Why Inclusion Efforts Are Taking the Front Seat

by Dennis Hendricks, Allison Carpenter, Heather McBroome, and Kyler Starks

Savvy organizations have long understood the connection between developing a diverse workforce and achieving solid business results. More recently, however, research demonstrates the critical link between diversity and inclusion — and how coupling them in a balanced fashion yields exponential results.

While a focus on diversity can lead to attracting a representative workforce, it is the focus on inclusion enabling that workforce to rise to its potential and create outstanding results. A recent study shows inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative or agile, eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes, three times as likely to be high performing, and two times as likely to meet financial results.

Without inclusion, diversity efforts fall flat, resulting in a revolving door, internal silos, and ill feelings on the part of people in the majority group. When we focus on inclusion, we recognize that we all play an equally valuable and valued role.

Pixar SparkShorts released a wildly popular nine-minute video where the main character, a ball of yarn named Purl, walks into an office where everyone looks the same – except her. The film demonstrates the story of the challenges employees face when they stand out as being “different” and delivers a Hollywood-style feel-good ending. With almost 10 million views, the message is striking a chord. What real-world takeaways can organizations gather from this film and, perhaps more importantly, why has it generated so much interest?

While Purl is single-handedly responsible for the transformation of the organization in Pixar’s clip, the reality is that creating a truly inclusive culture takes strategic thought, diligent effort, and sponsorship from the top. It is in this inclusive environment where new ideas flow freely and the employee population can match the demographics of customers.

What takeaways can organizations gather from this film?

Employees who enter a non-inclusive culture typically either assimilate, squashing their diversity of thought and therefore their value (as Purl first did), or give up and leave. In fact, a recent study of 10,000 employees found a whopping 73% correlation between attrition rates and not feeling aligned and involved. In other words, employees didn’t feel included or a sense of belonging and left in search of an organization that could give this to them. Organizations, in this case, are losing their investment in diversity and everything that comes with it – higher team performance, decision-making quality, and collaboration, to name a few.

In a 2017 Korn Ferry survey, culture was identified as a key driver in turnover among new hires and as critical to job satisfaction, especially among millennials. Couple this with the prediction that 75% of the global workforce will be comprised of millennials by 2025 and the call to action for evolving organizational culture becomes even stronger. So how can organizations work to build inclusive cultures?

Building an inclusive culture demands transformation

Building an inclusive culture requires a strategy that goes beyond traditional diversity tactics (e.g. affiliation groups, metrics, and training). Inclusive and diverse organizations acknowledge the reality of unconscious bias, and how the brain is hardwired to be attracted to “known” and “comfortable” while being wary of the “unknown” and “different”.  Successful organizations find ways to disrupt those biases across all processes, from how they recruit and hire to how they manage and promote.

Where traditional tactics have helped us create base levels of fairness and respect, new inclusion strategies focus on the sense of belonging the enables individuals to reach their potential. To be successful, the inclusion mandate must come from the top. Leaders must explicitly communicate the vision and model aligned behaviors with a clear and measurable strategy.

To create an inclusive culture, organizations should focus on:

  • Disrupting unconscious bias
  • Promoting transparency and empowerment
  • Cultivating a sense of value and belonging
  • Advocating for personal wellbeing
  • Enabling choices, flexibility, and personalization

A good place to start is by developing a progression model to track the end-to-end transformation. The following are actionable, measurable milestones that could be included in such a model:

  • Create organizational awareness. Drive awareness of what inclusion and diversity are and aren’t. Measure the current state within the organization across all processes from branding and recruiting to board-level representation.
  • Inspire personal desire. Ensure the case for inclusion is understood by the organization, and teach employees to recognize their personal unconscious biases and how they can impact overall inclusion.
  • Normalize the conversation. Know that you will have to intentionally normalize daily conversations on the topic, starting at the top. Consider video campaigns, meeting starters, and leader toolkits. Empower employees to hold each other accountable. Leaders lead by example and have the power to call out non-inclusive language.
  • Disrupt systems and processes. Various technological and non-tech tools can be used to highlight and undercut potential bias in people and processes. Examples include analytics-based decision making, business resource groups, inclusion councils, sponsorship models to advocate for talented diverse employees, diverse mentorship pairings, and awareness training.

Diversity without inclusion is destined to fail. The viral popularity of Purl reflects a societal desire to expose and correct the toxic elements of workplace cultures, and replace them with new norms that are inclusive and empowering. Leaders must listen to their people and drive a transformation that will enable the best human performance.