Shaping a Culture of Inclusion

Inclusion, one of the hottest topics in business right now, is not just another buzzword or trend. It is fundamental to delivering on your corporate strategy. Every year Walking the Talks looks at a critical business issue which will impact the creation and management of corporate cultures, talking to C-suite leaders and adding their own perspective as a consultancy focused entirely on culture. Let’s takes a look at this year’s study!

June 5, 2023 – One of the biggest challenges facing leaders is building a culture that will drive superior performance. The precise recipe for success will differ for each organization, but research shows that there is one fundamental ingredient that every culture needs: inclusion. In an inclusive culture, every team member, regardless of their background, finds a profound sense of belonging and connection, according to a new report from Walking the Talk, a culture transformation advisory firm acquired last year by ZRG Partners. “They are appreciated for their unique qualities and the distinctive value they bring to the table,” the study said. “Crucially, they feel comfortable expressing their authentic selves within the workplace, with their opinions not merely heard but actively acknowledged and recognized. This includes the sincere integration of their perspectives into decision-making processes.”

Creating an environment where people truly belong and are included has been shown to affect both top and bottom lines. Companies that get this right outperform their competitors, says Walking the Talk. There is also growing scrutiny of organizational cultures from customers, shareholders, boards and employees, with an increasing demand to see real evidence of inclusion.

A common stumbling block is that despite a lot of good words on inclusion there is a lack of concrete actions. “Such incongruity between what leaders say and what they do makes them appear inauthentic, breeds cynicism, and makes efforts towards inclusivity seem tokenistic,” Walking the Talk said. “If they want to show that they are serious about inclusion, then leaders need to walk their talk. Great leaders know that they need to lead by example, changing their own attitudes and behaviors in order to shape a culture of inclusion. However, increasingly, even strong and committed leaders tell us that, despite their good intentions and their best efforts, they feel stuck. They know they need to build greater inclusion in their culture and are investing in lots of initiatives but are not getting the impact they hoped for. They ask us ‘How can we accelerate progress and increase impact?’”

Grounded in research from 30 years of working with leaders to shape culture, Walking the Talk’s paper (the latest in its series “Future of Work”) outlines how to shape and embed an inclusive culture. They  look at the behaviors, symbols, and systems that make a tangible difference and explore what leaders can practically do to amplify their impact and increase inclusion in their organization’s culture.

Why A Culture of Inclusion Matters

As human beings, we possess an inherent inclination to fit into groups, to assimilate, including at work. “For many of us, being accepted as valued members of a group satisfies that fundamental need, while many also yearn for a profound sense of belonging and purpose within something greater,” the study said. “However, true belonging surpasses the notion of merely being part of a group; it encompasses recognizing and appreciating our individual contributions. As well as being important to us as humans, research consistently shows that inclusion makes good business sense. Companies with diverse and inclusive cultures outperform their peers in numerous ways.”

Related: 4 Reasons to Focus on Building a Culture of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

A study by McKinsey & Company, for instance, found that organizations in the top quartile for gender diversity were 25 percent more likely to have above-average profitability. Companies with ethnically diverse executive teams were shown to be 36 percent more likely to achieve superior financial results. “These figures highlight the tangible benefits of cultivating inclusivity within our organizations,” the Walking the Talk report said. “Fostering an inclusive culture is an ongoing effort that requires aligning your walk with your talk. It entails creating an environment where every team member feels a genuine sense of belonging, is valued for their individual contributions, and has their perspectives respected and integrated into decision-making processes. By embracing an inclusive culture, organizations can tap into the inherent strengths of diversity and enjoy the superior performance that is delivered when everyone can thrive and succeed.”

How to Build Culture

Because we are driven to assimilate, we’re constantly seeking messages about what we must do to fit in, what is expected of us, and what is valued, says Walking the Talk. “Messages come primarily not from what is said, but from what is done,” said the study. “Culture is created through these unspoken messages people receive from behaviors, systems and symbols. We pay particular attention to what people are doing around us: how they interact with others, how they conduct themselves. This teaches us what is expected, and we adjust our behavior accordingly.”

How Accessibility Drives Diversity & Inclusion
Despite ongoing efforts, bills, laws, and regulations, organizations still have a long way to go when it comes to diversity. Diversity became an integral part of business strategies worldwide in fits and starts. But despite the best of intentions, the results lagged. Enter “inclusion.” Where diversity is about the composition of one’s workforce, inclusion is about creating a work environment that actually enables all employees to participate and get the same opportunities. How can we work to a more diverse world, if on the basis of it all, we are not ready or even willing to be really inclusive? And what if people don’t have access to your company, not just physically but also digitally?

How we choose to spend our finite resources, such as time and money, quickly reveals what we truly value, according to the Walking the Talk report. The study explains that every day we make decisions, and these send a clear message. “They reveal what we value over something else,” the report said. “In cultural terms we’re referring to specific processes, policies, structures, and measures that underpin the way we operate. These also send strong messages about what is valued and as a result, they shape people’s behavior. The good news is that when we become more conscious of our behaviors, symbols and systems, it gives us a helpful framework to manage and change culture.”

Related: Successfully Hiring Your First Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Leader

Walking the Talk also looked at each of these elements and focused on how leaders can turn up the dial on inclusion by focusing on a few tangible changes:

Behaviors that Drive Inclusion

Walking the Talk’s statistical analysis shows that there are three core behaviors that drive inclusion: humility, curiosity, and openness. “Humility is a fundamental driver of curiosity and openness and is, therefore, the behavior to focus on first,” the report said. “It helps leaders to keep things in perspective; if you have a modest view of your own importance, you’re more likely to acknowledge the importance of other people and, therefore, to seek out their views, to listen, to involve them and to learn from them.”

The gateway to learning, curiosity is a restless and relentless desire to discover new things, to find out more and to deepen our understanding. “Curiosity drives inclusion because it creates a desire to learn from everywhere and anywhere, from everyone and anyone,” the report said. “It therefore stimulates a deep interest in others, especially in those who are different from us, and a keenness to know what they might teach us. Truly curious leaders are therefore likely to embrace diversity, seeking out people with different perspectives from whom they can learn.”

Openness is about both being receptive to others’ ideas, perspectives and feedback, as well as communicating readily and transparently. “Both of these elements of openness are essential ingredients of inclusion,” Walking the Talk said. “When people see leaders being open and transparent in their communication it builds trust and gives them confidence to do the same. And when leaders actively seek diverse views, welcome respectful debate and demonstrate that they are willing to change their minds, they boost psychological safety as well as their own personal credibility.”

Building Inclusive Cultures

Most organizations are focused on implementing DEI initiatives. “These initiatives are effective at increasing diversity across the business. However, having diversity is not enough to create inclusion,” the Walking the Talk report said. “Minority groups may be left feeling excluded. The diversity of thought is not harnessed to achieve the business outcomes that companies may be looking for. It is the mindsets and behaviors of your people that will drive or dilute inclusion. It is those mindsets and behaviors that will enable the success  of your DEI initiatives.”

To read the full report click here.

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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