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Diversity without inclusion – a complete waste of time

Diversity and inclusion are often used together, but they are not the same thing. Many companies are putting a huge emphasis on diversifying the makeup of their workforce, but few are taking tangible steps to build an inclusive culture.

Inclusion is your trump card. Incorporating diversity without ensuring your culture is inclusive, means you’re not getting the full benefits that all your people can bring. This often results in team members not being comfortable sharing their ideas or not feeling that their perspectives are valued; perspectives that are so critical for business success.

The business case for inclusion and diversity should by now be well understood; diverse teams working in an inclusive environment come up with better solutions to increasingly complex business problems, which makes them more innovative, engaging and profitable.

As such, diversity without inclusion is a complete waste of time!

Based on years of experience in culture, diversity, inclusion and belonging, I’ve set out below my thoughts on critical steps organisations can take to build an inclusive culture.

1. Embed culture in your strategy

I believe a business’s strategy is its most important guiding document, so I always start here. All too often I see business strategies that clearly articulate the “why” (often via the purpose or vision statement) and the “what” (through initiatives and goals etc.), but very rarely the “how”. But of course, organisations don’t achieve their results and then focus on their people; they perform through their people.

Action: Include your desired organisational culture in your business strategy so it will always be front of mind along with the other important aspects.

2. Articulate and communicate your culture clearly

Culture can be such a nebulous concept. Almost all organisations have great values, but they’re usually not specific enough to drive real culture change. Businesses need to get really clear about what an inclusive culture looks like, and then communicate this to their people.

Action: Articulate what inclusive behaviours should be displayed by everyone in your business. Then train your people on these, starting with your most senior leaders, and set the expectation that everyone needs to demonstrate them.

3. Lead from the top and hold people accountable

People in organisations will take their cues from their leaders, especially the most senior leaders. The culture an organisation promotes won’t mean anything if it’s not consistently demonstrated by its leadership teams.

Action: Executives and senior leaders: you must consistently role-model inclusive behaviours and expect your leaders to do the same. Then hold people in your business to account if they’re not displaying them.

4. Build safe spaces in your teams

It’s critical to spend time creating psychological safety in your teams where everyone can be themselves and where they’re willing to ask questions and share their views. This is because the real value of diversity comes to life when teams come together to solve problems, but also because team environments are ripe places for non-inclusive behaviours to play out.

Action: Build capability in your leaders to work with their team to create an inclusive environment, which allows everyone to feel comfortable and willing to share their ideas.

5. Encourage people to speak up

All leaders should regularly ask their team members about their experiences at work and their perspectives on the company culture, both in 1-1s but also more broadly e.g., in skip 1-1s and coffee catchups etc. In addition, organisations must provide multiple (safe) ways for people to call out non-inclusive behaviours. This includes providing a range of avenues and people for employees to speak with, in person or anonymously. These people should include members of your leadership team.

Action: Ask for feedback on your culture regularly across the whole business, and ensure people know the multiple pathways they can use to share their views, including speaking up about non-inclusive behaviours.

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