Building an Inclusive Organization


If you’ve been following the series on Inclusive Organizations, you probably have one remaining question. We’ve answered the what and why of inclusive organizations and even talked about their traits, but we haven’t talked about the how. How do you create an inclusive organization?

Building an inclusive organization requires a dedicated focus and effort on the organization and individuals.  It’s not necessarily easy to do, but it is possible and well worth the reward.  As talked before, there are 8 traits of an inclusive organization–four of the organization, four of the individuals.

Developing an Organization’s Traits

Developing the four traits of the organization is as “easy” as focusing on each one and creating standards or processes that exhibit them.

1. Sense of Identity

Most organizations have some sense of an identity in the form of a mission statement. The key is making sure the identity is inclusive of everyone in the organization, but still specific enough to separate your organization from all the others.  If something is missing, revisit your mission statement with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

2. Commitment to Diversity

Do you have a plan to attract and retain more diversity? Is it written down? Has it been proven successful? Is it reviewed at some regular interval? If your answer isn’t “yes” to all of these questions, you’ve got work to do. Remember there is a difference between appreciating diversity and committing to making sure your organization is diverse.

3. Equality

This one is simple to say but requires effort to do.  Legally, just about every company will express that they are an equal-opportunity employer. However, actions speak louder than words, and exhibiting equality means rewarding and recognizing top performers at all levels of the organization, not just upper management.

4. Collaboration

Having a collaborative work environment means that the focus is on teamwork, not individual efforts, and employees from all walks of work are working together. This can be promoted through rewarding team efforts, staffing projects with diverse people, and promoting different roles and ideas through newsletters and monthly Lunch and Learns.

Developing an Individual’s Traits

The four traits of the organization are somewhat straightforward–they simply require a manager or leader to focus on them. But how do you get the individuals to start exhibiting inclusiveness?  The starting point for all of the traits is awareness and training. Beyond that, there are a few additional steps you can take to emphasize each trait.

1. Sense of Identity

Employees who don’t express their own individual sense of identity feel restricted for one of two reason: they are uncomfortable sharing or don’t feel like they fit in. Both roadblocks are removed by creating trust within the organization and offering opportunities for employees to learn about themselves and others. There are countless team-building exercises and activities that can help you demolish these roadblocks; check out the how-to humor section to find one that works for you.

2. Focus on People

Until the day that we all work with robots, it’s time to stop thinking of our direct reports and coworkers as resources.  They do get things done and are resourceful, but they are first and foremost people.  And as people, individuals should recognize that they will make mistakes, they will have personal conflicts, and they will (hopefully) have lives outside of work that are incredibly important to their well-being.  Kick-start that understanding by giving people the opportunity to open up about themselves, and carry it through by always respecting them as people first and as a “resource” second.

3. Desire to Learn

Having an affinity for teaching and learning is the best way to take advantage of the diversity of your organization.  So while it is up to the organization to provide forums to teach and learn, it is up to the individual to attend the sessions both as a student and a teacher.  Encourage the learning mentality by rewarding those who share and learn, make certification and training a requirement for promotion, and incorporate it into your best tips for one-on-ones and group meetings.

4. 360° Communication

In an organization where there is equality and collaboration, 360° communication is easy–it just requires everyone be willing to communicate.  Individuals should value their direct reports by listening to what they have to say and personalizing the company’s message to them; they should respect their peers by sharing feedback and insights with them; and they should serve their managers by being honest with them and letting them know the true state of business/projects/morale so they know when something needs to be done.  Emphasize this with all employees and incorporate the 360° mentality into meetings, surveys and feedback sessions.

Building an Inclusive Organization

Being able to leverage the many benefits of inclusive organizations is as “easy” as applying the above steps.  While the steps themselves aren’t easy, they are necessary to creating the type of organization that can not only survive but excel in the rapidly changing world of today.

Got some other tips for building an inclusive organization?  Share them in the comments!

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