Want to transform company culture? Start with diversity & inclusion

Organizational culture is not one-size-fits-all, but here are a few reliable places to start right now.

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A recent item on my ever-growing reading list was the Boston Consulting Group’s Gender Diversity Report. This research is chock-full of interesting nuggets, but here’s one of the most striking: 91% of surveyed companies had invested in gender diversity programs – yet only 27% of women said they had personally benefitted from those efforts.

Time and time again, I’ve witnessed that leaders have the best of intentions. They extoll the virtues of diversity and inclusion (D&I). They put together official D&I programs. Yet somehow, they end up – as in the case of some of my clients – with senior management teams that still don’t have enough women, include only those who went to elite colleges or only have one person of color. You see where this is going.

What gives?

The building blocks of intentional culture

Let’s widen our view for a moment. Organizational culture, or “the way things are done around here,” is the everyday expression of your corporate values. Culture will emerge no matter what you do, but you need to be intentional with it to reap positive results. Business leaders are taking notice with 87% of organizations citing culture and employee engagement as a top challenge to be urgently addressed, according to NACD.


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A healthy culture is no longer icing on the company cake, but a key differentiator in this tight job market. What’s more, many corporate scandals can be traced back to dysfunctional cultures. (Boeing and Netflix come to mind). We’re not talking about places that failed to host lunchtime yoga classes or install video game consoles in their break rooms.

If culture is paramount and an expression of company values, it follows that no one wants to go on record as not supporting women, people of color, or other underrepresented segments of the workforce. That’s just one reason why if your group’s culture isn’t where you want it to be, diversity and inclusion programs are a worthy place to start.

The case for D&I is overwhelming

This is not about political correctness. Your company’s long-term outlook depends on having employees from a variety of backgrounds. In fact, that BCG report states that companies whose management teams had above-average diversity boasted innovation revenue of 45 percent, compared to 26 percent for those with below-average leadership diversity.

I mean diversity in all senses of the word: gender, age, race, religion, family structure, and so on. There are endless combinations to the human experience, and they all come with valuable perspectives.

“Diversity and inclusion” are often used in the same breath, but those words aren’t interchangeable. You can hire a diverse group of people and throw them together in an office, but that doesn’t mean they will feel comfortable speaking their minds. Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.

Over time being asked to “dance” breeds employee satisfaction and retention. When your teams feel valued and included, they’ll return the favor by being more engaged and productive.

Four ways to foster D&I right now

How do you move the needle? Organizational culture is not one-size-fits-all, and therefore there is no one right plan for D&I. But here are a few reliable places to start right now.

  • Begin at the top: Culture takes shape at all levels of your company, but any major shift needs to begin with leadership. Demonstrate your authentic commitment to D&I and others will follow suit. Employees will take particular note of any policies or actions that affect how they are rewarded on the job.
  • Check your unconscious bias at the door: Perhaps you favor women because you are one yourself. Maybe you gravitate toward people who share your extroverted personality. Whatever they are, know your biases so you can detect and suppress them. Ideally, this will involve formal diversity and unconscious bias awareness training as a start.
  • Listen up: Remember, you set the tone for your organization. Welcome others’ opinions and let them do the talking sometimes, no matter where they fall on the org chart. Don’t debate or pivot away how they feel or what they are expressing. Everyone on your team is there for a reason, right? Make sure they feel that way.
  • Mix up your teams: It takes time for hiring practices to alter a company’s demographics. Meanwhile, there are plenty of ways to encourage diversity. Project assignments, seating arrangements, ice breakers, company-wide presentations are all chances to mix up your staff and encourage new connections.

That moment when two people who have worked in the same building for years finally shake hands? When a young person of color sees a version of herself on the board of directors? When someone from IT swings by the corner office to share an idea?

That’s when the magic happens.

Shaara Roman is founder of The Silverene Group, a boutique management consulting firm that aligns people programs with business goals to help companies create dynamic workplaces. The Silverene Group works with leaders to eliminate toxic stressors in their workplaces, build engaging cultures, and design effective organizational structures to maximize the employee experience. Find Shaara on Twitter and LinkedIn.


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