An inclusive culture is a work environment where everyone is valued as an individual, respected for who they are and feels welcome and supported regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or anything that puts people in boxes. It is a culture where we can accommodate different styles of thinking, talking, deciding, and connecting and where we learn to embrace our differences and collaborate effectively.
Here are 5 key elements to shaping an inclusive culture:
1. Embrace curiosity as a core value
Curiosity lies at the foundation of an inclusive culture. Leaders who are serious about inclusion will be true explorers and not accidental tourists, seeking to understand others and themselves and deal with situations through a lens of curiosity.
Get curious about the other. Start by inquiring into why people behave they do, what motivates them, what drives them, what they are truly passionate about. If you explore others’ preferences rather than assuming that you know or demand that they comply you can benefit from diversity and unleash creativity. Do you truly understand the others’ perspective or seek to reaffirm your own? Practice listening to learn and understand rather than listening to find ways to fix others based on your own perceptions and often unconscious biases. Observe everything through a lens of curiosity. Pay attention to the language you use. Do you tend to say: “you don’t get it” or “help me understand how you see it”? When you truly seek to understand, everyone will feel welcomed. When you deal with situations with curiosity all perspectives can be embraced.
Get curious about you. Explore why you behave the way you do. Reflect on why you responded to a certain situation the way you did. Increase your awareness of your own unconscious biases, and how others perceive you. Unveil your assumptions and test them frequently. Check unintended consequences of your well-intended actions. Ask for feedback, make sure to include different perspectives so you can avoid biased feedback, constantly reaffirming your own beliefs and justifying your behavior as we all tend to do unless we give it deliberate thought.
2. Lead by example
“My leadership on diversity is vision driven from a business point of view and value driven at the foundation” said Mikael Olson, CEO of Ikea.
Do you approach inclusivity as a personal mission? As a CEO or a top leader you can’t simply hand off inclusivity to the D&I manager. Walking the talk here simply means that this is a business imperative and a personal mission. And that there is also a diverse representation in critical and senior roles. Senior executives set the tone through inclusive leadership, holding each other accountable for reaching diversity and inclusion goals. They provide ladders for creating the right mix at the top.
3. Institute support systems
If you are serious about inclusion you need to build the confidence of those who tend to feel “left out”. How to go about it? Create a sponsorship program where top leaders visibly support high potential leaders through the ranks, provide high profile opportunities that can accelerate career advancement. Include them in networks that can propel growth. Institute a formal mentoring program with tangible goals, let them be inspired by role models. Maintain focus on inclusivity, setting corporate targets and articulated values. Track progress. Adapt your recruiting practices. Create a wider net, recruit and promote from diverse circles and ensure a diverse slate of candidates. Promote from within and retain diversity through sustaining an inclusive culture.
4. Create awareness of biases
Working through the lens of curiosity make a deliberate effort to catch yourself in action. Watch for language, yours and others. There tends to be a gazillion micro-aggressions day in day out where we may be totally unaware of the act or its consequences. For instance: is the language you use different for men and women? Always inquire first and avoid making assumptions about others when discussing promotions or mobility. Educate everyone, hold D&I training workshops focused on unconscious bias.
5. Make it an ongoing conversation
Creating a safe space for everyone to speak up and join the conversation is mission critical. Communities of practice where everyone can compare notes, share lessons learned and seek advice and support one another emotionally, drive and sustain inclusion.
More importantly these must become not a one-off conversation but rather daily, weekly, monthly ongoing conversations: a daily reflection on unconscious biases or micro-aggressions, a weekly 1:1 check in, a monthly review tracking progress on management agenda.
And if you hold yourself and others accountable for being inclusive, everyone can thrive and continuously shape a culture of inclusion.