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9 Cultural Norms That Foster Continuous Change and Improvement, Part VIII: Inclusivity and Belonging

How can we create organizational cultures that enable shared and agile approaches to enacting significant and enduring departures from the shackles of the status quo?

This is Part VIII of a series on 9 Cultural Norms That Foster Continuous Change, Improvement and Innovation. These are cultural attributes whose inculcation I have learned in my years as a serial Change Master™, are the most predictive of game changing outcomes. They ground organizations in the envisionment of, planning for, and execution of transformative change.

  • Unwavering Commitment
  • Results Focus
  • Resiliency Leading to Adaptability and Agility
  • Innovative Thinking & Action
  • Intentional Transparency
  • Empowerment
  • Accountability
  • Inclusivity and Belonging
  • Inclusive Approach to Conflict Resolution

The last few years have seen turmoil, change and continued unexpected shifts in the workplace. From the Great Resignation to a shift to hybrid and remote working, to the latest conversation around ‘quiet quitting’, a light has been shone into all corners of our organizations with a renewed emphasis on nurturing our most important asset – our people. Along with the increase in CEOs, boards, and other key stakeholders demanding that organizations have a louder voice in socio-political matters, there is an increased emphasis being put on the creation of cultures that walk the talk in terms diversity, equity, inclusion (DE&I) and belonging.

Interestingly, it doesn’t stop there. People are asking tougher questions of themselves, demanding more of their day. As of January 2022, 52% of American employees, according to Gartner, questioned the purpose of their day-to-day jobs. And they’re drawing lines. According to recent Deloitte research, 58% of Americans believe that an inclusive workplace with a strong and well-supported diversity program is critically essential.

Despite this imperative, it hasn’t been easy to meet the often-ambitious goals being set to bring about cultural shifts in diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. There remains much work still to be done.

Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Martin Luther King Jr.

INVESTMENTS INTO DE&I AND BELONGING PRODUCE SIGNIFICANT ROIs

Studies have definitively shown that diverse teams drive to better business and financial performance. We also know that organizations with greater diversity become more resilient and innovative. Organizations that take an equitable approach to the development of all of their employees to include financial and other forms of rewards and recognition are heralded. And inclusive approaches to communications, decision-making, problem-solving and the like are required for diverse teams to thrive.

When you prioritize DE&I and Belonging, you can cultivate an authentic values-driven culture that is highly correlated to increased levels of effectiveness, efficiency, productivity and innovation. According to Gartner research, long-term DE&I programs bring about a 20% boost in inclusion. This is associated with increased on-the-job effort, intent to remain, and employee performance. Deloitte research found that teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high performing, 20% more likely to say they make high-quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively.

YOU CAN’T HAVE ONE WITHOUT ALL OF THE INTERCONNECTED PARTS

There is little point in the recruitment of a diverse workforce, nor ensuring talented individuals from different backgrounds are fully included if your organization has not considered what different people need to be successful. To do that you need to understand and embrace the concept of equity – fair and contextually appropriate access to the resources required for team members to achieve their full potential.

Creating a sense of belonging is the glue that fosters continuous improvement in the pursuit of diversity, equity and inclusion. It is about cultivating a sense of community and creating conversations that make us feel connected, accepted and heard. It is an envelope of psychological safety. To see real, sustainable change, and to leverage the full potential of all of their talent, organizations need to go beyond diversity, equity and inclusion to focus on belonging in the workplace.

Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.

Verna Myers, Netflix

… and belonging is knowing all the songs.

LaFawn Davis, Indeed

NINE TIPS FOR BUILDING AN ENDURING DE&I AND BELONGING CULTURE

  1. Appoint a DEI Leader who is known for being a Positive Disruptor™ — a visionary and strategic thinker who can inspire stakeholders up and down the organization to believe in the possibility and its achievability and drive beyond their realization. A dedicated and empowered Chief Diversity Officer who sits on the Executive Committee signals a commitment on the part of the leadership to transform. Among other responsibilities, that leader should be responsible for ensuring that quantitatively and qualitatively expressed DE&I goals are infused into the objectives and cultural development priorities of all functional areas.
  2. Practice inclusive and blind recruitment approaches. Create a percentage threshold of diverse candidates below which, from a policy standpoint, you won’t go. Eliminate all references to gender and ethnic backgrounds from descriptions of candidates that business unit managers are being asked to consider.
  3. Create a memorable high impact onboarding process. Make supportive resources accessible to everyone from the moment they join. Aggressively communicate the availability of various types of support — especially mental, emotional, learning and development. Share examples and stories that demonstrate the organization’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Invite new employees to offer their ideas relating to the advancement of DE&I and belonging practices.
  4. Pay attention to assigning mentors, coaches and champions of employees who represent marginalized groups. Consider customized development programs that will accelerate their advancement and enlarge the pipeline of diverse managers and leaders moving up the organization.
  5. Encourage connection, especially across organizational lines. As much as we hope people will naturally connect in the ebb and flow of the day, helping employees to set up these opportunities always has more and longer-lasting impact. Enable team members to connect over shared interests, whether in person or on digital channels.
  6. Be intentional about the creation of physical office spaces. The interior design of your office can support a more inclusive, psychologically safe environment. It is critical, for example, to anticipate situations that will cause discomfort for some employees. For example, gendered bathrooms can make transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals uncomfortable. Create spaces for relaxation and engagement. Include comfortable, private spaces.
  7. Don’t forget about the design of virtual spaces. For those who are meeting online there are ways to create a deeper sense of connection by, for example, creating thematic backgrounds such as favorite pets and favorite spaces in your home.
  8. Create the opportunity for all employees to have a voice. Provide employees with various ways to offer and receive feedback and input, from surveys to office hours or information calls. Creating an inclusive culture is an ongoing process that needs to continuously improve. Keep the channels of dialogue and minds open for opportunities to listen, do more, and do better.
  9. Strive to be a caring organization. Benefits and initiatives like flexible working or emotional wellness programs make it clear that your organization cares about its people. Marking appropriate events and holidays for all groups increases awareness of the uniqueness and diversity of the workforce and promotes feelings of inclusivity and belonging.

Creating and managing a diverse workforce is a process, not a destination.

R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr.

Organizations need to act decisively and creatively to build diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Shareholders, customers and employees are increasingly demanding it. Change and behavior-shaping starts at the top, but must be built in at all levels of the organization. Follow the steps listed above and you will set the stage for creating a trusted, trusting, engaged high-performing workforce.

Explore more of the cultural norms that position for continuous change, improvement and innovation:

  1. Unwavering Commitment
  2. Results Focus
  3. Resiliency
  4. Innovative Thinking and Action
  5. Intentional Transparency
  6. Empowerment
  7. Accountability
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