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Opinion: 4 strategies to foster diverse, inclusive company culture

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We’re all in this together. It’s become a popular catchphrase, but when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, it takes more than mantras to create lasting change. As leaders, we make progress when we shift from pep talks to executing plays from the playbook.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to the issues, these four simple practices have proven invaluable for leaders seeking to produce more diverse and thriving workplaces.

  1. Practice humility. Be aware of your unconscious bias. Indviduals are predispositioned to view a situation in a particular way, even in the brains of the most well-meaning. While we may consider ourselves free of prejudice, research from McKinsey & Co. shows this unconscious bias is still hard at work. Unconscious bias in a leader can wreak havoc on organizational health if it goes unnoticed and unchecked. This is where leaders must practice humility and thoughtful examination of their own values, thoughts and behaviors.

If you suspect your words or actions may be influenced by unconscious bias rather than your conscious values, one practical strategy is shifting the circumstances. Change the specifics of the scenario and determine if you still feel the same way. For instance, say you’re considering promoting a woman on your team, but the role requires rigorous travel and you’re concerned because she has young children. Flip the scenario: If this colleague was a man, would you be inclined to feel the same?

While it’s far from foolproof, a simple exercise like this can help decision makers take a more honest and humble approach to leadership. This shifts you from a place of defensiveness to a place of discovery.

  1. Practice communication. Emphasize why it matters. For lasting change, diversity must become more than a feel-good initiative in the minds of both the leader and the team members. A company pledge or statement communicating commitment to diversity and inclusion is a good start. To make it stick, leaders must continually practice speaking the language of inclusion and communicating the why behind it.

Workplaces with diverse and inclusive cultures have become more profitable in some cases. Just how much? A Boston Consulting Group study reported that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation. Not only is focusing on diversity and inclusion the right thing to do, it’s a profitable thing to do.

  1. Practice transparency. Make a plan for a diversity and inclusion audit. For your organization to improve in any area, it can be helpful to establish a baseline. While business owners often collect and analyze data relevant to their profits and losses, few record and report data pertinent to issues of diversity and inclusion. With your leadership team, begin conversations about implementing a regular audit to determine your organization’s baseline.

You can then craft a strategy to get to where you want to be. If done thoughtfully, this kind of transparency can provide valuable insights for your specific industry and local network, and also pave the way for effective goal setting. When goals are stated and shared out loud, there is built-in accountability and a higher likelihood of measurable change. Taking first steps toward this audit demonstrates intentionality and a desire to improve.

  1. Practice intentionality. Speak with your actions. Ultimately, action communicates a commitment to diversity and inclusion more than statements or policies ever will. Small steps can add up if taken with intention. As leaders, personal steps like sharing lunch with a co-worker from another background to building relationships or flipping the mentor/mentee role with a younger associate or new hire can impact culture tremendously.

At an organizational level, intentionality may include more concrete steps, such as forming employee resource groups to help team members find a sense of belonging, hiring a chief diversity officer and empowering your diversity and inclusion leaders to swiftly address any actions that don’t align with company values.

Demonstrating a truly diverse and inclusive company culture is quickly becoming the new benchmark for organizational health and long-term success. While these four practices are far from comprehensive, you can improve your organization’s diversity and inclusion every day with consistent, deliberate practice.

Keith Noble is president of Commerce Bank in the Springfield region. He can be reached at


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Does inclusion not require conformity? It should, as we are as we were made!

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