“You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation.” – Gordon B. Hinckley
Like the strength of a house is dependent on the foundation upon which it is built, the stability, strength, and ultimately success of an organization, are dependent upon its cultural foundation. For an organization and its employees to be the most successful, a culture that merely supports diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging is not enough. Rather, diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging must be the cultural foundation upon which the organization is built.
So how does an organization build a cultural foundation of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEI&B)?
Lean-in to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
Leaders and employees need to lean-in to and own their commitment and responsibility for DEI&B within their organizations. Having a diverse workforce is a good start; however, creating a culture of DEI&B cannot stop there. Diversity does not automatically lead to inclusion and equity. Without inclusion and equity, diversity just translates to a diverse workforce with no action to render it effective.
Inclusion invites people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to participate, connect, engage, collaborate, and contribute. Equity ensures that all people have fair, just, and equal opportunities within the workplace to do so. Belonging, arguably the most critical, is a basic human need. It’s in belonging where authenticity, non-judgment, trust, respect, safety, comfort, and community live and breathe and that’s where this level of psychological and emotional safety have the greatest impacts on workplace culture, and organizational and employee success. It is in the belonging where employees feel most connected with themselves, their colleagues, and the organization and are motivated to do their best work.
The more diverse and inclusive an organization is, the more it drives a positive workplace experience, leading to positive outcomes like engagement, productivity, creativity, and innovation, which ultimately lead to positive organizational outcomes like increased customer experience, revenue, and profits.
Assess the integrity of your organization’s cultural foundation
Consider using an outside facilitator to listen and understand the current state of the DEI&B culture at your company. An outside person ensures neutrality and creates a space for honest non-attributable perspective sharing. Begin these conversations with a short, yet powerful request, “Tell me about the diversity and inclusion culture at your organization.” Creating a brave space for thoughtful dialogue enables people to open up and helps to glean valuable information about the collective regard, social norms, and emotional experience of the people within the organization; what they think, what they do, and how they feel. Look for where there is consensus, explore where there may be discord, and identify opportunities for learning, and actionable solutions. These interrelated and interdependent cognitive, behavioral, and emotional dynamics are ultimately what contribute to workplace culture, whether we acknowledge them or not.
Engage in continuous dialogue for continuous learning
While a workplace culture of DEI&B begins with commitment from leaders who 100% champion it and lead by example – leaders must invite the entire workforce in, to be themselves, and share equally. Afterall, what value does a diverse workforce offer if we are not listening and learning from the abundance of divergent perspectives and experiences?
No one person has all the answers, and there is no one size fits all when it comes to workplace culture. Leaders and employees need to listen to and learn from each other, and then work together to build the shared vision for their workplace culture. “What does a truly people-first, human-centered workplace culture of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging mean to us – what is it, why is it important, and how can we get there?” Through continuous dialogue, listening, and learning, organizations can shift away from DEI&B as something that responds to an isolated event, and shift towards everyday organizational-wide values and beliefs. This helps organizations shift toward building a DEI&B culture based on collective values and a shared vision.
Establish accountability for diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging
Accountability for DEI&B is not merely about compliance, it is about listening to, understanding, and prioritizing people and infusing the shared vision and values throughout the culture. Everyone in the organization has a role of accountability and upholding the vision and values. DEI&B goals should be incorporated into strategic planning, team, and individual goals. That said, try to avoid “thou shalt” directives when crafting individual goals and empower employees to determine their own role and responsibility to impact long term cultural change.
Like a house, an organization without a strong foundation can fall apart over time. An unstable, weak foundation can lead to problems, such as cracks in the infrastructure, questionable operations, unrelenting toxicity, and long-lasting damage. These are usually the most challenging, costly, and devastating problems to repair. Stabilize and strengthen your organization and workplace culture with a resilient foundation built of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. It will foster a positive workplace experience and unlock your employees’ full potential.
A special thanks to Ellie Moody, Director, Workplace Experience at Steele Strategies, for her thought leadership and for collaborating with us on this blog.