How can you build an inclusive culture?

Mairi Doyle

You may be thinking that building an inclusive culture is a huge task, and you don’t  know where to start. The key is to focus on the foundations of any culture change – behaviours, systems, and symbols – and the main drivers of these – leaders. When you become more aware and intentional about each of these foundations, and they are proactively role modelled by leaders, you can accelerate your journey to building an inclusive culture. 

In our previous blog on ‘What is an inclusive culture’, we looked at the three core leadership behaviours that drive inclusion, based on our research. Here’s what leaders can do differently under each: 

1.    Humility – have a growth mindset and understand that there is a lot you can learn from others. 
Do – Be prepared to admit your shortcomings, acknowledge when you make a mistake or don’t have all the answers, share your learnings. 

2.    Curiosity – being genuinely interested in others and what makes them tick.
Do – Avoid making assumptions about others, and instead listen to understand how you could involve them more by knowing their needs and aspirations. 

3.    Openness – willing to accept feedback from others, communicate transparently. 
Do – Recognise people’s diverse opinions and provide a variety of ways for colleagues to share their views other than just speaking out in a meeting full of people. Once a decision is made, encourage cabinet responsibility, inclusion does not equate to endless debate.

We have identified three key systems you should focus on when creating an inclusive culture, and how you can start to make changes. 

1.    Recruitment and Onboarding
Do  –  Review the recruitment funnel to see if certain dimensions of diversity drop out more than others. Create an environment to get to know new people, not just their skills and experience?
2.    Talent Management 
Do – Review if ‘how’ people work as well as ‘what’ they achieve is assessed as part of the talent management process? Challenge whether you tend to favour people you are close to or who are similar to you, rather than using objective criteria.

3.     Reward and Recognition 
Do – seek out the widest range of views possible when deciding on reward and recognition. 

In our view there are five symbols that are critically important to consider when shaping an inclusive culture. Symbols refer to choices made about finite resources (time, money etc), which send a particularly strong message about your culture. Symbols can be quicker, cheaper, and easier, to change than behaviours and systems, and their impact just as powerful. 

1.    Networks
Who do you spend most time with? What message does that send?
Do – Invest time in making your network more diverse and inclusive, and be more aware about actual or perceived favouritism. 

2. Decision-making
The quality of your decision-making will be diluted if you fail to listen and incorporate diverse views.
Do – Analyse your forums and processes to check how inclusive they are.  

3.    Recognition
What you encourage and celebrate is copied by others.
Do – Review who has been promoted in your team in the last six months, and be clear about why.

4.    Language
The language you use reveals whether you have an inclusive mindset or not.
Do – Agree some guiding principles around the language you will and will not use as a leadership team.

5.    Ways of working
The way you work day-to-day (e.g. remote working) can hugely impact inclusion. 
Do – If you have a large amount of your team working remotely, are you paying attention to relationship building?

Download shaping a culture of inclusion white paper

For insights on culture view our selection of case studiesebooksreports and white papers or contact us to learn how we can transform your culture.


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