It’s no surprise that numerous studies have shown the link between the lack of a diverse and inclusive workplace culture and employee turnover.  And with turnover costing US companies $1T annually, inclusion is an area that leaders can’t afford to overlook.

To determine if you as a leader are indeed developing an inclusive culture at the workplace, ask yourself these questions: 

Are Leaders and Managers Receiving Training in Empathy, Communication, and Emotional Intelligence?

Most workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion(DEI) training programs overlook how connected leadership coaching is to maintaining a diverse and inclusive culture. They often focus on simply “doing the motions”: forming a DEI committee, engaging ERGs, employee and HR training, etc. without getting deeply into the skills that can truly help embed an inclusive culture in the organization.

Central to DEI success in the workplace is building the leadership, and employee, capacity for empathy. The ability to understand someone’s point of view and actually try it on like a shirt, as if it was one’s own. Then, people are no longer just saying and doing the “right things.” They are forming a deep understanding of those who are different. Empathy is a skill that is becoming more and more essential for effectiveness in the workplace.

In many cases, DEI workshops and training include quite a bit of interaction – yet this interaction is often intellectual and abstract, discussing concepts and methods rather than inviting actual stories, feelings, and experiences. Many employee diversity programs can become preachy, “how to” lessons that fail to get to the root of problems. Because getting to the root can be emotional at times, which is not easy to facilitate.

One of the best ways to train in empathy is through building a culture of storytelling. Create spaces for storytelling in the workplace. It can be live events, an open mic session on Zoom, a company vlog or podcast, a newsletter. But ensure that employees get a chance to regularly share and be seen for their unique identities. Allow differences to truly be celebrated.

Formal learning is traditionally a one-way process: watch this e-learning, listen to this instructor, do these exercises, answer this multiple-choice quiz. And yet in fact, it is through real-life experience and stories that people are truly activated to create change – to act on what they learn.

Leadership and management play a huge part in inspiring this effort. Encourage leaders to undertake communication coaching and storytelling training as a means to inspire the workforce to share their own stories.

Are Diversity and Inclusion Embedded in Operations?

Beware of diversity and inclusion turning into just “doing the motions.” DEI efforts will go to waste if day-to-day workplace operations stay exactly the same, and it’s the leader’s job to ensure that the company walks the talk. Focus on how DEI concepts can be applied to actual workplace situations.

Here are some ideas(which can be pulled off virtually, as well):

  • Make meetings more cross-functional, allowing for cross-pollination of ideas and better transparency across the organization
  • Change the way meetings are held to create space for less-heard voices
  • Develop a company-sponsored lunch that matches up 2 random employees every week to go on a subsidized lunch together
  • Redesign teams to be more diverse if they aren’t already

Whatever is your personal comfort level with change, there are tons of ways you can ensure you’re creating opportunities and spaces for different types of employees to interact and learn from one another.

Are DEI Policies and Processes Fair?

Harassment, discrimination, and hateful speech and action certainly need to be punished and uprooted from the organization.

Yet too often, DEI is treated as a black and white issue within companies(no pun intended): there is the “right” way and the “wrong” way. Policies and processes can be punitive and fear-inducing, rather than tolerant and empathetic –inhibiting, rather than fostering communication.

Remember that DEI involves a mindset change for each individual and for the workplace, and no one will get it 100% right all of the time. Bias is an ingrained aspect of the human mind and existence, and overcoming bias is a process that takes time and active practice. Thus, ensure your policies create enough space to be able to discern well-intentioned mistakes from ill-intentioned ones.

However, people can also make unintentional mistakes and are able to learn from them. Create policies and processes that allow for discernment, empathy, and constructive feedback.


Are Diversity and Inclusion Efforts Data-Driven and Using Multiple Forms of Measurement?

Any data scientist in his/her right mind would say that a dataset needs to be representative of the entire population in order to be usable. So in some ways, developing a data-driven culture in the workplace goes hand in hand with building a culture of inclusion.

We also know by know, hopefully, that quantitative metrics alone aren’t enough to determine if a diversity and inclusion program is actually working on the level of culture.

What metrics are you using to measure the success of DEI efforts? Are you sure they are the best metrics for determining business impact?

For example, if the business goal is to increase engagement in training workshops, simply measuring an increase in attendance is not necessarily the best metric. What if there are more attendees, but they’re all tuned out?

Steer away from surveys when you can, as survey fatigue can become a real phenomenon for many employees. Explore other forms of people analytics, e.g. observation, or even conducting an organizational network analysis to look at how your organization communicates and interacts. Information like this can help design strategies to enable more inclusion and collaboration.

Remember DEI is a Journey for the Workplace and Individual

Just like our country, our organizations are on a journey to a truly diverse and inclusive culture. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for DEI success. It is less of a goal and more of a collective process – for the organization and for each individual. A collaborative exploration and a challenging of our own assumptions and biases at each moment and an active willingness to learn, continuously.

Not just a workshop or a program, but a challenging of the existing culture, and a gradual embedding of a “newer, better way of doing things.”