Building an inclusive climate is a culture change

Written by Amie Lawrence, Ph.D., Director of Global Innovation
Previously published by PSI Talent Management or Cubiks, prior to becoming Talogy.

Increasing a company’s focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) with a goal of changing organisational behaviour can be a slow and challenging task. Have you ever tried to change your own behaviour by trying to break a bad habit or make a lifestyle improvement? In general, it isn’t easy, and it doesn’t happen without personal commitment and a supportive environment. And it doesn’t typically happen by making one small change; it requires multiple small changes to create a system that supports your new behaviour.

The same is true for organisational changes. While some might argue that focusing on an inclusive climate is not a complete change initiative, I would disagree. Changing the climate of an organisation is akin to making a shift in its culture, and cultural shifts require changes in philosophy, messaging, and behaviour throughout the organisation for them to take hold. 

In this blog, we’ll discuss three factors that are critical to the success of organisational change and are especially important for inclusive climate initiatives.  

Leadership Commitment 

First, organisational changes will not be successful without commitment, specifically leadership commitment. Leaders hold the power in the organisation, whether formal or informal. They make critical decisions, design processes, identify whom to sponsor and mentor, and send out communications. Their words and behaviour are noticed, and what they do signals to others the behaviours that are appropriate and acceptable within the organisation.

As the old adage goes, “actions speak louder than words”. Leaders play a crucial role in the effectiveness of a cultural intervention. Research that has explored reasons why organisations often fail to make a real impact on DE&I, cite one of the main reasons for lack of change as leadership commitment and involvement. Leaders are a driving force behind change initiatives, and if they are not supportive and demonstrating the desirable behaviour, the rest of the organisation is unlikely to follow suit.  

Support and Clear Expectations 

Large organisational changes need the support of leaders, but the rest of the organisation needs to be ready for the change as well. The environment must be supportive of the changes in terms of resources, processes, and communication. If I were trying to change my eating behaviour to reduce sugar and sweets, it would be very difficult to do so if my kitchen was full of treats and there weren’t any healthy options available. It would also be difficult to achieve if I did not know my ultimate goal and how I planned to achieve it. In the case of DE&I, embarking on this kind of initiative requires the establishment and communication of clear objectives, ideally with measurable metrics as well as updated processes that allow for more diversity and inclusion opportunities. Individuals will not effectively make changes if they are not provided guidance and support in their daily jobs.  

Multi-Faceted Approach 

Lastly, it’s important to note that one intervention will not motivate and sustain change, regardless of the topic. For the example of changing eating behaviour, I could take a class on healthy eating and learn a lot about good food choices. The likelihood that this one class will give me all that I need to make a sustainable lifestyle change is quite small. If I do not make additional changes around my grocery shopping and home delivery eating habits and/or my cooking plans, I’m probably not going to be successful. When it comes to DE&I, many organizations talk about the importance of increasing diversity and being equitable and inclusive, but if they lack a targeted focus and additional training, the changes will not be sustainable.

A good example is unconscious bias training. Many organizations invest in making sure employees understand that unconscious bias exists and affects their behaviour. Raising awareness of an issue is a good first step, but more needs to be done. Once employees are aware, it’s time to apply process changes by examining their recruitment and screening criteria to reduce the impact of unconscious bias on candidate interview ratings and hiring decisions. What about how performance evaluation criteria can impact ratings and promotion decisions? For true sustainable change to occur, there must be a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach that includes addressing internal processes at all levels within the organisation and gaining the commitment and support of everyone involved.  

If you would like to see real organisational changes around diversity, equity, and inclusion, do your best to take a high-level view and approach it like a major change initiative. Start by gaining the commitment of organisational leadership. Without their help supporting the message and opening doors for opportunities, the initiative is likely to fail. Then, help employees by showing them how to incorporate DE&I into their jobs and work processes. 

Especially with DE&I, employees may want to help but they don’t know how; they need specific guidance on exactly what they can do and why it matters. Address the issues in many different ways both formally and informally. Remember that change doesn’t happen quickly, and it usually doesn’t happen smoothly, but the benefits of DE&I to an organisation are widespread and worth it.

Building better organisations through inclusive leadership

The topic of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is an area of emphasis for many organisations today.

Organisations that have been successful at creating sustainable change in D&I have had strong commitment, and action, among their leadership.

In this whitepaper, you will learn about the role that leaders play in creating an inclusive culture, one that strives to create allies, or champions for diversity, as well as the leadership competencies and characteristics that contribute to inclusive behaviour and climate.

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building better organizations through inclusive leadership cta whitepaper cover