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How to get employee buy-in to build an inclusive culture

A top-down approach that doesn’t engage employees will fail.

How to get employee buy-in to build an inclusive culture
[Photo: woojpn/Getty Images]

Building an inclusive culture is something that we hear a lot about in the corporate world these days. But for most organizations, the plan is for top management to come up with a proposition, share it with the organization, and provide motivation for their people to take action. However, as with any initiative that comes exclusively from the top, there are issues with buy-in from the employees. If given no avenue for real input, employees could respond with apathy—or worse, pushback. There must be actual opportunity for people at all levels to provide meaningful input in the overall process. While it’s important that leaders educate themselves, provide impetus, guidance, and strongly support inclusivity initiatives, all levels of the organization must be involved for it to be successful.

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Here are some ways employees can have input and feel they are an important part of inclusivity initiatives:

Provide opportunities for feedback

First, provide the opportunity for employees to provide feedback on what diversity means for the organization and what the goals and vision mean. Allow individuals to find out how their role fits into the overall diversity of the organization.

Individuals can get involved in a diversity committee in their work area or unit that meets regularly and provides ideas and feedback and shares with the rest of the unit. It’s important that the ideas be considered at the management level where decisions are made. Even if they are not implemented, management must let the committee know that they were heard, their ideas considered, and provide reasons for why a given idea is not implemented. Ignoring input that was asked for will quickly kill any enthusiasm that employees have for supporting an initiative.

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Feature cultural traditions

Prejudices often come from a place of ignorance and misunderstanding. The more we learn of other groups different from us, the more likely we will embrace the importance of an inclusive culture. Leaders can encourage opportunities to share what makes the staff different and unique, like setting up potlucks where people bring cultural dishes, or providing opportunities for people to speak about their culture, and/or share music or cultural customs. However we need to be careful to not assume that everyone is comfortable and wants to share their experiences. Participation must always be entirely voluntary. It might be necessary to bring in people from the outside or other parts of the organization.

Promote Empathy

Empathy, one of the major determinants of emotional intelligence, increases our ability to put ourselves in the shoes of another and to understand what they are experiencing. Empathetic people foster a more inclusive and diverse workplace. Leaders can enhance empathy by looking for it in candidates while recruiting, but also develop it in the workplace. While management can offer time off and funding for speakers, courses, and other methods of increasing empathy, staff themselves must make the choice of how they wish to proceed. Allowing staff input and choice, either through direct vote or via their committees, increases their level of participation and opportunity buy-in.

“Building empathy also contributes to improving employees’ ability to be better leaders and team players,” says empathy expert Lynne Azarchi. “When empathy rises, both leaders and team members feel heard and included.”

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Another way to promote empathy is to encourage volunteering, which has been shown to increase empathy levels. Staff should be given time off and credit for volunteering with various organizations that are known for working with diverse groups and cultures. But employees should always get to choose where they want to volunteer.

Rewarding efforts of diversity and inclusion should be ingrained in the organization. Employees could be encouraged to share what they learned by working with others. For example, they could share how bringing different perspectives helped in developing a plan, making a decision on a project, or creating harmony amongst the team. Regular celebrations could be held to highlight progress that has been made, and management should indicate that efforts toward inclusion will be considered when the organization is looking to promote within.

Inclusion is not a sprint. It is an ongoing journey and efforts have to be continuous and ongoing. The role of leaders is to constantly provide support, direction and resources, but allow their staff as much input and control as possible to determine how to actually implement inclusivity.

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About the author

Harvey Deutschendorf is an emotional intelligence expert, author and speaker. To take the EI Quiz go to theotherkindofsmart.com

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