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Transform Your Culture by Making Diversity & Inclusion Linked to Business Success

I, Susan, want to start by being totally transparent, and a touch vulnerable, by saying I have strong doubts about the effectiveness of Cultural Diversity and Inclusion programs.

Don’t misinterpret my reservations that the work of diversity and inclusion isn’t important. It is vital – not just to the health of an organization but equally to business success and sustainability.

Inclusion Should Not Be Just a Training or a Statistic

This is part of my concern. Too often, diversity and inclusion becomes a training or a statistic handled by Human Resources and measured by numbers like:

  • percentage of people of color on a team or ratio of men to women in leadership

  • statistics on how many people have taken a daylong training on sexual harassment

  • webinars on how to talk about difficult topics: like religion, politics, racial, gender or sexual bias

These are just a few ways that some of our clients have shared that they are addressing diversity and inclusion.

Again, there are aspects to a training that are helpful in terms of education about cultural differences and bias. However, it is not transformative path to fundamentally shifting corporate cultures.

Transformation does not occur until engagement, diversity and inclusion are fully recognized as strategic business priorities.

Too often, Human Resources isn’t even represented at the executive table but placed under legal. (Don’t even get me started on why that’s a major problem.)

Imagine my dismay when one of our clients let us know that the focus of our next quarterly offsite was going to be on covering the Employee Engagement Poll and a half-day training on Inclusion.

CrisMarie and I had worked hard to get on this leadership team’s schedule during their critical period of strategic planning and budgeting for the next year. Then, we learned they were going to cover those topics in a separate meeting. NOOOO!

When we got on a call to discuss the offsite agenda, I was even more concerned. As I listened to their agenda ideas I wanted to cry out, “If you do it this way, there’s no way this is going to become important with the leadership teams’ priorities! Don’t you get that?!”

Fortunately, I contained my frustration and simply asked, “Are you okay if we take a different approach to meet your goals? We’d like to weave the two key objectives, the Employee Engagement poll and Inclusion into a broader discussion about strategy.”

This leader was totally behind that. She wanted dialogue and ultimately real action that would drive a cultural shift. She did not want to just check the box.

Making the Day Real

CrisMarie and I set up time with the HR partners and reviewed the intended training and the key objectives. We also went through the Employee Engagement poll. We got key team members together to plan, making sure the two days were going to be interactive and address the real-time issues of this team.

I found myself impressed with the heart of the effort around the topic of inclusion. Even though I don’t like slide decks and power-points for engaging in dialogue, the few they shared (we asked them to reduce the number), got the topic started. The intent was to create an open space so some education was helpful.

Definition of Inclusion

I liked the simplicity of the message. This started with just the definition of inclusion:

“Creating an experience for others that makes them feel valued, respected, and feel that they belong.”

Add to that a simple frame:

  1. Awareness: Are you aware of the conscious and unconscious biases you had (or have) towards others?

  2. Curiosity: Are you open to unlearning and relearning from others?

  3. Courage: Do you consistently speak up when something isn’t right? Ask hard questions? Share your story by checking it out!?

Focus on Your Sphere of Influence

One of the hardest parts of the two days was not letting things spin out of the team’s sphere of influence. It is so easy to talk globally, talk politically, or make rules.

Talking personally about your own experience and in real-time is so much harder.

However, this leader’s courage to step in and not just let the day stay at a training level made it real. As we dove into their business issues – their real behaviors and bias showed up. It wasn’t just data and numbers. People were doing excluding behaviors – right there in the meeting:

  • Eyes were rolling at times

  • People were side-talking

  • Tension was rising

We talked about these things real-time and then talked about the broader implications to the organization.

The budget even got weaved into the two-day.

The leader left the meeting saying this was the best effort she’d been a part of related to the engagement poll and inclusion because there was deeper dialogue with a path to clear actions.

Why? Because this was not just a training or review of the results. Engagement and inclusion became part of the business strategy. It was smack-dab in the middle in leadership teams’ business priorities and accountability.

An organization’s culture needs to be more than a statistic or check-the-box goal.

Cultural change starts from the top. If you as a leader aren’t making engagement, diversity, and inclusion a priority, weaving it into your strategic meetings, you are missing out on a significant opportunity!

Keeping it Real and Linked to Business,



CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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