiest and perform best when we can be ourselves, because we all want to be valued for who we are.

An inclusive culture is one that embraces and celebrates our differences – differences in experiences, backgrounds and ways of thinking.

There’s a lot of research indicating that inclusive businesses have more highly-engaged, motivated and productive workforces.

According to a 2018 report by Bersin and Deloitte, companies with inclusive cultures are 8x more likely to achieve better business outcomes. In another study by Deloitte in 2013, when employees “think their organization is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included,” their ability to innovate increases by 83%.

The benefits of an inclusive culture where everyone is embraced for their uniqueness and individuality as a human being are multiple:

  • Team performance improves by 50% when everyone feels included
  • Inclusive teams make better business decisions up to 87% of the time
  • Decisions made and executed by diverse teams deliver 60% better results

Yet, in 2020 organizations are still struggling to create an inclusive culture. Changing culture remains a critical priority for many of the world’s most innovative organizations even today. According to a 2014 global study by Korn Ferry, 72% of executives say culture is extremely important for organizational performance. But one truth remains – most culture change efforts fail.

So how do you get your people proactively collaborating together to drive your organization’s culture change efforts forward? As the saying goes, even the longest journey begins with a single step. But there are no silver bullets – it’s a series of tiny steps all happening at the same time that makes culture change happen.

This quote from Aubrey Blanche, Global Head of Diversity & Belonging at Atlassian, rightly sums up our feelings:

There’s not really one silver bullet, right? There’s like 500,000 tiny little bullets that you have to shoot all at the same time.

So how can you get started with creating a truly transformational large-scale culture change program to build a more inclusive environment?

Check out our 11 step guide here.

Step 01: Get buy-in from the top

Though the business case for D&I is well-documented, many changemakers still find it tough to get leadership buy-in. Change won’t work if people at the top don’t understand the behaviors you’re asking people at the bottom to practice.

To create culture change at scale, you need to first get buy-in from the top. Highlighting benefits like increased innovation, profitability and faster time to market can win over senior executives. A way we can build buy-in is to break down practically how we can all be inclusive in simple, everyday ways. We can empower leaders to make simple changes to the way they do things every day to intentionally include. We can show senior leaders that inclusion is a skill you can learn. And then make sure they lead by example — raising awareness, encouraging conversation and practicing inclusive behaviors daily.

You need to make it simple enough that it’s not seen as threatening or costly but seen as being a solution to most of those leaders’ challenges.

Step 02: Build psychological safety

To create culture change, leaders need to role model the behavior you want to see in your team and organization. Start by encouraging sharing, openness, and vulnerability. Once we take on vulnerability with open arms, we can make the connections that lead to psychological safety. Inspire your team to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. Actively listen and respond to them when they do. Empower your team to take interpersonal risks and voice their opinions.

Psychological safety allows for moderate risk-taking, speaking your mind, creativity, and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off.

Psychological safety matters because it leads to healthier, more productive, and more inclusive teams. Where there’s psychological safety, there’s a sense of dependability in one another, role clarity, and an intrinsic motivation to work hard. When you have psychological safety, people will feel empowered to speak up and speak out to truly take action against bias.

RELATED:

Why psychological safety is a critical path to inclusion

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Step 03: Get everyone on the same page

Years of leadership development research tells us that individuals at the highest levels of the organization have the most influence. But what about the hundreds or thousands of employees that keep an organization going every single day? What is their influence on culture change?

Throughout history, hierarchies housed in high towers have claimed to rule, but often real power has resided in the networks in the town square below. For it is networks that tend to innovate. And it is through networks that revolutionary ideas can contagiously spread.

Influence works in both directions, so making use of everyone’s perspectives and putting them together in a productive way will radically increase how well you can innovate and is key to creating culture change at scale.

In 2019, a leading insurance firm set up to achieve culture shift within their organization using Hive Learning’s Inclusion Works peer learning program – a digital toolkit for building an inclusive culture.

Our client wanted to understand how a large cohort of mixed users from across their organization would engage and progress through a fully digital, mobile-first inclusion program to drive culture change quickly and at scale. They wanted to drive awareness of what it means to be inclusive and get better actionable outcomes amongst their employees than what is usually achieved by the end of a traditional face to face training.

The programme covered content on everything from why D&I matters to how to spot and respond to bias, how to build psychological safety within the team to how to attract diverse team members. We focused on measuring behaviors and mindsets using polls/pulse checks/surveys. The goal was to achieve a cultural shift as Inclusion Works focused participant’s attention on putting what they learned into practice – forming inclusive daily habits.

Inclusion Works Screenshots

The result was an inclusion habit being formed in just two months. Two thirds of participants logged into our platform and engaged with inclusion content once a week and 62% proactively shared comments and created content about their own thoughts and reflections on what it takes to be an inclusive colleague, and their experiences of practising new inclusion habits daily. What’s more, when we started the programme 82% of sessions began with a notification. Over time, over half of sessions started completely unprompted – proving that this cohort had formed a learning habit.

These factors combined showed a real behavior shift – the result of the momentum gained from getting everyone on the same page, driving conversation and collaboration, and peer-led learning. Participants took ownership of inclusion and developed inclusive daily habits – with every single participant reporting that they’d changed their behaviour and taken action against bias as a result of the programme.

I think all employees should be able to participate, and that this should not be just for leaders (like past unconscious bias has been). Entry level employees and those younger in their career face bias too, and at times, need to manage up. Having tools available to all employees equally is paramount for success.

Step 04: Give everyone the practical tools to make changes

To truly create a culture of inclusion, you need to give people practical tools to make changes and form winning habits within the team. Your culture is made up of the tiny habits people in your team create every day.

These can be in really simple areas, like the way you run your meetings and give feedback.

Here are some lessons we’ve learned over the years:

  1. When done well, meetings and conversations are an incredible opportunity to build inclusiveness in your team. As a leader, you need to encourage everyone to speak up and create a healthy meeting dynamic where everyone’s voice is heard and respected.  For remote workers, try to be as inclusive as possible with them in mind, by soliciting their opinions, assuming positive intent, exercising empathy, and using video where possible to get helpful visual cues.
  2. Build a feedback culture as feedback fuels continuous improvement. But to give and receive feedback effectively requires a broader feedback culture where your whole team is comfortable with it. As the adage goes, you have to be the change you want to see. Rather than preaching about the benefits of feedback, model it. And get buy-in from your fellow leaders and managers to do the same. Openly talk to your team about building a feedback culture where you’re committed to helping each other improve and succeed – as well as the first to celebrate each other’s successes.

RELATED:

Your 2-minute guide to giving feedback

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Hear everyone when you ideate

 Step 05: Make inclusion inclusive

Communicate strategically to inform everyone of happenings around the organization to assure everyone is going through the same process at the same time. Designate a small team to act as the core to drive communication efforts and translate information coming from the top and bottom. An active communication system is critical to a lean and agile organization that can compete in today’s business environment.

Remember, culture change can’t be achieved through a top-down mandate. It lives in the habits of all the employees within an organization and their shared perceptions. An organization can spend thousands of dollars of training budget on inclusive culture and leadership. But you can’t truly change your culture if only the organizational leaders know how to be inclusive. You’ll only make change if everyone knows how to be inclusive and goes through it at the same time. To truly build an inclusive culture, every single individual within your organization must know the standards, values, and behaviors you set and hold each other to account.

Step 06: Utilize existing D&I champions

Studies show that bringing together a team with a diverse set of backgrounds and perspectives naturally lends itself to innovative thinking. Research from the likes of Forbes, BCG, North Carolina State University, The Center for Talent Innovation backs this up.

So, deliberately appoint D&I champions within teams or business units to spread the enthusiasm within your diverse team members and use the first follower advantage.

Our data shows that culture change programmes with deliberately appointed ‘champions’ get 6X higher engagement than those without. The best way to make a movement, if you really care, is to courageously follow and show others how to follow. As seen in the video, when you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in. You could give them swag, encourage them to reflect on their own experiences and help anyone who finds it difficult. When people begin to take ownership of and demonstrate change, it will begin to cascade across your organization and you’ll see evidence of real behavior change.

Step 07: Drive action

Give people practical steps they can take and hold them accountable – to each other and through reporting and daily rituals. Change the physical environment to reflect and allow for the acceptance of the new culture. If teamwork is the theme, rearrange the office layout to facilitate better teamwork and collaboration; if accessibility is the theme, spend the money to make the physical conditions in the office accessible to all your employees. The bottom line is to align your actions to match the desired culture.

For example, if you’re working to create a culture of inclusive meeting dynamics where everyone’s voice is heard and respected, try any two of these facilitation techniques to drive your desired results:

  • Elevate all voices from the start: Try using Thompson’s “brainwriting” technique of putting everyone’s words to paper first, or an easy open-ended starter question where everyone contributes.
  • Challenge constructively: Draw out ideas from even your most quiet colleague by breaking into pairs and sharing ideas, asking a junior colleague for their thoughts, soliciting dissent, or trying out the “inversion” technique.
  • Steer the conversation: Reframe the conversation by restating what’s on the agenda to stay on course, reformulate to question defeatist attitudes, and use nonverbal cues to get others to speak up.
  • Mediate interruptions: Try interrupting the interrupter and reiterate the value of hearing from everyone at the meeting – and don’t be shy about it!

To drive inclusive culture, you not only need to change your processes but you also change your daily behaviors. If you only tell people once, they won’t make a difference. You need to nudge them to take action every day and encourage them to reflect.

Step 08: Prompt reflection

Ask your people to reflect, be vulnerable and model desired behaviors. Vulnerability begins with showing you have no need to believe in or project a vision that you are perfect. Building vulnerability is easier than you think and is a key ingredient in psychological safety.  But how can you set about being authentic and “human” in a practical way? In the day-to-day, sending this message can be more actionable than you think.

  • Discuss your emotions, such as your general mood or response to tasks and changes in the workplace. And yes, be honest when someone asks, “How are you?”!
  • Talk about the parts of yourself you want to work on.
  • Openly share your views… especially if you suspect they are unpopular ones.

Encourage your team to bring their whole, authentic selves to work. Actively listen and respond to them when they do.

Step 09: Praise positive behavior when you see it

Psychological research has shown us time and again that positive reinforcement is the most powerful tool in your armory for producing and maintaining desired behavior.

Studies have shown that positive reinforcement and gratitude:

Inclusion tip

Be culturally sensitive and context-aware when you express gratitude or positive reinforcement. Some co-innovators may prefer a formal face-to-face expression of thanks with a handshake. Others may be most buoyed by an email thanking them for how “fun” the conflict was, quoting the best line with a mic-drop GIF. 

Step 10: Measure it, test and adapt as you go

Finding ways to measure, test, and document how culture shifts are imperative. When done right, measurement shows employees that their organization’s focus on culture isn’t just lip service but a real effort to shift the culture.

It’s important to avoid getting caught up in finding the perfect metric for measuring cultural change success. Instead, start with a small pilot and declare the positive results. Take lessons from your pilots, measure results, test them and adapt the metrics as needed going forward.

It is the testing that keeps the target in sight, sets the pace and gets your team in shape to meet not only diversity goals but many others as well.

Measuring the impact of a cultural transformation is definitely complex but highly achievable.

Culture can and should be measured, and the designing of those metrics and adapting to change as we proceed is a part of the overall journey of a scalable culture change program.

Step 11: Watch cascading culture change happen

Your commitment to the desired culture must cascade from senior leaders down to all people managers and employees within the organization. All leaders must demonstrate their commitment by behaving in ways that are consistent with the culture and not just providing lip service to the culture. As you start moving your culture in the desired direction, consistent behaviors become part of your culture landscape and you’ll soon start seeing your employees sharing their experiences and being part of your organization’s culture.

 

About Inclusion Works Peer Learning Program

We believe that Inclusion is a skill you can learn.

That’s why we created Inclusion Works from Hive Learning – a digital toolkit for building inclusive culture.

Our interactive learning experience is designed to take participants on a journey from unconscious bias to conscious action by embedding tiny but powerful daily habits of inclusion as a daily routine.

From knowing how to spot and stop bias from influencing your decision making, to understanding how to hear all voices in meetings and distribute feedback fairly, we’ll give you the tools to talk about diversity and talk about it every day.

Learn anytime, anywhere, together and from each other.

Want exclusive access to our Inclusion Works Peer Learning Program? Request access now!

If you want to find out more about creating a more inclusive culture at your organization, drop us a message here.

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