Strategies to Build a More Inclusive Workplace Culture

02/27/2015 10:56 am ET Updated Apr 29, 2015

In my last post, I shared reasons why it's important that inclusive cultures become the norm rather than the exception, both in corporations and the world. An inclusive culture, as defined by the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI) at Syracuse University, involves "the full and successful integration of diverse people into a workplace or industry."

BBI adds that while an inclusive culture encompasses a commitment to workplace diversity, it is not limited simply to basic representation. Instead, according to the Institute, "it indicates a climate in which respect, equity, and positive recognition of differences are all cultivated." At the same time, the social and institutional response to various differences should pose no barrier to the positive employment experience of any particular group.

I recognize the magnitude of this task, and understand why many upon being charged with this mission may feel it is easier suggested than executed. Therefore, to provide a starting point, I offer the following strategies for steps each of the key players in this process can take to create a culture that's more open and inclusive to women and other marginalized groups:

Women: Show Up and Speak Up. In my recent book Make Room for Her, I discuss in detail the important role that women must play to help maximize their own chance for success within a model of Integrated Leadership. While women can't alone create the changes that can lead to a more inclusive workplace culture, there's still much they can do to facilitate the process.

First, recognize when a culture is not inclusive to women and other minority groups, and be prepared to act on that knowledge. You need to know what kind of culture you want to be a part of so that you can be aware when you're in a work environment that falls short of this. Your ability to be the squeaky wheel by showing up and speaking up when you notice that the work climate doesn't offer respect, equity, and equal chances for all can create the needed impetus to make change.

Second, look for an organization that facilitates women's ability to get on the "right" escalator. You need the ability to move up, in the right direction toward leadership opportunities. Third, call on your own ability to summon your personal power from a base of knowledge, authenticity, resiliency, and ability to effectively communicate. This is important because leaders who know how to use their personal power can more effectively create shifts in the existing corporate culture.

Men: Recognize the Problem and Help Drive Solutions. While men are not typically seen as playing a significant role in advancing women into leadership, men are in a prime position to help influence an organization's culture for the better when it comes to inclusiveness. This is because men have spent the most time in leadership ranks as a group, so they currently hold the greatest amount of knowledge and experience in this arena. If men actively exclude women from these power structures, the result is a culture of exclusion. Yet if men instead actively mentor and sponsor their female colleagues, the opposite result occurs: the culture becomes much more inclusive.

It's really pretty simple: In SHAMBAUGH's Engaging Men Offering we help men understand the value of gender diversity and balanced leadership teams for everyone in a company (and the company itself), which in turn helps them to see how they can initiate solutions to help develop and advance women into the senior ranks alongside them. Men can also help create a more inclusive environment by recognizing--and emulating--many skills they can learn from their female colleagues. These include understanding how to be empathetic, listen better, trust their intuition, and foster improved collaboration.

Along the same lines, men can influence culture by becoming aware of some of the most common biases they may have about women in senior leadership. This means challenging myths like women aren't as good as men at strategy, negotiation, risk-taking, and decision-making. By intentionally recognizing and challenging such fallacies--which are based on erroneous biases and assumptions rather than reality--men can help tip the cultural balance toward leveraging the full range of gender intelligence within an organization.

Organizations: Make It Happen. Individual men and women leaders are the ones on the front lines when it comes to creating an inclusive culture. But to leverage the full potential of the Integrated Leadership Model, the organization and its leadership must play an integral role in ensuring the workplace culture gives permission and embraces unique and different views and perspectives.

SHAMBAUGH has worked with many organizations to help them develop and implement a framework that has positive and lasting results in creating a culture that helps advance women and minorities. Part of this framework involves helping companies foster a culture of accountability that links clearly to business outcomes.

Employers can facilitate an inclusive corporate culture that encourages and sustains balanced leadership by prioritizing several actions. They can strategically manage the talent pool from the top to achieve the right leadership balance. They can reward people for taking prudent risks and foster an environment of flexibility, allowing all employees the chance to integrate their work and personal life. They can engage men as mentors and sponsors, and help raise awareness throughout the organization about the need to leverage gender intelligence and recognize gender-related biases.

My 2015 speaking initiative calls out the importance for having all voices on deck, allowing leadership to harness the broader spectrum of human talent and intelligence, while combining the strength of both genders. By taking proactive steps, companies that implement organizational best practices can help us all achieve more inclusive workplace cultures--sooner rather than later.

To learn more about how SHAMBAUGH can help you build inclusive/integrated leadership within your organization, or about SHAMBAUGH's targeted women's leadership development programs, executive coaching, and other core services, visit here.

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