Most organizations mention diversity and inclusivity when talking about culture. They are buzzwords that are often used for strategic reasons, and sometimes it’s because they’re the right things to do.
The problem is that there is often a disconnect between talking about diversity and inclusivity, and making them happen. Establishing a diverse organization isn’t easy, and it’s even more difficult when it comes to inclusion. That’s why Northwestern / Kellogg Assistant Professor Ellen Taaffe believes that focusing on them is crucial.
“Inclusion is about welcoming, developing, and advancing a diverse mix of individuals,” says Taaffe. “It’s about making all people feel valued, including changing practices that might unfairly benefit any one group, and making sure that everyone feels they have the same opportunity to advance and make an impact. Creating that environment is where the real challenge lies.”
Recognize Implicit Bias
Everyone struggles with implicit bias. We have blind spots and behaviors, based on how we were raised, that can guide our mindset and actions. The important thing is to recognize our implicit bias and then make more conscious, deliberate, and inclusive decisions and actions.
And implicit bias doesn’t have to be obvious. For example, according to research by Kellogg’s Lauren Rivera, leaders assess others based on validating their own skills and backgrounds. Meaning that you might prefer employees who attended an elite school or followed a similar path.
“Ultimately you want to demonstrate that we all have biases and that actively managing them is a priority in order to lead well and bring out the best in each team member,” explains Taaffe.
Make a Business Case for Inclusion
Instead of talking about inclusion in personal and moral ways, frame the importance of inclusion at your organization as a case for your business’ bottom line. The idea is to focus on the importance of inclusion for new ideas, thinking differently, being innovative, and remaining competitive.
“If you can get people excited about hearing diverse points of view, that’s a step in the right direction,” says Taaffe. “Because that’s what inclusion is about: getting different ideas in the mix.”
If you start implementing diversity and inclusion methods without taking the time to understand what you’re doing and why, you won’t be as successful. For example, creating policies to be more inclusive of women without first knowing how your current policies affect women is a losing proposition. Instead, you should study the data—just like you would before a product launch—to see what’s happening now in regards to diversity and inclusion so that you can make the best decision in the future.
Set Clear Objectives
Finally, to make inclusion a reality, you want to set clear objectives for employees, particularly when it comes to performance. The idea is to make it easier to discuss performance and career trajectory in a way that doesn’t include non-work related factors. For example, for a female employee just back from maternity leave, you want to avoid a situation where a manager could choose not to give a “stretch” assignment because they fear work-life balance without talking to the employee.
“The more you can make performance reviews and developmental discussions about opportunities, skills, and experience—rather than some vague perception—the fairer the system and culture will be,” says Taaffe.