You can increase diversity by sticking with what you’ve got.
A simple statement that is counter-intuitive and maybe a bit contentious, making it an intriguing way to start a blog post.
At least, that was the idea, which I hoped would make you want to read on.
The trouble is, explaining what this simple statement means in an equally simple way proved, well, complicated.
Just as I was thinking maybe it wasn’t such a good opening, I chanced upon this very recent article by Gallup, 3 Requirements for a Diverse and Inclusive Culture, and it immediately became clear to me why I was struggling.
I had been mixing up diversity and inclusion but, as the Gallup article makes very clear, although intertwined, they are very different.
They’re right of course, and it’s so glaringly obvious I feel a bit embarrassed to admit I confused the two.
What my headline could more accurately say is you can increase the POSITIVE IMPACT of diversity while sticking with what you’ve got. You do this by ensuring you have an inclusive culture.
To explain, let’s say you have a roughly 50/50 mix of female and male employees at all levels throughout your organisation. In these circumstances you might think gender diversity targets have been achieved, job done!
However, diversity on its own isn’t enough.
You have to make sure that all your people in all their diversity feel able to contribute to the best of their ability. This means, on top of diversity, you need to be inclusive. You need to make sure that the women in your organisation are just as comfortable as the men are in making decisions, challenging others, offering suggestions, taking risks, being innovative and all the other stuff that is necessary in today’s crazy organisations.
This is where inclusion comes in.
If the culture of your organisation doesn’t encourage women to contribute to the same degree it encourages men, you don’t have an inclusive culture and you are wasting the diversity you have – women are more likely to hold back in what they say and do, and may well feel pressured into doing so.
On the other hand, with an inclusive culture, women, in fact all your people, are empowered to contribute more fully, which improves collaboration and productivity and, ultimately, business results.
But what are the signs you may not have an inclusive culture?
Well, there are the obvious ones like no clear company mission and values, lack of communication from the top, poor succession planning, silo mentality, inattention to onboarding new employees, … all the usual nonsense that I’m assuming is long gone in your organisation.
For example, how many times were you about to say something in a meeting and then thought better of it? Maybe you thought what you wanted to say wasn’t totally relevant or people wouldn’t take any notice of you or that the topic had been discussed for long enough and you didn’t want to string it out further.
Or maybe your default is not to say much of anything in meetings.
Or, of course, you might be very comfortable being vocal in meetings and wonder what I’m talking about.
But what if all those responses were down to the working culture rather than to individual abilities and personalities? What if the people who contribute most do so, not because they have all the answers, but because the culture encourages them to speak up? What if the people who contribute less do so, not because they don’t have anything worth saying, but because the culture encourages them to stay in the background?
What if your organisation inadvertently favours certain individuals and groups over other individuals and groups?
If it does, you don’t have an inclusive culture.
So what? You might ask. We get the job done! What’s the problem?
Well, according to this article in the Harvard Business Review, How Diversity Can Drive Innovation, leaders who give diverse voices equal airtime are nearly twice as likely as others to unleash value-driving insights, and employees in a ‘speak up’ culture are 3.5 times as likely to contribute their full innovative potential.
And this article in Forbes, New Research: Diversity + Inclusion = Better Decision Making, claims inclusive teams make decisions twice as fast with half the number of meetings as other teams, and the decisions made are better up to 87% of the time. On top of that, the most inclusive decision-making and execution teams performed 60% better than average.
All this is compelling evidence that an inclusive culture, which encourages contributions from all your people rather than just a few, is better for business.
So, alongside your efforts to create a more diverse organisation you should also focus on developing a more inclusive culture.
Striving for more is only part of the picture. You’ve also got to make most of what you’ve already got.