3 Tips to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

Racial injustice and differential experiences in the workplace are issues that organizations and their leaders cannot ignore. In recent weeks, we have seen corporate voices get behind the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement by sharing messages from their CEOs, posting to corporate and personal social media pages, hosting town hall meetings, and making donations to organizations fighting racial injustice. But what’s next? How can organizations and their leaders take real action and start the journey to create more inclusive workplaces?

For the first event in our Power of Inclusive Leadership Webinar Series, Stephen Bailey, CEO of ExecOnline, sat down with leadership expert and Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at Yale School of Management, Heidi Brooks. During this one hour event, Heidi shared actionable steps leaders and managers should take to create a long-term plan for impact at their organizations. 

She explained that oftentimes we see that organizations and business leaders have a bias for action. They want to take action quickly, but by doing so they do not actually change accountability or the cultural norm in their organizations. Instead, Heidi says, “I really want to encourage people to think about this as a change process. It may take years and to not be intimidated by that, but to be committed to the long haul.” 

Here are 3 tips Heidi shared on how leaders can create lasting organizational change: 

1. Get a big picture of what’s going on  

The first thing you should do is courageously ask, ‘What is going on at my organization?’ You do this by exploring your data and also hosting a series of conversations to better understand your workplace dynamics.

Hiedi explains that oftentimes companies have the data and are not necessarily looking at it through a demographic lens – the story of differential impact and experience based on race, LGBTQ, gender, etc. 

“Lots of people don’t look because it’s not what they want to see, but that doesn’t mean it’s not there.” – Heidi Brooks

Getting a big picture of what is going on also means looking beyond formal mentorship and supervision. You need to think about everything that happens in an informal setting, as we tend to see people are drawn to other individuals based on similarity.  

“It doesn’t have to do with intention, but the solutions do have to do with intention. You have to be intentional to change something that we are not doing on purpose necessarily.” – Heidi Brooks

2. “Think of this as a process and not as an event” 

When asked, “What can my organization do? What can my leaders do? What can teams do?” she responds, “Think of this as a process and not as an event.” 

The Kotter Change Model is one way to think about the steps that an organization can take to create real change in their organization. It is a process that takes a long time and has multiple stages and steps, none of which can be skipped. 

Step 1: Establish a sense of urgency – Raise your awareness. Begin defrosting the status quo – this includes mindsets, behaviors, and assumptions. 

Step 2: Form a powerful guiding coalition – Ask: “Who are the stakeholders who can help to make a difference?” Ensure that you are pooling somewhat broadly and very wisely to create a powerful coalition of people that can make a difference.

Step 3: Create a vision for change – This coalition then works to create a vision for change – it should be simple to communicate, and aligned with your organizational values and mission.

Step 4: Communicate the vision – Socialize it. 

Once we have worked with others, we can then introduce new practices in the change phase.

Step 5: Empower others to act

Step 6: Plan and create short term wins – Focus on the short term wins and how you will communicate them.

Step 7: Consolidate and build on improvements – Build on your accomplishments. 

You are entering the refreeze phase, which is when you ground the change in culture. 

Step 8: Institutionalize new approaches – Track the success and make it more and more part of the culture.

Helpful tip: You can also work backward and plan from your aspiration and how you can get there. 

“At almost all organizations, there’s a gap between the aspiration and the current status quo. So if you can get courageous about asking what that gap looks like and really taking it on in a sequential fashion, then you can work towards being in that win/success category.” – Heidi Brooks

3. Don’t just do check-the-box initiatives

Oftentimes, organizations put a tremendous amount of resources, both time and money, behind solutions they think will work. They take quick action and introduce mandatory diversity training and bias training that by themselves do not move the needle and create cultural change. 

“They might raise awareness, but they have the unfortunate impact of without some follow-up measures, and getting into the discussion of the culture and accountability behind it, they have some people walking away thinking ‘well everyone is biased and it’s not so unusual that I too am biased.’ So raising awareness is not sufficient to change skills, accountability, and cultural norm.”  – Heidi Brooks

Using the Kotter Model above, you can change your thinking and avoid implementing a simple, “check-the-box initiative.” Instead, think of each event as part of the process and constantly be thinking about what is next. 

We hope these tools help inspire you to be courageous and start the journey to inclusion at your organizations. Heidi explains that while it is a long journey, “People and organizations can learn and change and grow. This is good news.”

Interested in learning more? 

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