Why You Need to Scrap Everything You Think You Know About Diversity

Do you hear them? The voices of angry people across all races, genders, and sexual orientations saying “Black Lives Matter!” In response, many corporations are putting out PR statements and donating money in support. Both are good and noble. But if real action is not taken, it is just ticking off a box. Corporate America, like the rest of the world, will remain much the same: diverse without real inclusion. Diversity without inclusion is…nothing.

Hiring people of different races, genders, affiliations, and ages is not enough. If employees do not feel valued, heard, part of the culture, or if there is no viable path to advance their careers, what are you really signifying to them?

Last year, we published Rethinking What Diversity Means for Your Business. While the core of that piece and its insights remains true, we believe diversity and inclusion is an ongoing process as with all company objectives. It is not words, statements, and one-time actions. A culture of diversity and inclusion involves continuous communication, learning, and iteration.

Five Components Necessary for A Culture of Inclusion

As you travel along the continuous road of building and maintaining a thriving culture of diversity and inclusion, always be mindful of why this is so important. The “why” will be your North Star while you figure out “how”. Focus on these five actions at all levels and the roadmap will become clearer.

  1. Listen.

    You have heard it before in more ways than you can remember. One phrase that has always stuck with us is, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This is also Habit #5 in Dr. Stephen Covey’s best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

    Often times we listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. How can an effective culture of diversity and inclusion have a chance if there is no understanding? Do employees feel that they are in is safe space to express opinions or thoughts? Does senior leadership and management practice active listening?

    The root of many issues within a company is poor communication which stems from not listening with the goal of understanding. When an employee feels their position, opinions, or thoughts are not welcomed, they will likely keep them buried. And that is when things start to fester.

    Hold active and regular employee feedback sessions, workshops, different styles of sessions where concerns and comments are acknowledged by management and senior leadership. Set up systems to address and respond to concerns and hold parties accountable.

  2. Educate.

    Information is in abundance. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I would have done things differently had I known…” To educate is to give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to another.

    Nobody knows everything. Leaders tasked with creating cultures of diversity and inclusion should be educated and be able to educate. But the best people in leadership know what they know and, more importantly, realize what they do not know. And when they do not know something, they find the people they can learn from.

  3. Remediate and Iterate.

    Building a diverse and inclusive culture of is not a one-off, nor does it happen overnight. Some eggs might get broken in the process. Clean it up, figure out why the eggs broke, and adjust. Then repeat, again and again.

    Real change is possible when habits are put into action in an environment that supports candidness and healthy tension. You may be required to encourage behavioral change, which requires building new habits and behaviors.

  4. Celebrate.

    Be proud of the diversity within your organization. It is part of what defines the company and makes it special. Employees should feel welcome to share their backgrounds and traditions, whether it be a potluck for a specific season, pride month, or Juneteenth. This is an opportunity to learn and understand in a communal atmosphere. When differences are celebrated, people are more likely to share, and people that feel celebrated tend to perform at higher efficacy levels.

  5. Communicate.

    We are all part of a larger whole. However, we can easily get bogged down within our own teams, siloed between business units, and focused individual work. Each person’s role helps the overall machine move forward, especially when it comes to company culture.

    Keep everyone informed. Discuss new initiatives, track the progress of various committees, report back on findings. Inclusion should be real – and visible – from the top, down. If the leaders are living and breathing inclusion, it will be an inextricable part of the DNA.

    Don’t be discouraged if things do not go smoothly or perfectly. What happened in the past is just that. You cannot erase any of it, but going forward you can be diligent. Make change a priority to create a culture that will be better for everyone.