Building a more diverse and inclusive environment is not just ticking a box on a list of “to-dos” from a policy document. It must be meaningful and the intent has to be genuine IF it is of real importance to your organisation.
We are human beings. Remember that.
The people around you, the very same people you are trying to impress and satisfy, will see straight through your efforts once your intent is not heartfelt.
This will result in your efforts creating more harm than good and you losing your credibility and influence.
Begin and work from a position of congruence with your objectives.
How Can We Start Building A More Diverse And Inclusive Environment?
We can start building a more diverse and inclusive environment by:
1. communicating effectively with all of our Stakeholders,
2. being genuine,
3. behaving congruently,
4. putting people first,
5. living respectfully, and,
6. showing up as an authentic role model.
Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace should not be done flippantly or for “show and tell“. That approach will set a path towards failure and may even result in arriving in a worse situation than when we started.
There are a few preparation steps to be taken BEFORE we even begin to structure and implement a more engaging environment.
First, we need to understand where we are and how diverse and inclusive we currently are.
Second, our definition of where we want to be and the experience that we want our community to have is fundamental.
Third, and this is critical, we must clearly define our goals and objectives.
How else will we know if we are moving in the right direction and getting closer to where we want to be?
Let us examine these more deeply.
Communicating Effectively With All Stakeholders
Whenever I think about communication, I recall my Grandmother telling us not to go looking under a bed for something that is right in front of us.
Communication is right in front of us.
Being appropriate, assertive and effective communicators will make our lives much, MUCH easier. Yet, it is often the last thing that most of us embrace.
We miss the mark from the get-go and then we struggle to recover and find our way. For many of us, that first action and impression caused too much chaos to recover from.
To create a more diverse and inclusive environment, communicate with ALL your Stakeholders. Get to know their expectations, experiences and ideas for improvement.
Reach out to them. Ask questions and then shut up and listen.
ADDITIONAL READING >>>> How Can Congruent Communication Be Achieved?
To build a cohesive and supportive diverse and inclusive environment, you must be genuine with your intentions and your behaviours. People “see” right through you.
If you are not honest and sincere, they will know.
Remember, you want to have these initiatives grow and blossom throughout your environment. To achieve that, you will have to sustain your efforts. Once you are genuine, this will happen and be felt very easily.
Human beings tend to move away from things that they do not understand or that are different from them, their thinking, feeling and culture.
However, to have a greater appreciation for diversity and inclusion you have to MOVE TOWARDS them and be interested in learning how they are different from you.
This is the alignment with the goals and objectives and it is critical for success.
When we refer to diversity, we are referring to the internal makeup of an environment or organisation. This includes, (but is not limited to), aspects such as race, ethnicity, age, nation of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability.
Inclusion refers to how well the contributions, presence and perspectives of different groups of people in the environment are valued and integrated.
For integration to be effective and engaging, the behaviours of all members must be congruent. If conflict, division or separation exist and are allowed to fester, they will eat away at the seeds of harmony and interconnectedness that are being planted.
Eventually, the objectives of unity, relevance and belonging will be nothing more than black-and-white statements in secluded reports.
Putting People First
When I started working in what is today, Human Resources (HR), it was called Personnel Management. The person who was responsible for it sat behind a desk in a room by themselves and “pushed” a lot of paper across their desk.
As the years went by, I saw a lot of work activities that no one else wanted to do being “dumped” on HR. Responsibilities such as training, disciplining, managing performance, hiring and firing became things that HR did, with limited decision-making authority for the people themselves.
This is a dichotomy in terms that exists within diversity and inclusion as well.
These are people functions and for them to be embraced in an environment, you must ensure that the people in it come first. What this means is that there must be involvement from each person in the organisation.
Everyone should be given a fair opportunity to be heard and to contribute before policy formulation, while it is being developed and during its implementation.
There must be ownership for success to happen.
RELATED TOPIC >>>> What Is The Fastest Emerging Trend In Organisation Development in 2022?
I am not going to get religious on you here (but we are talking about diversity and inclusion so you should be open-minded) however, I do believe that respect is fundamental for successful Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) outcomes.
As a Roman Catholic, I was baptised and confirmed into the religion. However, my maternal grandmother was a Hindu who converted to Catholicism. Her sixteen (16) children were a mix of Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, Hindu, Open Bible and Muslim.
We participated in all related events for members of our family. Christmas, Eid, Divali – we are always involved.
My mother married an Atheist who eventually converted to Catholicism.
In 1998, while living in New Zealand, I met the Dalai Lama, spent one (1) week in meditation and learning and took my Lay Tibetan Buddhist vows.
I still practice to this day.
My point is that from my involvement in all these religions, I learned to respect the values, beliefs and choices of others. That is what I think the pulse of DEIB is – RESPECT OF AND FOR OTHERS.
Do I believe or practice everything?
Has this understanding helped me to live more respectfully in different cultures?
Showing Up As An Authentic Role Model
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “We must BE the change we want to see in the world.”
To start building a more diverse and inclusive environment, BEING an authentic role model is like placing a ladder for the people around you to step up more easily.
As I said previously though, you must be genuine. Do not fake it because people will see right through you.
Authenticity is a magnet.
Think about the people you respect, admire and maybe even want to be like. They are role models for you. The more authentic, personable, genuine and congruent they are, the more attractive they will be to you.
That is also the effect we have on others, especially in the workplace. The most effective way for us to attract followers is to ensure that our behaviour is congruent.
ADDITIONAL READING >>>> What Is Congruent Behaviour? How To Live Authentically
Preparation Steps – Must Dos!
By now, you may have realised how different my approach is to building diverse and inclusive environments. I think that we have more than enough models, systems and statistics. We do not need any more.
What we need is to be more human and humane in our approach and how we manage ourselves.
Here are four (4) ‘Must-Dos’ to get things off to a great start.
1. Hold Safe Spaces
There is a lot to be said about the value that coaching brings to an environment and how we work. There would be a much greater benefit if more of us applied the skills of facilitation and coaching to how we perform in the workplace.
One of the important skills in coaching is what is called holding a safe space.
Simply put, that means that we must always be mindful of being trustworthy and confidential when communicating with and supporting others. Behaviours like gossiping and negative emotions are not welcomed.
2. Allow Room For Feedback
No one knows it all or has all the answers. Your title may include ‘Manager’, ‘Chief’ or ‘Executive’ but that does not mean that you should be the only one calling the shots.
Involve all of your employees and always ask for feedback. The solutions rest collectively and will afford you much better results for everyone to enjoy.
3. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
It is always more effective if you err on the side of over-communicating rather than under-communicating or not communicating at all. That said, please ensure that your message is valuable and communicated effectively.
Take time to listen and allow everyone to have a voice.
Communication works in more than two ways.
4. Celebrate The Wins
I am a believer in celebrating the wins – big and small – especially the small ones. They add up and add tremendous value in the long run.
Because most people tend to wait for something huge to happen to share it, talk about it and celebrate it.
I have found that if we celebrate the small wins, then celebrating sets the tone and raises the bar on expectations. People love to feel good about themselves and their accomplishments.
A simple gesture as a handwritten note which is read aloud and handed to someone can be powerful and life-changing.
Closing Thoughts . . .
I love living within diverse environments that acknowledge and practise inclusion.
Perhaps it is because I was born on an island in the Southern Caribbean and travelled the world. Maybe it is because I am of mixed race and proud of my East Indian, African and European blood and heritage. Perhaps it is because I was exposed to multiple religions and beliefs.
Perhaps it is a mixture of all of those things – and more.
Whatever the reasons, I appreciate that building a more diverse and inclusive environment can be challenging. It is difficult to manage and lead all the differences that keep presenting themselves daily.
Sometimes it seems that the more inclusive we try to become, the less diverse we end up.
But, we must keep putting in the effort.
At the end of the day, we are all human beings with unique perspectives and gifts. It is the variety of our uniqueness that makes our world so colourful, engaging and promising.
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About The Author
Cassandra is a Management Consultant, internationally qualified Facilitator, Executive Coach, Strategist and Behaviour Change Agent.
She enjoys travelling, exploring cultures and learning about historical and social networks and dynamics.
Her driving force is the education and development of her tween daughter. The roots of her inspiration to diversify her niche markets and the motivation to expand and scale her business investments rest firmly in this relationship.
This is the reason for building her legacy.