Creating a More Inclusive Work Environment: Where Do I Start?

Changing Culture Starts with Conversation

During a recent webinar on creating a more inclusive work culture, this question kept coming up:

We are just starting this work and it feels overwhelming. What should we do first?

Whether you’re a company of 20 or 20,000 people, everything starts with a conversation.

How far you go is based on the commitment of your leaders and your employees’ willingness to stay in the conversation even though it’s sometimes uncomfortable.

Curiosity and Courage

On your journey, your most valuable assets are curiosity and courage.

That’s because you will surface issues that you won’t know how to address.

It’s a scary but important part of the journey because that’s when discovery happens.

Blog: Catalyst recognized us for our Culture of Inclusion journey, an approach with measurable results that address the recruitment, development, and advancement of women.

Our cultural assessment work started at the request of our leaders by asking a few focus groups what their work experience was like and what they wished they could change about it.

Those conversations prompted a handful of our leaders to attend a White Men as Full Diversity Partners learning lab. When they got back, they talked about their experience, and that encouraged others to go.

Nine years later, we were a Catalyst Award winner, honored for innovative organizational approaches that address the recruitment, development and advancement of women.

Three Assumptions to Address Before You Start

Sometimes (most of the time) this work is undefined, and it’s different for everyone.

In my work with our company and others striving to become more inclusive, I’ve regularly encountered assumptions that simply are not true. To start your journey, you do not need to:

  1. “Launch” this work. Just the opposite. You don’t need a big splash or even critical mass to start. You just need enough curiosity from leaders (and employees) to start the dialogue.
  2. Start with everyone on board. Start small, and start at the top because your leaders will set the tone for your organization. This is definitely not “one size fits all” work and you need to take time to have it evolve.
  3. Have the end goal (and metrics) in mind before you start. Since you don’t know what you don’t know, it’s hard (and probably not smart) to envision what the end game looks like. And if you focus on numbers, you may unintentionally encourage the wrong behaviors. I never would have imagined where we are now when we started, and I can’t imagine what we’ll look like in five years.

Blog: High-performing teams are made up of people who are engaged and motivated. As leaders, we need to provide environments where these qualities can flourish.

You Can’t Change Someone Else’s Mind

This work isn’t easy, and although there are opportunities to change hearts and minds, that is not always the case, nor even the goal.

Our assumptions, attitudes and experiences can make it hard to talk about our differences. Often we face resistance and sometimes even fear.

Rather than change perceptions, courageous conversations makes us more aware of another person’s perspective, how our own perspective is shaping our behavior, and how we can start doing things differently.

Getting Started

If you’re ready for courageous conversations, this guide will help: Engaging in Conversations About Gender, Race, and Ethnicity in the Workplace.

If you’re just beginning your journey (or even if you’ve been doing this work for a while), this is an excellent resource. There are two pivotal action items in this guide that we incorporate in our work:

  1. Start a conversation. This is when you gain awareness (and understanding) of someone else’s perspective.
  2. Pay attention. Building awareness of you own experience around things like gender and ethnicity will give you insight into how other people experience theirs.

I know we’ll keep discovering, evolving and making progress because our organization will stay in this conversation.

What are your challenges? Are you ready for the conversation? Share your journey with me.

Michele Matthai
Posted July 24, 2017 By Michele Matthai, Director, Culture of inclusion, Rockwell Automation
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