Imagine this. An acquaintance invites you to come along to a social game of your favourite team sport. We are in Australia, so let’s use footy. Australian Rules Football for all my non-Aussie connections.
You like this person. You admire them, respect them and let’s face it, it’s hard to make friends as an adult. Of course you are going to the game!
When you get there the team is friendly, they say hello and you are feeling optimistic. But soon they are talking to each other, sharing inside jokes and talking about what happened last week. There is no explanation to you, and so you have nothing to add.
Then when it’s time to play, the existing team takes the field and you? You are sitting on the sidelines. As the game goes on, you realise you weren’t actually asked to come along and play. They just needed an extra person in case someone didn’t show or Jim’s bad ankle flared up.
How do you feel?
Do you still admire and respect your acquaintance as much as you did before? Are you still excited to give your all for the team? No.
This is diversity without inclusion, and it doesn’t work. Diversity only works in an inclusive culture.
The business case for diversity is there. Companies with more diverse boards and executive teams perform better than their peers on financial and human metrics. Good, done. If you want citations, let me know.
Yet, there is also research showing diversity not working . So how do you actually get it to work for you, not against you?
There are four key questions to ask yourself about your organisation culture to ensure you are maximising this opportunity for your people and your business.
1. Do your leaders genuinely value inclusion and behave accordingly [2,3]? Do as I say, not as I do does not work. Sorry to all the dads like mine out there who like to recite this from time to time. This sentiment only leads to people digging in their heels in the opposite direction. If your leaders do not get why diversity is important on a moral level and genuinely value the opinions of the people around them, you will not get very far.
That said, you can always add your influence if some people are taking longer than others to get on board. Who are your inclusion champions? The people with high levels of formal or informal power that can influence throughout the organisation. Start there, and together get creative about finding ways to connect the dots for people who may not be there just yet.
2. Are your systems aligned to reflect an organisation which values diversity and inclusion? You need diversity and inclusion to be a part of everything, not its own separate tick box . Look at how you recruit, hire, retain, promote and reward. Consider how your policies address inclusion – are you accounting for flexible working conditions and ensuring people are accommodated as needed in their roles? Very importantly, is the value of inclusion reflected in business operations? Think about how teams are resourced, how people communicate with colleagues in the office and virtually, or how you deliver for customers. A genuine system aligned to inclusion should ultimately not be able to parse out the inclusion elements from the rest. It’s just how things are done around here.
3. What is your diversity profile? Actual diversity matters. It matters if your leadership is diverse and if your organisation is diverse . All eyes are on the top! People watch and talk about everything they see senior leaders do or say. They also are looking to see if they can relate to the team. When people can relate and identify, they see possibilities for themselves.
For the organisation, take the time to check in on who your people are and if you are gaining ground on increasing the organisation’s diversity profile. Map your diversity to your customer base as well. Are you a true representation of the people to whom you provide products or service? It’s an old saying at this point, but still a good one. What gets measured, gets done.
4. Are you actively fostering diversity? This includes ensuring that you are raising the cultural competence in your organisation through activities, training and other opportunities to allow people to interact in a positive way with people who are different from themselves [5,6]. It can be fun. It can be serious. It can be work. Whatever it is, the only way for people to really acknowledge, understand and respect difference is through exposure. Encourage curiosity and get creative!
At the end of the day, creating an inclusive culture that truly harnesses the value of diversity is complex and nuanced. We are dealing with people’s perceptions after all. Becoming more inclusive can require big change and subtle shifts. Yet when you start to get it right, people feel like they are part of the team, they want to play, and the wins are big.
Dr Abby Jandro is Director WA at Serendis Leadership, an industry leader in building inclusive leadership capability. You can find out more at www.serendis.com.au.
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3. Scott KA, Heathcote JM, Gruman, JA. The diverse organization: Finding gold at the end of the rainbow. Hum Resour Manage 2013; 50(6): 735-755.
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