Are You Creating an Inclusive Culture in Your Company?

Julie Shenkman
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Ask the majority of company leaders how they foster inclusive cultures, and they're sure to mention recruitment quotas and compliance policies. Most diversity programs focus on changing the appearance of the workforce, but diverse candidates still feel marginalized and forced to assimilate once they're hired. If your company isn't reaping the benefits of diversity, consider how barriers in your cultural framework could be silencing talented workers with innovative ideas.

Shifting Focus From Compliance to Leadership Development

In a global study of 245 companies, Bersin by Deloitte found that companies with inclusive cultures are six times more likely to effectively adapt to change, six times more likely to show innovation and twice as likely to reach or exceed financial goals. Yet, only about 12 percent of organizations worldwide nurture inclusion at full maturity. Traditionally, companies have made diversity an HR problem driven by compliance goals, but successful inclusion comes from empowering mindful leaders who drive accountability and strategic growth from the top down, says Bersin by Deloitte founder Josh Bersin.

Inclusive leaders have the most impact on the long-term success of workplace diversity. Management practices determine whether employees openly express their opinions and concerns, build supportive relationships with teammates, pursue higher roles and care about the overall wellbeing of the company.

Unfortunately, many short-sighted leaders recruit candidates with the goal of reshaping them to fit the company culture, instead of allowing fresh talent and perspectives to influence how a company serves diverse audiences. Too often, candidates are unable to perform at full potential because they can't behave authentically at work. Many of these candidates either move on or suffer stunted professional growth, seemingly proving that recruiting for diversity doesn't offer significant business gains.

Cultivating the Qualities of an Inclusive Culture

Inclusive cultures have distinct traits stemming from how leaders view diversity programs — as a mandate or an opportunity. In repressive cultures, diverse candidates have limited mobility because company leaders assume their priorities and obstacles are the same as everyone else and fail to bridge gaps in networking, mentorship and performance measurement. Employees who fall outside the status quo suspect they are merely tolerated and see no path to success.

To overcome these roadblocks, Harvard Business Review researchers studied six leadership behaviors that increase inclusion:

1. Encouraging team members to speak up
2. Accepting and implementing team feedback
3. Providing clear, actionable feedback
4. Creating a safe environment to propose new ideas
5. Giving team members power to make decisions
6. Sharing praise for team success

Among employees who identified at least three of these qualities in their team leaders, 87 percent said they feel welcome and free to expression their opinions, compared to roughly 50 percent of respondents with leaders lacking inclusive traits. Effective leaders understand workforce diversity goes far beyond surface differences, such as race, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, religion or political stance. Individual employees have unique ways of working, communicating and interpreting their experiences. Inclusive cultures support diversity of thought, enabling everyone to take ownership of their identities while being comfortable with people who see the world differently.

Inclusive cultures succeed when leaders make communication and accountability central to the business model. Candidates from all backgrounds have valuable insight and skills, but their talents are wasted if they have to check their unique perspectives at the door.

Photo courtesy of franky242 at


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