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How to Build an Inclusive Culture that Can Support Diversity

The Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) coin has two sides. The diversity side is about the heterogeneity of the workforce demographics, including age, race/ethnicity, and gender. The inclusion side is about the culture of the organization. Leaders have the power to build cultures that enhance both organizational effectiveness and employee experience. To do this well, they need to understand how their actions either enhance or hinder inclusion. They also need to understand the experience of current and new employees.

The Value Of Inclusive Cultures

Let’s define “culture” as “how we do things around here”—covering norms, values, beliefs, and expectations. We will define an inclusive culture as one in which the way things are done allow multiple people—all with different backgrounds, mindsets, and ways of thinking—to work together effectively to achieve the organization’s goals. Organizations with inclusive cultures tend to value behaviors such as open communication, collaboration, sharing of information, openness to new ideas, decision-making where the work is performed, and shared celebration and recognition.

Whether an organization’s workforce is diverse or homogenous in gender, age, race/ethnicity or any of the other observable dimensions of difference, it is the inclusion dimension that makes the difference.

Diverse organizations with inclusive cultures are eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, three times more likely to be high-performing, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets than diverse organizations without inclusive cultures.

Using Culture Fit In Selection & Hiring

Many organizations use the fit between a candidate and the organization’s culture, which is usually called Person-Organization (P-O) fit, as selection criteria when hiring new employees. P-O fit is often given even more weight than person-job fit. The thinking is that it is easier to teach a person how to do a job than it is to teach them to fit into the organization’s culture post-hire.

If an organization using the P-O approach is already diverse and has an inclusive culture, then it is likely that the use of P-O in selection will result in hires who are also diverse and who can fit easily into the organization. However, if the organization’s workforce is homogenous or if the culture is not inclusive, then the use of P-O will likely result in hiring people who are similar to those already in the organization. Additionally, potential job candidates may decline to apply for vacant jobs because they fear not fitting in. Over time, neither the diversity nor the inclusiveness of the organization’s culture will change.

Inclusive Cultures Must Be Purpose-built

Leaders must intentionally build inclusive cultures, and each person in the organization who has the responsibility for leading others must be part of that work.

Top leaders can define the inclusive behaviors they desire in their organizations, and they can model and teach these behaviors to all managers. For example, leader actions that can enhance inclusive culture include:

  • Helping team members feel safe to express their opinions.
  • Ensuring that all stakeholders are included in conversations.
  • Treating all colleagues fairly regardless of their backgrounds.
  • Leveraging diverse perspectives when making business decisions

Measuring Your Culture: Is it inclusive?

Although leaders do all they can to build inclusive cultures, their intentions may not automatically have the desired impact. After leaders have defined desired behaviors, they must hold other managers accountable for behaving in ways that are consistent with those expectations.

Leaders can use a variety of methods to understand if managers are exhibiting the desired behaviors, and if employees and new hires are having an experience that aligns with the desired inclusive culture. Typical approaches include:

  • Candidate, new hire, and onboarding surveys reveal how the organization is perceived by candidates and new hires.
  • Employee census surveys reveal insights from employees about their current experience and recommendations for improvement.
  • Pulse and targeted surveys allow leaders to explore, on a just-in-time basis, any concerns bubbling up through informal communication channels.
  • Multi-rater feedback enables individual managers to get feedback from direct reports, peers, superiors, and clients, helping leaders understand what they can do to be more effective.

The person-organization culture fit model tends to result in the hiring of people who are similar to those already in the organization. Organizations that want to diversify their workforce must train and hold managers accountable for exhibiting inclusive behaviors. They must regularly check in with current and new employees to make sure they are thriving. Leaders who take these steps will optimize their business performance.

If you are interested in learning more about organizational response specific to COVID-19, there are several articles on our blog with insights about helping employees navigate this unprecedented situation.

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