With all the recent talk about diversity and inclusion, the question remains as to how a company can make it work.  But why is this important?  Research has shown that teams that operate in an inclusive culture outperform their peers by a staggering 80% and add a solid foundation for growth.  In addition, Gartner has conducted research that indicates that through 2022, as high as 75% of companies whose front-line teams reflect a truly diverse and inclusive culture will exceed their financial targets.

Why D&I Programs Fail

With this kind of financial impact and the obvious competitive advantages it brings, it would seem to be a no-brainer.  However, diversity and inclusion initiatives often fail.  Some of the reasons for these failures often include:

·      Resistance – Many employees have been down similar roads for change initiatives before.  And, in many cases, they don’t believe that actual change will come.  In fact, studies have shown that diversity training that is made compulsory and is defined as remedial, can actually decrease D&I outcomes. 

·      Implementation – Another reason for failure is improper implementation.  Because a company has swift and efficient delivery of product or services to its clients, many tend to “operationalize” D&I initiatives.  The program becomes a “check-the-box” numbers game geared to speed and efficiency rather than incorporating the very culture changes and behaviors that allow them to understand inclusion and diversity barriers.

·      Consistency – Many organizations try to implement their D&I programs as a reaction to an event or series of events.  As a result, the initiative wanes in dedication and impact once the crisis is past.  Instead, successful programs will weave D&I training into all business aspects and integrate it as an ongoing part of the culture rather than a “module” to be taken.

·      Leadership Buy-In – Without leadership buy-in, and the “lead-by-example” method that follows, D&I programs are left to wither as a company’s rank and file often reflect what the leadership reflects.  Instead, leaders can be shown the ROI like the statistics above.  Programs such as Lean initiatives required extensive buy-in when that movement was in its infancy.  And having solid ROI numbers can lead to leadership buy-in for D&I programs just as they did with Lean and other strategic business improvement programs.

·      Labelling – Often, the term Diversity and Inclusion will generate apprehension among employees of all cultures.  Keeping the program fresh and evolving can include pursuing the core value propositions while calling the programs something that will make them less apprehensive and something everyone can gravitate towards.

Diversity and Inclusion Events

Physical and role-playing activities can be a powerful demonstration of diversity and inclusion.  They can also help people see through the perspective of others and thus lead to ways to overcome the barriers.  Here are some Diversity and Inclusion events that can help build a solid foundation for company and personal growth and provide understanding that allows these practices to be integrated into the company culture:

·      Five Moments –  The purpose of this exercise is to allow employees to share their five most important moments that helped to shape who they are.  This is done by having each person write down the description of these moments and then have them share two or three of them that they are comfortable with.  The discussion will need to focus on how everyone, regardless of their path in life, have major life events.  This event helps employees build bridges with those they assume they have little in common with.

·      Walk Apart/Walk Together –  In this activity, two employees stand with their backs together.  Those in the audience mention things that are different.  For each difference, they take a step apart.  Once they reach the wall, they turn, and the audience calls out similarities.  For each similarity, they move a step closer.  This is a demonstration that while there are differences, people also share similarities that can bring them together.

·      How People Feel – Other activities include those that are designed to find out how someone feels. This can be done by asking questions like “If you really knew me, you’d know that…”.  This can be used as an ice-beaker in a group or with a one-on-one conversation.  This type of question can help everyone learn how to be open and honest, as well as learn to trust others.

·      Stepping Forward and Back – As an activity to help employees see through the perspective of others, Step Forward and Back is an excellent physical demonstration of those differences in perspective.  After having the entire team stand side by side with their backs a few feet away from the wall, the facilitator will begin to ask questions such as “People of my race have never been barred from voting”, or “My parents never attended college”.  For everyone who can answer the question with a yes, they take one step forward.  For those who answer with a no, they take one step back.  At the end of the questions, the team will be spread throughout the room and will demonstrate the differences in backgrounds and show a physical representation of different perspectives.

·      I am, But I am Not – One exercise used by MIT is used to break down misconceptions and stereotypes is the “I am, but I am not”.  In this exercise, a line is drawn down the middle on the paper.  On one side employees will need to write the words “I Am”; on the other, they will need to write “I am not” and in between the words is “but”.  The responses are meant to be written to help have an open dialogue on stereotypes so that they can be dealt with and gain a deeper understanding of how they come to be developed.

·      Acknowledging Bias – Activities can also lead to productive and frank discussions as well.  And if your team is ready, this could include starting a “bias jar”.  To do the walk exercise, you have employees talk about the different backgrounds they see on the team and then pair them with a member whose background is completely opposite of their own.  The bias jar is used the same way that a “cuss jar” is used- when someone uses language that invokes a stereotype or is derogatory in nature, they put money in the jar.  When this happens, a conversation needs to happen so that there is honest conversation about why the language or action is hurtful to those that it was directed to or about.

There are many other ways that a company can help improve its diversity and inclusion with their associates.  Most are simple but will take commitment.  This includes doing things such as ensuring that all job descriptions are gender-neutral, conduct blind screenings, celebrate holiday and events for minorities, and checking the reading material in the lobby of the office.

As these events and activities initiate conversation, make sure that leadership and management turn them into change that truly shapes the culture.  While having a diverse and inclusive office can seem like a daunting task, taking some of the small steps above can yield big results if given the opportunity and support. 

Five to Nine helps you manage the activities that can create a sense of belonging in your organization. Request a demo today.