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5 steps to building an inclusive culture

by Natasha Nicholson

Hiring a diverse workforce is one thing, but making sure your organization has a culture of respect and inclusion is a separate challenge. Inclusion means that everyone in your business, regardless of their personal identity, has a sense of connection and belonging at work, where their contributions are valued and they don’t feel left out of decision-making, promotions, and other impactful events. Exclusive cultures, by contrast, can create feelings of unfairness, resentment, and burnout, leading to lower productivity and higher turnover. 

As a Gallup report defines it, “Inclusion refers to a cultural and environmental feeling of belonging. It can be assessed as the extent to which employees are valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization.”  

Why inclusivity matters to organizations, now more than ever

Beyond the obvious benefits for individuals, organizations also stand to gain advantages from creating an inclusive culture. This includes helping organizations to tackle a pressing new concern, improving recruitment and retention, caused as a result of a post-pandemic phenomenon dubbed the “The Great Resignation,” a widespread trend where an unprecedented number of workers are leaving their jobs—resulting in organizations scrambling to find and keep employee talent.

Based on research and analysis from Deloitte, “Today’s workforce is looking for organizations to go beyond only addressing how inclusion looks, to meaningfully addressing how inclusion feels. Organizations today often remain fixated on metrics and categorizing individuals by demographic attributes instead of investing in and measuring engagement and experiences.” Deloitte’s survey revealed that 80% of respondents say inclusion is important when choosing an employer, 39% reported they would leave their current organization for a more inclusive one and 23% said they have already left because of a lack of inclusivity.

Further supporting the link from inclusivity to retention, research from the Center for Talent Innovation showed “that employees with inclusive managers are 1.3 times more likely to feel that their innovative potential is unlocked. Employees who are able to bring their whole selves to work are 42% less likely to say they intend to leave their job within a year. Those with sponsors are 62% more likely to have asked for and have received a promotion. And 69% of women who off-ramp would have stayed at their companies if they’d had flexible work options.”

Build an inclusive program designed around employee experiences

The process of creating an inclusive culture starts with actively talking on exclusive behaviors: identifying unconscious bias, promoting understanding of other perspectives, and giving employees tools to effectively talk about exclusion when it happens. That means, committing to the implementation of ongoing and consistent training that addresses difficult subjects and provides a platform for further discussion, learning and self-discovery. It also means putting the focus on the employee experiences and creating an enabling environment, where all employees are part of the solution.

1. Adjust your hiring process to demonstrate inclusivity
Infuse your recruitment hiring practices with inclusivity right from the start. Demonstrate throughout the process that candidates will be included and valued. Begin by targeting a recruitment pool, reflective of diversity targets and design methods to seek out and attract diversity. Vet your job descriptions to remove bias and recognize and tackle interviewer process bias.

2. Launch your new employees on a positive trajectory
Develop an onboarding plan designed to launch employees on a positive trajectory within the company. Ensure that the plan is cognizant of any dynamics and issues underrepresented employees may face. Establish cross-cutting mentorship programs and affinity groups that provide employees with ongoing support.

3. Create an environment where people can thrive
Using training and follow-up as your basis, take the time needed to first weed out any micro-aggressions. Reduce in-group/out-group dynamics by creating cross group interactions that promote advocacy and proactive inclusion. Establish career sponsors to pave the way for employees to be visible and included. Design an organizational “Listening ear” to give everyone an equal voice. Put the organizational focus on uncovering and harnessing the value of diversity, bringing all employees into that effort.

4. Show that you value diversity through advancement
Treat promotion in the same way you manage your recruitment and hiring practices (e.g. implementing methods to tackle process bias). Evaluate employees based on valuing the diversity of experience and thought—and make sure your job descriptions criteria for advancement reflect this. Vet performance evaluation approaches for hidden bias. One way to do this is to ensure that questions which inform advancement and promotion are based on the employee’s value creation.

5. Sustain a culture of inclusion
Continually adapt the organizational culture, so that everyone can identify and belong to it. Listen to and capture individual learnings into sustainable policies. Integrate career sponsors as a support for retention. Remember to address unique needs and requirements for each employee. Design individualized career tracks that support each individual to reach their full potential.

Create an enabling environment where all employees are part of the solution

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As you strive to make your organization more inclusive, don’t let the enormity of the effort prevent you from taking small positive steps. You can use the steps above as a guide, picking a starting point and building from there. Set priorities for the near and medium-term and evaluate by assessing progress and refining your plan where needed. Communicate what you are doing and seek feedback. 

Remember to celebrate your successes and then continue to set more goals. Let your plan grow and change as the organization evolves. Then aim for more, knowing that the work of creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organization is an ongoing journey with many steps, ultimately leading toward a brighter future for both employees and their organizations.

This article was originally published on December 3rd in hr.com

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