Building an inclusive and diverse culture is vital, and more simple than you think
It’s time to rebuild.
Your business just survived a global pandemic and you’re rebuilding for an uncertain future, where the assumptions of the past 20 years seem archaic. When cashflow is a daily concern, do you really have time to worry about building an inclusive culture?
It’s the first thing you should be worrying about!
Here’s 3 reasons “why” and 6 tips to start the “how”
Reason 1: Survival Depends on Resilience
To survive the kind of upheaval we saw in 2020, you either need deep pockets or a resilient team. If you have deep pockets you can get away with ignoring resilience, but small companies (the hardest hit during the pandemic) have to rely on their staff.
Reason 2: Resilience is built on trust
If you trust your team, and they trust each other, the company is more efficient and more adaptive, therefore more likely to cope (even thrive) with changing circumstances.
Reason 3: Trust is built on difference
We don’t build trust despite our differences. The strongest trust is built because we are different. This is the foundation of all commerce: our different skills contribute to our corporate strength. Maximizing the value of our differences can maximize our value to each other.
Unfortunately, as simple as that sounds, it is not easy. Our differences are of vital importance, but without disciplined practice, our differences can descend into base conflicts. This is why building an inclusive culture requires skill, which requires practice and attention. Here are 6 actions to get your started:
Action 1: Start at the top with humility
Culture change needs leadership. Building an inclusive culture starts with humility – an acknowledgement that no one person is sufficient, and that we need each other. This humility is not a weakness but a strength, since it allows others to participate in our enterprise and assumes that we admit to our mistakes. Leaders who demonstrate humility by seeking help from their teams are more trusted and foster loyalty amongst their subordinates. Ask for help and prepare to make many mistakes.
Action 2: Start with your next meeting
Every meeting you have is both functional and educational. The function is obvious, but the education is unconscious. How you run a meeting communicates unconsciously who you are and what the culture of your company is. Start to make the educational component of your meetings explicit. Think about what your meeting style says about the culture of your company and think about changing one thing to see what happens. You can even ask your team for feedback (see Action 1). If you want to learn more, read Priya Parker’s excellent book “The Art of the Gathering” to learn about how you can make your meetings more inclusive and take control of how meetings build culture.
Action 3: Start by listening
The most fundamental skill for any individual within a healthy inclusive culture is the skill of active listening. You don’t need to wait for a workshop to learn this skill. You can start practicing it in your next interaction. Even the most inconsequential conversation is an opportunity for you to practice listening. Skilled listening fosters psychological safety which is vital to building trust in an inclusive culture.
Action 4: Start learning
There are excellent resources to help you understand the damage done by systemic discrimination and how to address it. Finding resources that work for your company is not an easy task, nor is it likely to work every time, but, as with all good education, you will make many mistakes and your humility will help turn your mistakes into opportunities for growth, both personal and corporate.
Action 5: Start to look for champions
While an inclusive culture needs endorsement form the top, it needs life from the bottom. You will need champions who guide and hold you and your company accountable. There are people in your company or circle who may surprise you with their knowledge and willingness to help build a culture of inclusivity.
Action 6: Start slowly
Too many people rush into fixing problems without understanding them. Building trust is a slow process that is partly about fixing structures, but mostly about something genuine and deeply human – a connection that can’t be rushed. People who have been hurt by years of being excluded will not easily trust someone on a sudden crusade that looks like they are fixing their own guilt rather than real culture change. Learn to sit with your discomfort and listen to the people whose trust you need. You may find that a culture of inclusivity needs less action and more being.