But what happens when upping your standards of inclusion requires a radical change to the organizational culture, to the “way we’ve always done things around here” for years, decades, even centuries? Here are some key points to keep in mind as we strive to address this challenge:
1. Radical organizational change happens when we can clearly make the case that our mission demands and depends on it. Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, writing for Harvard Business Review, explains how the Army could be successful in graduating two female soldiers from Ranger school this year only after the case for radical change was recognized back in 2010: “Commanders needed more knowledge and more understanding to gain an advantage on the battlefield. And yet male soldiers could not speak to Afghan women or enter their quarters without causing grave offense in the conservative, traditional societies in which they were operating. Without female soldiers, half the population’s knowledge would remain out of reach.” How can you connect your own inclusion efforts with your organization’s mission to make the case for change?
2. Leadership courage will be required. A leader with the courage to defy convention was at the forefront of many history-making organizational changes. President Truman decided to desegregate the military via executive order in 1948; President Obama put legislation in motion in 2010 to repeal “don’t ask don’t tell.” Without courageous decision-making by leadership, needed organizational changes may take much longer to bring about.
3. Support and encouragement may be needed, and leaders must set the example. When team members see managers making an effort to help new employees succeed, they will feel safe doing the same. Creating a culture of inclusion despite significant opposition and a long history of resistance is not easy, and we can’t get there by doing what we’ve always done. It is harder to succeed when we perceive others want us to fail, so leaders must reach out and embrace those we seek to include. Sometimes just a pat on the back and an offer to be available for help will do the trick. Other times leaders may need to make a concerted effort to open up resources, provide funding, or lead support groups.
4. We must showcase the impact and achievements of the change, and link them back to the mission. In other words, how did difference make a difference? Sometimes this means collecting statistics, and other times it means telling success stories. Opponents of allowing women in Special Forces units were swayed by the story of an important piece of intelligence found in a baby’s diaper in a women-only area. When the advertising industry began to hire and promote women and people of color, they were better able to sell products aimed at women and people of color and open up new markets they hadn’t previously considered. When the Americans with Disabilities Act mandated wider doorways, accessible sidewalks and interactive street crossing signs, we found these conveniences benefited everyone and not just people with disabilities. What stories can you tell about how increased diversity and inclusion on your team helped you to understand and serve the needs of your diverse customers more effectively?