3 Reasons Why Diversity and Inclusion Activities Need to Be Part of Your Organization's Culture


Posted by Maren Fox - 23 January, 2018

The benefits of making diversity and inclusion a priority in your organization are clear.

But D&I work at an organization is often relegated to committees and programs. Employees may think of it as extra, or an additional “nice-to-have” on top of day-to-day responsibilities. Sometimes, it’s the first item to on a to-do list to go.

Your organization will only reap the performance and competitive benefits of diversity and inclusion when you weave the values into your company’s fabric, embedding them into your systems and processes.

So how do you make diversity and inclusion a priority?

Instead of making it another meeting in which people feel guilty because they didn’t have time to follow through with another survey, action item, or whatever, you must encourage the entire staff to think of what diversity and inclusion mean to them and their responsibilities within the company.

To some, diversity means perspective. To others it means race or ethnicity, or more women in leadership positions, a diversity of leadership styles, or personality or cultural differences.

You must make these varying definitions work in concert with each other, getting each employee to care about diversity in terms that are relevant to them so that they share responsibility for creating a diverse and inclusive culture.

If you’re looking to get others on board, here are three reasons to make diversity and inclusion activities a part of your organization’s culture:

1. Diversity drives engagement

Although there are standard practices and processes within every organization, not everyone moves through those processes or experiences the organization’s culture the same way. Creating space for people to talk by invitation and really absorbing their viewpoints places emphasis on equal inclusion. Employees feel safe to address even deep-rooted problems and concerns.

Diversity and inclusion activities can help your organization address issues that could otherwise be polarizing, like race, religion, or politics, writes diversity and inclusion pioneer Mary-Frances Winters in her book We Can’t Talk About that At Work. Such taboo topics can impair productivity, engagement, retention, and teamwork if your organization doesn’t encourage employees to discuss them openly. A polarized society leads to a polarized workplace, according to Winters:

“Polarization fosters an ‘us-and-them’ environment, whereas inclusion attempts to create a sense of belonging and unity. Most major organizations today have a goal to create an inclusive culture because they realize that inclusion drives engagement.”

Research has shown that the employees who are most engaged rate their organizations high on diversity and inclusion, Winters notes.

2. Diversity and collaboration fosters creativity

Collaboration is becoming more difficult as organizations strive to achieve common goals amidst increasingly polarized workplaces.

“We want to get something done that is important to us, but to do so, we need to work with people who view things differently than us,” conflict resolution expert and bestselling author Adam Kahane writes in Collaborating with the Enemy. “And the more important the issue and different the views, the more necessary and difficult the collaboration.

Progressive organizations have learned that the conventional understanding of collaboration—that it requires a harmonious team that agrees on where it's going, how it's going to get there, and who needs to do what—is wrong, Kahane writes. Instead, he suggests that we need a new approach to collaboration that embraces discord, experimentation, and genuine co-creation.

Kahane explains how organizations can use unconventional “stretch collaboration,” instead of relying upon unrealistic fantasies of harmony, certainty, and compliance. He writes, “Stretch collaboration enables us to get things done even in complex situations with people we don’t agree with or like or trust.”

Organizations that embrace stretch collaboration tackle complexity head-on instead of shrinking away from it, moving from paying attention only to one dominant whole, one optimum plan, and one superior leader, toward attending to multiple diverse holons (wholes that are part of larger wholes), multiple emergent possibilities, and multiple cocreators.

“Energies must be mobilized; needs must be balanced; actions must be taken,” Kahane writes. “Stretching does not make this work disappear; it just enables us to do it with less fear and distraction and more connection and awareness.”

3. Diversity improves results

According to the US Census Bureau, majority populations are projected to become the minority by 2044. If organizations want to remain relevant to the changing populations of consumers and employees, diversity and inclusion is key to sustained success.

Activities that promote this kind of culture can help your organization compete by building upon the differences of the team members. In fact, according to Johnson & Higgins Professor at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business Martin Davidson in his book The End of Diversity As We Know It, you can thrive by making the most of the diversity that is already present among your stakeholders.

Leveraging inherent differences can turn persistent diversity problems into solutions that drive business results, Davidson explains:

“Differences are present—among employees, customers, suppliers, local communities, acquired or acquiring organizations, and governments. Success comes not from shying away from these differences, but from fiercely and skillfully capitalizing on them.”

In his book, Davidson guides organizations through a three-step process for leveraging differences:

  1. Identify and hire for the differences most important to achieving organizational goals.
  2. Help employees work together to understand the ways these differences matter to the business, like through diversity and inclusion activities focused on leveraging differences.
  3. Experiment with how to use these relevant differences to get things done.

He also provides several examples of how organizations leverage subtle differences like culture, thought, and personality, as well as more noticeable differences like race and gender.

You may already know that your organization will benefit from greater diversity and more inclusion, but you must show employees likewise. Diversity and inclusion activities can help you do so by demonstrating to each employee that you can have healthier morale, better quality of work, and stronger positioning in the marketplace. These are three reasons diversity and inclusion activities need to be part of your organization’s culture.

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Topics: Your Organization, Diversity & Inclusion

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