The keys to creating an inclusive culture in your business
The culture of your business plays an important role — the more inclusive it is, the better off your business. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the helm of a global corporation, or a local small-to-medium enterprise (SME).
In a January 2018 Deloitte Review article, The Diversity and Inclusion Revolution — Eight Powerful Truths, co-authors Juliet Bourke and Bernadette Dillon noted that organizations with inclusive cultures are “eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.”
Creating an inclusive business culture has to start from the top down. If you — the business owner or the CEO — don’t drive the creation of an inclusive culture, it’s not going to happen. It’s that simple.
Why diversity and inclusion are different
Where do you start with the creation of an inclusive culture? With understanding that you need to look at diversity and inclusion (D&I) separately. They’re not the same. You can have a culture of diversity, but you may not have a culture of inclusion. The two have erroneously “been coupled for the last 40 years,” according to a Gallup article by Ella Washington and Camille Patrick.
“Lumping them together reduces an organization’s ability to improve both. Understanding and addressing them separately is essential,” the co-authors noted in their article, 3 Requirements for a Diverse and Inclusive Culture.
Here’s the difference: Diversity means there are people from different ethnicities, religions, genders, orientations and abilities in your business. Inclusion, on the other hand, means all of those people feel safe, comfortable, valued and accepted in their work environment.
In a 2016 Cornell University ILR School report titled Inclusion of People with Disabilities in the Workplace: Best Practices for HR Professionals, report author Danielle Collier noted, “Inclusion is about feeling like a person belongs in an organization. Ideally, employees should feel like they ‘belong’ while at the same time being valued for their unique characteristics and perspectives.”
If you’ve hired with diversity but some or none of those employees don’t feel safe, comfortable, valued and accepted in your business then you don’t have a culture of inclusion.
Working on your business
This is why looking at them separately is key. If a thorough, separate analysis and review of D&I in your business reveals nothing is lacking in either element, then you have a truly inclusive culture already.
It’s easy for SME business owners to get caught up working in their businesses instead of on their businesses. Developing an inclusive culture is part of working on your business. SMEs can have an inclusive culture, just like large organizations. It’s less a matter of resources and more a matter of mindset. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, goes the saying.
Deloitte put it this way in a 2017 “Canada 175” report titled, Outcomes over optics — Building Inclusive Organizations: “Becoming a truly inclusive organization requires courage. Organizations must chose to fundamentally change the culture — their way of acting and being.”
Corporations often have the human resources to launch multi-faceted D&I initiatives as part of one big project all at once, across the organization. Small businesses can create an inclusive culture by thinking like a large corporation, but take smaller steps towards the end goal. A first step could be arranging D&I training for all your staff, for example.
Many facets of creating sustainable inclusive culture
Here are ways of making sure your business has an inclusive culture:
- Start by making inclusion part of your company values and setting the vision. Communicate those values and vision to all employees at every opportunity. In town-hall sessions, on posters, in employee handbooks, in one-on-one or team meetings.
- Develop and support a D&I policy. Having a written policy, and making sure it’s followed, is essential. This is part of demonstrating commitment to creating an inclusive environment. If you don’t have an official policy on inclusion, then you can’t “walk the talk.”
- Form employee groups focused on D&I. Think of your employees as customers as well as staff. Look at it this way: When companies are developing a new product, they often hold customer focus groups. That customer feedback tells them things such as what they’re doing right; what could be improved; what features they’d like to see in the product. A D&I focus group can help increase employee engagement; indicate whether you’re on the right track towards your D&I goal; and create a culture of inclusion from the very start of your initiative.
- “Walk the talk.” Simply saying you believe in inclusion, or having a written policy on D&I, isn’t enough. As the business leader, your actions really do speak louder than your words. Part of inclusion is employees having trust in the company’s management and leadership teams. If employees feel as though you’re paying only lip service to D&I, there’s no trust. Employees won’t feel valued or respected; or that they can talk openly about D&I. There’s no way you can have a truly inclusive culture.
CIBC is a good business case example of “walking the talk.” The bank is intentionally and actively making D&I part of its workplace culture. Company leadership set a public goal of hiring 500 people who have a disability every year. CIBC is on the way to exceeding that goal for the third year in a row. As well, the bank encourages staff to join its People Networks. These are groups that foster stronger connections to the community. CIBC is also “walking the talk” with physical accessibility. A new Toronto complex designed as an inclusive workspace for almost 14,000 staff is expected to open in 2020.
- Provide D&I education for employees. There are outside organizations such as The Ontario Disability Employment Network, and other consulting firms, that specialize in this. Investing in D&I education for your employees does two important things. First, it’s an action that shows your commitment to creating a truly inclusive environment. As well, education can help overcome resistance to change.
For front-line staff and supervisors, general disability awareness training is probably ample. For managers, however, D&I awareness training needs to also include making sure they’re diligent about treating employees who have a disability like any other employee. They need to understand the importance of managerial etiquette and adhering to human rights legislation.
Putting staff through disability awareness training can help dispel myths. Notes Collier in her Cornell University report, it “helps to decrease stereotypes and judgements about individuals with disabilities, and can also offer concrete suggestions for interacting with people with disabilities.”
- Survey your employees to measure the climate of D&I. Asking questions is important. Because it’s how you gather qualitative and quantitative information about the state of D&I in your organization. Ask employees how they feel about the existing work environment and culture. Then it’s important to listen to their answers, and respond to them. If survey responses indicate there’s an issue needing attention, that’s the place to start.
For surveys like this, it may best to enlist the help of an outside firm or organization that specializes in D&I. They can help you develop a voluntary survey that asks appropriate questions and yields beneficial information. There is sometimes a goal for surveys to have employees “self-identify.” But it’s important to remember people who have a disability aren’t required to disclose unless it directly affects a job requirement. If employees or candidates aren’t comfortable revealing a disability because they fear the consequences, then they won’t in your survey. Which could indicate you don’t have an inclusive culture.
- Nominate a D&I champion for the business. It doesn’t matter whether you have five employees, or 5,000. Having someone who’s dedicated to inclusion, and who can inspire and motivate others, can go a long way in creating an inclusive culture in the business or organization. The D&I champion can lead initiatives and drive cultural change.
- Proactively source qualified talent from the disability talent pool. If you’re not doing this, you’re missing out on many opportunities and business benefits. Even more important, when you hire qualified people who have a disability, you’re inherently starting to create a culture of inclusion.
- Make sure inclusive culture extends beyond the office. Whether it’s an off-site team building event; or the company holiday party; or an after-work get-together just to socialize outside the office, make sure your events are at an accessible location for all employees. When you’re promoting your internal events, do it in a variety of formats. For example, have video or slide presentations about the planned activity captioned.
- Make everyone accountable. You need to have some key performance indicators around D&I for everyone. When everyone has a stake in sustaining an inclusive culture, it will be sustainable.
When it comes down to it, an inclusive culture is based on three things. Treating employees with respect; valuing them for their strengths; and demonstrating inclusive behaviour as leader of the business. Then you are on your way to intentionally creating a culture in which everyone feels safe, comfortable, valued and accepted in their work environment.
Next in this series on recruiting and D&I: The keys to making the onboarding process successful for everyone.