5 Ways The World's Best Companies Build A Culture of Inclusion

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Hiring a diverse team is just the first (and some would say, the easiest) step. The real challenge is inclusion -- creating a culture where differences are respected, and a work structure that actively engages everyone’s ideas, knowledge and approaches.

Unfortunately, this is where many companies fall short. Work can feel like a very awkward dinner party where there’s a lot of polite talk and little connection, or a handful dominate the conversation. Here are some tips from global companies that have won awards for their inclusion initiatives.

Give all employees a voice

Traditional company structures can stifle inclusion and innovation. Typically, a handful of executives make the decisions, which are cascaded to middle managers who shepherd their teams towards the predetermined goal. This gives very little opportunity for employees to share ideas or approach problems in their own way.

“Recognize that the C-suite doesn’t always have all the best ideas. Every voice is an important voice. Because the workforce is a melting pot of generational cohorts, organizations must acknowledge that the unique perspectives of employees from various generations and backgrounds can add significant value in a knowledge worker environment,” says Shirley Engelmeier, author of  Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage.

That’s exactly why Estee Lauder started a campaign called “Lead from Every Chair” -- promoted on its website and internal initiatives -- that encourages all employees to give feedback on product development and marketing. It sees diversity as a competitive advantage. “We explore how people’s culture and attitudes translate into their idea of beauty," says Monica Rastogi, the company's head of corporate cultural relevance and regional innovation.

If you’d like to jumpstart your own program, Engelmeier suggests starting with “Inclusion Circles” -- physical or virtual meetings where leaders and employees can brainstorm on important business issues. Or take a more organic approach: periodically join the department meetings to understand the team’s thinking process and their daily challenges and get to know employees individually. Don’t be the anonymous Boss who always sits behind a locked door.

Shift your meeting dynamics

Are the same people always speaking up at your meetings? Draw your quieter team members out of their shells by rotating the Meeting Leaders, who are in charge of setting the agenda and determining how to present materials. This gives everyone a chance to lead -- and to shine! -- and accommodates different cognitive styles.

It’s also important to end every meeting with questions that make it more comfortable for people to share dissenting opinions. “Can someone play devil’s advocate? What could go wrong with this choice?” “Is there something we missed, or you’d like to add?” You can also ask people specific questions based on their unique background or expertise. “We’d like to get your unique perspective on this…”

Build and support communities

Cynthia Marshall, AT&T’s Senior Vice President for Human Resources and Chief Diversity Officer, says it’s important for employees to feel proud of their unique backgrounds, find support and mentoring, and experience that “psychological safety” of connecting with others who understand them.

The company has created employee resources groups (ERGs) and employee networks (ENs) for women, members of the LGBT community, generations like Millennials or Gen X, people with disabilities, etc. These communities also welcome employees who want to learn more about their culture.

These communities can be a springboard for other projects. In 2015, AT&T was able to expand its Asian-Indian customer base by asking its ERG about what kind of marketing messages would appeal to that segment. Other companies select members from each community for leadership and career development, thus paving the way for a more diverse management team.

Communicate inclusion at every level, through multiple initiatives

“Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a constant work in progress, and it should be maintained and nurtured to be effective,” says diversity training company Aperian. According to a joint study by Deloitte and Hudson Research and Consulting, the best approach involves several initiatives and feedback sources.

For example, chemistry giant BASF -- included three times in Diversity Inc’s Top 50 list -- uses a talent dashboard that gets the opinions of several employees on hiring and retention processes and trends. Pharmaceutical leader Bayer develops diversity e-modules that help develop a more open-minded mindset and work approach.

Johnson & Johnson includes diversity and cultural sensitivity in their employee training. “As we are going through our talent process throughout the year, whether goal setting or coaching conversations or a mid-year review, we’re always giving out training materials, and we’ve embedded diversity and inclusion into those materials so that people are always thinking about how they can be more inclusive and making sure that there aren’t any hidden biases that may be impacting our thinking,” says Wanda Hope, Johnson & Johnson’s Chief Diversity Officer.

Through these continuous and consistent conversations, diversity and inclusion become more than catchwords, but personal commitment of every employee.

Provide a platform for discussion and support

Until these formal inclusion programs are in place, your company can already begin the employee mind shift by providing a platform where they can collaborate, support and improve together.

Grow is the platform that helps drive alignment and clarity, and provides tools like the Team Reflection and Team Development Plan to accelerate performance. Rudi Ramin, Grow CEO and Co-Founder said, “Teams need a space where they can engage and interact so they can work on developing themselves to achieve great results and contribute to better outcomes.” In the end, inclusion is not just about giving everybody in the team a voice, but making sure that voice is truly heard and valued.

Grow has tools and resources to accompany inclusion initiatives. Click the link below to find out more.