How to create a culture of inclusion in the office

Creating an inclusive culture requires recognizing and evaluating the personal beliefs at play in workplace interactions.

Photo: Valdosta State University via Flickr

For years, diversity in most organizations has been largely a numbers game.

Leaders worked to understand the baseline of women and underrepresented minorities in their workforce and viewed increasing those numbers as the solution to the diversity parity problem. But a focus on numbers addresses only half of the factors required for your organization to truly benefit from diversity.

The missing piece — perhaps even more essential — is how well women and underrepresented minorities are actually included in the culture that you have created. Don’t confuse “hiring” with “inclusion.” Inclusion is more than a seat at the table; it’s having your voice heard and your opinions and expertise valued, even if your perspectives differ from others on the team and especially if they do.

Aside from recruiting talent to your organization to close the diversity gap, what can you do to improve inclusion? Begin by examining the individual human factors that can stifle it from happening.

There are four major human factors that define the contribution to an inclusive culture that any member of your team can make. Understanding how to assess and leverage these factors is key to creating a culture that not only has diverse representation, but benefits from it.

Drivers of mindset

Each of the individuals on your team was raised with a set of tenets around race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and other differences. Those beliefs translated into an accepted set of norms that influenced how these people behave when interacting with people different from themselves.

Creating an inclusive culture requires recognizing and evaluating the personal beliefs at play in workplace interactions so each team member can understand how he or she came to adopt their worldview around diversity. An assessment of every leader/manager’s level of cultural competency is essential to revealing the level of capability they possess to contribute to building an inclusive environment and driving productivity in significant ways.

In one recent cultural competency assessment, for example, all of the sales managers in a specific region were evaluated, and the results revealed a near-perfect correlation with their sales performance.  As a leader, therefore, eliminating individuals from the team who demonstrate “conscious incompetence” around cultural inclusion may be the tough decision that you have to make.

These are individuals who are rooted in beliefs that make inclusion impossible. Worse, they have no desire to change and are, thus, “consciously incompetent” as it relates to cultural inclusion. They are likely not your best performers overall.

Inherent personality

Purpose Linked Consulting’s research on purpose and passion revealed that each of us possesses 10 distinct personality factors in the form of observable passions that influence how we interact with and are perceived by others. According to the research, our passions are derived from our deeper sense of purpose, so they are important elements of personality that play a role in workplace interactions.

As a leader, assessing how the 10 personality factors, or passion archetypes, are operating on your team is central to supporting an inclusive culture. The Passion Profiler assessment is designed to help you leverage your team’s passion archetypes by creating a common language through which individuals can understand the value that each person brings to the team, and how each person’s passions offer the diversity of perspective required to solve problems and execute strategies.

The assessment also helps individuals better understand the genesis of their conflicts so they appreciate that not all conflicting views are rooted in commonly viewed differences like race, gender, and so on.

Team inclusion

Mindset and passion has a significant impact on team interactions but, until recently, rarely has it been assessed scientifically. While conducting her Illusion of Inclusion research in 1990, Patricia Pope, CEO of Pope Consulting, found that some employees think they are more included than they actually are, while others can be more included than they believe they have been.

Today, many organizations that are committed to diversity and inclusion use employee-engagement surveys as a proxy for measuring inclusion without a process for measuring inclusion itself. “I found this to be an odd phenomenon,” Pope shared. “After all, organizations don’t measure productivity by asking employees how hard they think they are working.”

Clearly, more well-defined measures were needed. Pope’s solution was to create the Team Inclusion Profile assessment, a tool that measures both team effectiveness and inclusion, allowing leaders to understand what inclusion looks like on a day-to-day basis.

“My 40+ years of working in the D&I industry shows that inclusive cultures can be measured over time. We see this through increased ability to retain employees from diverse backgrounds. Upward mobility of those from diverse backgrounds are also viewed as ‘merit-based’ (rather than as special treatment or affirmative action hires or promotions),”  said Pope. “Most important of all, these organizations experience breakthrough innovation. The Team Inclusion Profile shows you where you’re starting and what steps need to be taken to expand inclusion among team members.”

Training and accountability

Focusing on diversity training first is where most organizations begin when attempting to address perceived issues in the culture. Yet, doing so without assessing the human factors described above will likely yield disappointing results.

Training is not a panacea for driving behavioral change, especially when that needed change isn’t rooted in a deep understanding of the impact that individual mindset and personality can have on inclusion. Training should follow a robust assessment process so that it can be customized to address specific issues discovered on an individual and environmental basis. Training should also be reinforced with accountability measures and feedback, prompting individuals to remain committed to demonstrating the behaviors required to create and maintain a culture of inclusion.

In summary:

  • Metrics matter. Assess where individuals are on a mindset and personality level so that they and you are aware of their cultural capabilities and passions. This empowers employees to take steps to increase their cultural competency where necessary.
  • Leverage a common language, such as the passion archetypes, for individuals to understand how aspects of personality, such as passion, influence team and interpersonal interactions. A common language can serve as a vehicle for healthy feedback and collaboration.
  • Measure inclusion, and don’t mistake engagement for it. It’s true that people become more engaged when they feel included, but you can lose a whole lot of talent waiting for engagement scores to rise as inclusion lags.
  • Build accountability through short-term action plans with forward-leaning objectives. Monitor these plans closely and update them quarterly. Setting long-term diversity and inclusion goals is fine, but short-term milestones that are carefully monitored makes those goals a reality.
  • To reinforce an inclusive culture, create a safe space for discussion, dialogue and dissenting views, both on your team and within the larger organization. If individuals feel free to raise viewpoints, you’re likely to create better solutions and gain important insights about issues before they fester into larger problems.

Creating a diverse and inclusive culture requires an elegant process that embraces the whole of the personalities and mindsets at play in the organization. Almost no organization seeking to thrive and remain competitive can afford to do without it.

Alaina Love is chief operating officer and president of Purpose Linked Consulting and co-author of “The Purpose Linked Organization: How Passionate Leaders Inspire Winning Teams and Great Results” (McGraw-Hill). She is a recovering HR executive, a global speaker and leadership expert, and passionate about everything having to do with, well … passion. Her passion archetypes are Builder, Transformer and Healer. You can learn more about how to grow leaders, build passionate teams and leverage passion to create great customer outcomes here.

When she’s not working with her Fortune 500 client base, Love is busy writing her next book, “Passionality, The Art and Science of Finding Your Passion and Living Your Bliss,” which explores the alignment of personality, purpose and passion, and the science of how it contributes to our well being. Follow Love on TwitterFacebookYouTube or her blog.

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