Building a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

Written by, Al Curnow, Vice President

The movement toward diversity and inclusion in the workplace has been happening for some time. Yet, events of the past few months have brought this issue into greater focus. This past week alone, I’ve had several discussions with my clients on this very topic.

This increased level of attention got me thinking about two critical questions. First, why is diversity and inclusion important to an organization?  Secondly, how can we begin to create a culture of diversity and inclusion?

Qantas Airlines- A case study in Diversity and Inclusion

A 2018 Deloitte Human Capital report recalled the amazing turnaround of the Australian airline, Qantas.  In 2013, the airline posted a record loss of $2.8 billion- the low point of their 98 year history.  Fast forward to 2018 where Qantas posted a record profit of $850 million, increased its operating margin to 12%, won the World’s safest airline award, all while being named one of the best employers in all of Australia.

So how did they do it? Without question, some serious financial and operational management practices were put into place.   Beyond those practices there was an increased focus on employees, customers, and shareholders.  Yet, according to Qantas CEO, Alan Joyce, the massive turnaround was the product of a vitally important underlying condition, “a very diverse (company) environment and a very inclusive culture.”

The many benefits of a diverse and  inclusive culture.

Why does a diverse and inclusive culture have such powerful impact at Qantas, or at any organization for that matter? There are numerous reasons. We make better decisions when we include diverse perspectives.    An environment where we feel safe enough to raise different points of view (even if/when it might oppose mainstream thinking), leads to innovation, creativity and better thinking.  Team members that feel that they have a voice are much more likely to embrace leaderships’ direction.  As Joyce indicates, “diversity generated better strategy, better debates, and better outcomes.”

How to create a culture of inclusion and diversity.

Over the years, organizations have tried (and failed) to create environments that are more inclusive and diverse.  Millions of dollars have been spent on training programs and organizational restructuring that eventually fall flat.  They fail because they don’t address the most important element–the underlying culture of the organization. Or as we define culture, the fundamental behaviors of the organization.  For it’s the behaviors (good or bad) that truly define an organization.  In fact, it’s often said that it’s the worst behaviors that you find within an organization that truly define that organization and its culture.  Therefore, if the behaviors within an organization are not aligned with the organizational strategy and leadership, no amount of training or restructuring will ever meaningfully change the culture.

Who do you want to be?  It has to start with behaviors.

To begin to drive the culture, we must start by first identifying those behaviors that will take us to where we want to go.   If we want a culture that is more inclusive and diverse, we need to identify those behaviors that will foster inclusion and diversity.    If we want a culture that reinforces collaboration and teamwork, we must first identify those behaviors that will lead to collaboration and teamwork. Listening generously, embracing diverse perspectives, treating others with dignity and respect are examples of specific behaviors many of our clients identify as being critical to the type of culture they’re looking to create.  

Then coach and teach the behaviors over and over and over.

The work is not done there. While identifying the most important behaviors is a necessary first step, it’s only the first step.  To bring these behaviors to life, to make sure they become our “default” position, we need to coach and teach our teammates (and each other) every day.  We need to make sure they’re used  in every decision we make and in every action we take.   We need to practice until perfect.  As stated in the subtitle of his book, The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle suggests, “greatness isn’t born, it’s grown.”  Based on his extensive research of those that are extraordinary in their pursuits, he found a commonality.  Whether it was musicians, tennis players, or chess players, the great ones all became great a certain way- with deep practice over and over again.  

The same holds true with our culture.  If we want to create a great culture that fosters inclusion and diversity, we must identify the essential behaviors that will help us to live to that culture and reinforce those behaviors, forever.  We have to draw a line in the sand and then fight every day to protect that line.

If you’d like to continue this discussion or learn more about how we can help you define the critical behaviors for your organization (and how to reinforce them), give us a call.  If you’d like to learn more about our process for helping organizations do this, watch the 4 minute video on our homepage, or click the button below.

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