America is more diverse than ever before. Business is not.
But with a unique combination of forces that are shining a light on this problem, it seems that now is the time for positive change to accelerate. For starters: There’s an increasing amount of research and journalism focused on the value of diversity and belonging in organizations; the current political context is forcing leaders to stand up for what they believe in and raising the consciousness of the nation as a whole; and more leaders are catching on to an emerging model of leadership that’s focused on wellbeing and unleashing the unique talents and humanity of their organization (rather than controlling and constraining them).
Now more than ever, CEOs are drawing their attention to diversity, inclusion, and belonging, and seeking advice on creative approaches that position diversity at the heart of executing business strategy, not as a side project.
We’ve been partnering with leaders on this in ways large and small—from long-term engagements with leadership teams in financial services, tech, education, and consumer products to one-day immersive workshops with individual leaders from all walks of business. And most important, we’re taking an honest look at ourselves, too—how can we at SYPartners create a culture that’s more diverse, is more inclusive to every voice at the table, and where everyone feels a sense of belonging?
Based on what we’re seeing and experiencing, we’ve shaped 8 beliefs about diversity, inclusion, and belonging in business. It’s worth noting that unlike some of the other posts in this part of our website—on our foundational ideas at SYPartners—these ideas are still emerging. As we continue to activate new practices and measure the impact, for our clients and ourselves, we’ll further develop our point of view.
1. Greatness of the highest order starts with each individual bringing their best self forward—and that requires feeling a sense of belonging.
Diversity and inclusion are critical, but there’s more to the equation. People have to feel a sense of belonging—a connection to an organization/group of people that makes you feel you can be yourself. Not only does it result in greater engagement and creativity in the workplace, it’s a psychological need.
2. Creating a culture of belonging is a business imperative, requiring the entire C-suite to step up and own it.
Diversity, inclusion, and belonging are often treated as a single initiative owned exclusively by HR. But for real change to happen, it’s important that every individual leader develops their own belief in the value of belonging—both intellectually and emotionally—so they can create a business that thrives on it and contributes to society in a positive way.
3. Lasting change must activate different parts of the system—top down, bottom up, and middle out—in different ways.
Top-down only approaches drive compliance, not commitment. From senior leaders to frontline employees, every individual across a wide range of diversities must see and understand their role in company culture. This means identifying differences in employee experience and values across the organization so that change can be made relevant for each person.
4. Hiring goals may boost diversity numbers, but this won’t automatically create an inclusive culture.
Too often, leaders focus diversity, inclusion, and belonging efforts disproportionately on employee pipeline, but the employee experience continues far beyond an offer letter. To retain and nurture top talent, it’s critical you take an honest look at the end-to-end employee experience, with an eye toward creating conditions that promote inclusion on a daily basis and designing new ways to measure the impact.
5. Inclusion is an ongoing practice—not a one-off training.
It isn’t enough to teach employees what it means to be inclusive. Like any form of behavior change, inclusion is a process of identifying key moments in which to build new habits or “micro-behaviors” (daily actions that can be practiced and measured). And when these habits are put into action in an environment that supports honest conversations and healthy tension, real change becomes possible.
6. Diversity and inclusion efforts should be designed to maximize joy and connection, and minimize fear.
People are wired to react with fear and distrust when their beliefs are challenged. While fear can be a powerful motivator, it also encourages people to narrow their focus and perspective—the opposite desired effect for creating a more inclusive workplace. Finding ways to frame challenges through a lens of possibility—and elevating the power of shared experiences and storytelling to do so—creates greater potential for positive change.
7. “Average” and “fit” are becoming notions of the past. Systems of the future will focus on helping individuals thrive.
The norms, power structures, and inequities in society can easily become embedded in an organization—optimizing to hire, train, and reward people who “fit.” Creating a culture where every individual can contribute their full potential requires investigating the systems and processes in your organization to uncover sore spots and blind spots, and then finding ways to reimagine them.
8. The products and services you put into the world reflect your values—and your biases. As in any transformation effort, brand and culture are intimately connected.
In the journey toward building a more inclusive organization, it’s important to consider the relationship between what’s happening inside and outside. What is your brand saying about who you are as a culture? In what ways is your employee base not congruent with your customer base? What experiences are being left out or misunderstood?
For more information about our point of view on diversity, inclusion, and belonging, email firstname.lastname@example.org.