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Moving from inclusion in theory, to inclusion in action

The more time I spend working with organisations, the more I realise that culture change requires less talk, more action. ‘Company culture’ is still quite a nebulous concept, so leaders must demonstrate with tangible actions how they will operate as an organisation and what behaviours are acceptable.

If you say you provide an inclusive culture, you need to understand what exactly that means for your people and put steps in place to ensure it’s occurring in practice and not just in theory.  As I’ve mentioned before, diversity without inclusion is a complete waste of time.  Indeed, diversity without inclusion can actually be worse for your organisation!  When promised culture change doesn’t happen, the results are often worse than if the change wasn’t promised in the first place.  In the war for talent, more people than ever are telling me they’re willing to leave a company if they find another job that supports them to thrive.

Below are my thoughts on some practical steps you can take in your organisation to move from inclusion in theory, to inclusion in action.

1. Focus on meetings

Meetings are one of the key moments where inclusion lives or dies in an organisation.  Meetings are ripe environments for non-inclusive behaviours to play out; and not just in conversations about people, but in any conversation where you need a diverse range of perspectives to get the best outcome.  So that’s pretty much all meetings!

Action: Put in place practical changes to how you hold your meetings, including the manager speaking last to help avoid ‘groupthink’, ensuring you hear from all voices in the room, and rotating the role of meeting facilitator and note-taker.

2. Mind your language

I’ve been appalled by some of the language I’ve heard in organisations in reference to people or groups of people in their business. This possibly comes from a lack of awareness, but also from a lack of senior leaders setting the standard on acceptable language, leading by example, and holding everyone accountable.

Action: Raise awareness on what language is appropriate in your organisation, role-model this with your own behaviour and call out anything that isn’t acceptable.  If this comes from a lack of understanding, find out what your people need to know and build the necessary capability in your teams.

3. Speak to your people

I’m constantly surprised by the number of leaders I speak to who aren’t having fundamental one-on-one conversations with their team members.  Leaders should be asking all their people for open, honest feedback on their culture including how they feel about working at your organisation.  This is particularly important when speaking with under-represented groups.

Action: Speak to the people in your teams.  Let them know you value them, ask them what they need to be successful and how you can support them more.  As a leadership team, agree to hold these conversations for 2-3 months then come together to anonymously share key themes – you’ll be surprised at what you learn!

4. Understand and manage your biases

We all have biases – they make us human, but they can also hinder inclusion without us knowing it. As an organisation, it’s important to understand and communicate the key biases that exist among your people and put in place practical strategies to mitigate them.  This is an absolute foundation to a more inclusive culture, and without doing so you won’t be able to achieve, or harness, a more diverse talent pool.

Action: Have conversations about biases throughout your business, focusing on common times when they occur such as recruitment, when teams form, in meetings, conversations about people etc.  There is some great information online, or I can support with providing training based on real-life case studies.

5. Analyse your data and processes

You may be surprised at the opportunities you have for gathering rich data on inclusion in your business, and not just from people engagement surveys!  Inclusive practices can be imbedded into performance and development conversations, when setting up project teams, hiring people, reviewing investment decisions and much more.  Find the data living within these key business moments and fine tune accordingly.

Action: Set up the conditions for inclusive conversations in your key processes and review the data both in real-time and in retrospect to look for potentially biased patterns.  Who was involved in these conversations?  What assumptions were made?  How did they play out?  You might think you’re being inclusive but what does this analysis tell you?

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