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Last week Starbucks closed 8,000 of its US stores to give 175,000 employees racial bias training. But Harvard Research proves that traditional diversity programmes aren’t effective at creating a more inclusive culture.

Quartz’s Oliver Staley summarised it best;

“A few hours of training isn’t long enough to change behavior, particularly without regularly scheduled follow-up sessions. Many of the methods used to overcome implicit bias have been found ineffective. And mandatory training can backfire by breeding resentment.”

Indeed, a siloed activity like unconscious bias training — although well intentioned — cannot make Starbucks a more inclusive place to work on its own. The critical factor for Starbucks will be what they do next.

Every week I speak to senior HR professionals about the biggest transformation challenges their businesses face — every organization wants to create a more inclusive culture. But their change efforts often fail because they focus on singular activities that aren’t interconnected. They run unconscious bias training. Or they write policy. Or they create communities that focus on developing the under-represented group, rather than changing the behaviors of their whole organization.

One-off training courses will be forgotten. Policy changes process not attitudes. Communities for under-represented groups don’t change organizational culture.

Indeed, creating a culture shift is the most critical factor for increasing diversity and innovation. Gucci’s Marco Bizzarri led the fashion house into the strongest period of financial growth and critical success it had seen in 20 years. His secret was to create a more inclusive culture;

“You can have the best strategy ever, but you will lose it if the culture does not sustain the strategy. The culture is the most difficult thing to create, because you are talking about people; human beings who change every day in their behavior, attitude and perceptions.”

In essence, you do need a diversity and inclusion strategy — but remember — it’s culture that underpins it.

While creating a culture shift sounds daunting, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, while writing policy and redesigning your organizational behaviors takes time, you can begin to change culture fast.

Here are three things you can do fast to start building a more inclusive culture from today.

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1. Take the temperature of your organization

Starbucks waited until they had a global uproar on their hands before they realized the gravity of their inclusion problem. Don’t be the burnt coffee.

In our last post on how to create a more inclusive culture, we talked about using your data points to identify where there are physical diversity gaps. But a truly inclusive culture doesn’t just happen because the makeup of your workforce is diverse.

The makeup is important. But helping everyone feel they can bring their whole selves to work is mission critical.

According to Deloitte, if diversity is the only metric you look at, you’re missing half the story.

So take the temperature of your organization to learn about whether people feel included too.

In the words of eBay’s first Chief Diversity Officer, Damien Hooper-Campbell;

“Folks, diversity alone isn’t enough. If diversity is getting invited to the dance party, inclusion is being asked to dance when you’re at the party.”

At the recent HRD Europe Summit, Chief Diversity Officer Wanda Hope said that when she joined Johnson & Johnson they were extremely well-intentioned in carrying out activities designed to make the workforce more diverse. But each activity was being carried out in a silo. Because the dots weren’t connected, their ability to create a shift in culture was limited.

Johnson & Johnson started to change that by taking the temperature of 7,000 employees to find out what diversity and inclusion truly meant to them. The answer was simply, ‘you belong’.

Through our work with a number of organizations who have taken similar steps, one of the most effective ways to carry out a ‘Pulse’ survey that delivers impactful data is to ask both definitive and experience-based questions.

As well as asking questions about the makeup of your organization spanning everything from gender, to race, to parental responsibilities, to level of education, you should also ask questions that focus on how people feel these dimensions of their character have impacted their work experience and sense of belonging. Use questions like ‘how do you think [your gender / education level / parental responsibilities] influenced your career?’.

Taking the temperature doesn’t have to be an ordeal. This is something your HR teams, your internal comms teams, or your marketing teams can do. Use a Google Form, a survey built into your learning platform, or even a tool like Survey Monkey.

Use your Pulse survey results to let your people shape your policy.

These surveys will help you identify how inclusive your organization is, but they should also help you identify key areas that you need to work on e.g. making parents feel more included.

Then repeat this Pulse survey every three months to see if the changes you’re actioning are making a difference.

When your people have spoken to you about how inclusive your organization is as a whole, the next step is to get them talking to each other about it every day.

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2. Make it okay to talk about the elephant in the room

eBay’s Damien Hooper-Campbell believes that investments of money, resource and time are often ineffectual when they’re applied in a silo without considering the human element that sits at the foundation of this conversation. J+J’s ‘you belong’ mantra is deeply human in its sentiment, but to bring it to life, people must adopt the Radical Candor approach of caring deeply and challenging directly.

Hooper-Campbell’s solution is to build circles of trust within your organization to make it okay for people to speak up;

“What we need to do is push beyond the boundaries of surface-level conversations. We need to be okay being politically incorrect for the moment as long as we’ve established an assumption of good intent. That allows us to get our real views out there and gives us permission to call BS when we see it.”

Help your people get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Likewise, in her book, Diversify, written based on research from Oxford University’s Nuffield College, June Sarpong suggests that when we’re all aware that we think differently, and can face our uncomfortable truths, we can stop doing an awkward splutter when the subject of difference comes up and actually do something about it.

To help people have those uncomfortable conversations, create a language around diversity and inclusion. Through a period of rapid hiring at Hive Learning, we wanted to make sure new and existing team members adopted our Feedback Culture so we maintained fast feedback loops and an agile way of working.

To help normalize the nature of rapid feedback, we encouraged the use of the word ‘Speedback’. Had a good meeting? Give Speedback. Had a terrible meeting? Give Speedback. The name is cheesy — and it might make you cringe a little — but starting a conversation by telling someone you’re going to give them ‘Speedback’ immediately makes people both open — and alert — to it.

Encourage your team to use the same principle when they feel that someone should be more inclusive.

Another way to address this is to do as Slack did and make diversity everyone’s responsibility, rather than hiring a ‘Head of Diversity’. Because everyone is accountable for championing diversity — rather than seeing it as ‘HR’s responsibility’ — Slack has one of the most diverse cultures in Silicon Valley.

When you normalize the conversation about diversity and inclusion and give people the freedom to talk about how they’re feeling in a constructive way, you can help everyone to feel like they belong.

If taking the temperature is step one, and normalizing the narrative is step two, making small everyday changes is step three.

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3. Give people a toolkit to make small changes, every day

In the words of renowned Harvard Academic Iris Bohnet, author of Gender Equality by Design, says;

“Do not focus on changing minds — help people find a better way without having to memorize or even think about it.”

As well as opening up a conversation about diversity and inclusion, and sharing out accountability, there are other small changes you — and your managers — can make to help you be more inclusive from tomorrow.

There are hundreds of great resources out there that can help people learn how to be open to diversity of thought, and welcome everyone’s viewpoint.

Google’s open re: Work platform has a wealth of advice on everything from how to make everyone accountable for being inclusive, how to understand unconscious bias and how to make subtle changes.

Product Analytics platform Amplitude has a great list of microinclusions and subtle changes you can make to be more inclusive — like making sure your meeting room names reflect the diversity of your organisation, using diverse stock images and icons and changing the timings of your events so they’re parent-friendly.

But understanding the changes you can make every day is only the first part of the equation. Looking at a long list of multiple things you should do can be overwhelming. And overwhelm often means limited action.

As with all behavior change, the key is to create a habit of talking about diversity and inclusion.

In our own diversity and inclusion program, Inclusion Works, we share critical nuggets of learning in a cyclical program designed to help people Understand, Do, and Reflect. This helps us deepen learning retention through regular engagement and presents people with an opportunity to take small, guided actions. This approach has helped us to achieve +75% monthly engagement in diversity programs.

Use learning technology that can help you deliver stimulating and engaging content directly into the flow of work to inspire daily action.

Inclusive organizations are 6X more innovative than their peers according to Bersin by Deloitte. And with more than half of the top Standard & Poors 500 companies due to disappear within the next decade, don’t wait around to get your policy right or waste time writing strategy in silos. The time to act is now.

So start making changes to your culture today. Take the temperature of your employees and understand what they’re thinking. Make it okay to talk about diversity and inclusion. And then help them understand what they can do every day to create a more inclusive culture. The golden rule should always be people, not policy.


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