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Creating Inclusive Cultures: What To Do and What To Ditch

Creating Inclusive Cultures: What To Do and What To Ditch

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

When the very nice people at KNect365 invited me to speak about diversity and inclusivity, I was pretty excited to offer my take. The conventional wisdom surrounding these ideas can be damaging, and even well intentioned efforts can do more harm than good.

We are regularly telling women and minorities all the things they should be doing and not doing, as if changing their behaviour will sort everything out. And organisations that otherwise develop brilliant processes, apply off-the shelf, one-off solutions to a problem that is woven into every part of work.

So, I enthusiastically wrote down the 3700 things I wanted to share on the topic.

Then they told me I had 15 minutes.

Fortunately I had coffee with the inspiring Dr. Evelyn Carter, who is doing some of the best quality applied research in the field. Thanks to her I was able to ruthlessly prioritise until I got down to the three things I thought would be most useful.

One: Weave it through everything.

If you make inclusivity training a one-off, people will understand that it’s something they have to get through - a bit of medicine to take before going back to doing what they normally do. Maybe they think it will be helpful, an easy fix, or maybe they won’t care either way. But the message will be clear - you don’t have to think about this all the time. It’s not that important.

Two: Approach this as you would any knotty problem.

You may already have a process for making complex decisions or generating new ideas - agile, systems thinking, or the like. If you have a methodology in use, apply it here. Taking an existing inclusivity ‘product’ and tossing it into your organisation may do more harm than good.

If you have an inclusivity problem (and you probably do), it may have a lot of causes. The first thing you need to look at is what you want to fix. What’s the shape of your particular problem? Where are along the timeline is the problem occurring?

Do you have trouble attracting diverse candidates to apply? Do they apply but don’t get an offer? Do they get an offer and not accept? Do they take the job but then leave soon? Do they stay and not get promoted? Or, perhaps they are present throughout the organisation, but having a worse experience than everyone else?

Each of these situations requires a different approach. After identifying the problem, you’ll need to dig in further to figure out the cause. Once you have some hypotheses, explore a few solutions to fix them and measure the results. This part is really important. According to Dr. Carter:

“It’s not that people aren’t doing things, it’s that they are not measuring them. And if they don’t measure them, they won’t know what is working, what to keep doing and what to stop.”

Learn from your experiments, adjust and expand.

Three: Focus on your allies.

Too often we rely only on women and minority groups to fix what is wrong. But research tells us that when they point out unfairness about their treatment, they are less likely to be believed than people from dominant groups. It’s called the Complainer Effect. If someone from another group points it out, people will listen.

The good news is you probably have a group of such potential allies in your organisation. People who want to make a difference but aren’t sure what they should do, and worried they’ll do or say the wrong thing. Help them.

Give these nervous allies specific ways they can make a difference, everyday habits that will make your culture more inclusive. Not only will they make it a better place for the ‘out groups’, they’ll influence the indifferent (the people who think inclusivity has nothing to do with them), and the resisters (the people actively working against inclusivity because they hold conscious biases).

Give voice to your silent allies and see an exponential result.

And finally, do something.

Try all three things or just one. Or just part of one. The critical thing is not to be overwhelmed into inaction but to take a step, no matter how small, measure the results and learn so you can do better.

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