Organisations could be doing much better by focusing on building inclusive cultures rather than being preoccupied with diversity numbers for the annual report. Inclusion needs to become, “the way we do things around here”. Everyone needs to be more inclusive, it’s not just a matter for leaders.
Reframing from diversity to an inclusive culture changes the focus, from ‘problem’ to ‘solution’. It’s a valuable and essential shift away from a ‘more of the same’ (diversity) approach that only delivered ‘more of the same’. Do people believe that they and their colleagues could be more inclusive? Could the organisation reach a point where visitors remark on how inclusive they find the organisation?
Refining inclusiveness for greater success Along with reframing D&I generally, viewing inclusion and inclusive cultures through a more refined lens is overdue. Greater clarity and precision is needed to make progress. Especially important is recognising it’s stepped or layered nature. Organisations that get ahead of themselves see even great initiatives falter because people aren’t yet ready for them. No different really from people advancing in a stepped way to ever more senior roles through their careers. When building a house, plans must first comply. Foundations precede walls and glass is added after the window frames are installed.
The three levels in UGM's Inclusive Culture Framework
UGM’s Inclusive Culture framework has three levels. Level 1, ‘Compliant’, is the most basic level - first up, don’t break the law. It’s not optional! Interestingly, this is still a huge challenge for many organisations. As long as bad, and illegal, behaviour persists, you have little chance of your people believing that higher levels of inclusiveness are possible. You will risk potentially heavy fines and reputational damage if found out, let alone facing the negative impacts that will have on the organisation’s health and performance.
At Level 1, organisations will necessarily develop skills relating to legally compliant workplaces. Ideally, the compliance training will be engaging in ways that maximise knowledge transfer. All too often this is seen as 'tick-the-box' training and people (and trainers) absolutely loath spending time doing it. But, it doesn't have to be that way. UGM, for example, has developed and delivers an award winning program, where it's not uncommon for people to try and get back onto programs for a second go!
It’s the next two tiers where inclusiveness efforts frequently go wrong. Level 2 is what we call ‘Foundational Inclusiveness’. At this level you’d want people to have a basic awareness of ‘diversity’ groupings, such as gender, national culture, sexual orientation, disability, work style etc. Vitally, when these differences are unpacked at a basic level, this occurs within an inclusive culture context. It’s the “why we need to be inclusive”, followed very swiftly with basic and practical advice for “how we can behave in more inclusive ways, immediately”.
Importantly, Level 2 training provides the foundation or bedrock upon which more advanced initiatives will be launched. It's about ensuring people understand why being part of an inclusive culture is a good idea and clarifying the basics of what it takes to contribute to and sustain such a culture. More advanced initiatives launched too early, before this basic level of inclusiveness has taken hold, will lead to less than optimal outcomes, disappointment, and possibly even failure in the longer term.
‘Comprehensive Inclusiveness’ is Level 3, and is only sustainable when the first two layers are firmly in place. Equipped with, and acting on, a basic understanding of inclusiveness helps individuals view their world differently. With this they’re much more likely to understand, tolerate and support any special measures aimed at helping certain groupings to feel and be able to be truly included. Without a basic sense of inclusiveness, people are likely to ignore, even resent, efforts appearing to favour particular groups – even if justified as rectifying identified inequity.
An inclusive culture operating at Level 3 will recognise the very dynamic nature of culture - it's more a journey than a destination! It's something that organisations may achieve today yet lose ground tomorrow and need to re-cultivate. For that reason, Level 3 organisations will continually monitor levels of inclusiveness at various levels, from individual level to whole-of-organisation. Given the huge diversity of subcultural groupings, Level 3 organisations will also work continuously on including as many groupings as meaningfully possible. That is what comprehensive inclusive cultures require.
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