Mind the Gap & Build in Time

Cultures aren’t inclusive, people are.

Even the most well-intentioned diversity and inclusion initiatives can fail. We’ve all seen it. Whether it is the unconscious bias training you “click through” while doing other work or watching a great video on inclusive behaviors you know your local leadership will never incorporate themselves. Failure happens when a central truth is forgotten: cultures are only inclusive if people are.

Healthy inclusive cultures need leaders authentically engaging in the work themselves and providing time for employees to do the same.

To build inclusive cultures within an organization a balance must be realized between the commitments of D&I leaders and executives and how it’s felt by all employees. Healthy inclusive cultures need leaders authentically engaging in the work themselves and providing time for employees to do the same. If you’re not looking at both extremes of an organization, from CEOs to entry-level employees, then there will inevitably be a “gap” between the best intentions and the ultimate impact on culture.        

My friend is a cautionary tale. She works at a Fortune 500 company with top leadership engaged in diversity and inclusion work, who appear motivated to be inclusive leaders and are working hard to live out those values themselves. Inclusion is a central tenant to the business. The information on the company’s diversity and inclusion website is thoughtful, well-developed, and helpful.

However, the problem is that none of those good intentions mean anything to her or anyone she works with. She is given greater amounts of work and pushed to “take more on” so that every second is counted for. In talking with peers in other business units, she heard the same thing over and over again –“Ya, I know the company cares about diversity and inclusion, but what does that mean for me?”.

When there is no real time built in for anyone to have the space needed to engage with the behaviors of inclusion, diversity and inclusion efforts become the first casualty.

While the top of the house is activated and spending the time and resources on diversity and inclusion, somewhere down the line leaders are making different choices. Instead of understanding that people need time to learn and practice the behaviors of inclusion that actually build an inclusive culture, leaders choose to decrease budgets and push each team and office to maximize productivity. When there is no real time built in for anyone to have the space needed to engage with the behaviors of inclusion, diversity and inclusion efforts become the first casualty.

So where does that leave you? If you’re tasked with leading on diversity and inclusion, find the gaps. Take the time to survey the individual contributors and managers across the organization. Whether through surveys or Listening Groups, get to know the people you are trying to influence. Ask about their perception of the importance of diversity and inclusion to the company and its senior leaders. Inquire into their own investment to D&I resources in balance with their workloads. And if their answers are “it’s not important” or they aren’t spending any time on inclusion, figure out why. If you’re going to spend all this time investing in D&I strategy, ensure it empowers real people to execute it.

If you’re an activated CEO or a senior leader with influence, make sure it’s clear to all of your leaders that it’s important to you that they have the time to work on inclusion. And make sure you mean it when you ask them what money and support they need to do so. Importantly, be a role model for this yourself. Workshops such as, “The Inclusive Executive,” by Greatheart Consulting is a great example of how executives can engage authentically in this work.

Diversity and inclusion programs fail when you forget that it’s real people at every level of your organization who make cultures inclusive.

And if you’re like my friend, in a company that wants to do better around diversity and inclusion but there’s a “gap” keeping the good efforts from being truly felt wherever you are, speak up! Ask questions of your leaders on what support they are getting on D&I leadership development. Relay to your HR partners that if they want to keep talent like you, you expect there to be programs truly building an inclusive culture. Send this blog to your diversity and inclusion leaders, telling them you see the work they are doing and want it to be a success and provide your insight. Share your story by using your voice and actions to support your own development around inclusion.

Diversity and inclusion programs fail when you forget that it’s real people at every level of your organization who make cultures inclusive. For inclusion to happen in a meaningful way, you have to “find the gaps” and build in the time for real people at every level of the organization to do the work each and every week. Because the inescapable truth is that cultures aren’t inclusive, people are.