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Building an Inclusive Culture with Intention

This material was originally shared with attendees of BNP’s 2021 D&I Symposium.
Melissa Donaldson, Chief Diversity Officer at Wintrust Community Bank, presented “Building an Inclusive Culture with Intention” on our Mainstage.  Her presentation is summarized here. To watch the original presentation, visit here.

It is the question we hear most often at the BNP in regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts: How do we get started?

Whether your organization is just beginning to build a DE&I strategy or you are already underway, there are some core principles – some elements of intentional practices – that can help you move forward. Keep in mind, no company has it all figured out, and not everything you read about DE&I will necessarily apply to your company or specific situation. But the following principles outline some intentional actions any organization can take to foster and grow in building an inclusive culture.

Be clear on key terms

Diversity is not necessarily inclusion and vice versa. Your company can be diverse but not inclusive. In conversation, communication and strategy building consider these general meanings:

  • Diversity is about differences
  • Inclusion is about leveraging those differences for the benefit of everyone
  • Equity is about outcomes of company policies, practices, etc.

You will also see equality included in DE&I conversations. Equality is about equal access to opportunities, oftentimes driven by-laws, but important for every organization building an inclusive culture.

An issue for everyone in an organization

There is a shared responsibility for the efforts – 100% employer and 100% employees. Both must be committed to the strategy and willing to stretch and grow from their unique perspectives.

Understand the conditions in the organization before attempting to build a strategy

Be clear on your motives and desired outcomes based on your specific organization. Use a consultant mindset to determine what it will take to get to where you want to be.

Find the influencers at the top, middle, and frontlines

Determine who genuinely wants to work at DE&I on every level of the organization and be open to their ideas and feedback for use in building your strategy.

Be ready to have the hard conversations

Though you may not be comfortable with everything you hear from employees, feedback is critical to your strategy. Be patient. Have empathy. And listen to learn, not to judge.

Understand that all bias is not unconscious

In fact, bias can be quite conscious. Humans are wired to recognize anything that is different – as in survival instincts that protect us from harm. But part of your DE&I strategy should create opportunities for all employees to reflect on personal biases and work to address issues detrimental to your strategy.

Remember, the issues in your workplace did not build overnight. Neither will your DE&I strategies.  It will take time, so pace yourself. The most important thing is to be intentional in everything you do to create an inclusive culture. The BNP is here to help. Find more information and resources here. 

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