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How to Build a Culture Where Anyone Is Welcome

If you want your organization to become truly inclusive, move beyond increasing diversity – create a culture where anyone is welcome.

By Gustavo Razzetti

February 17, 2021

Design a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace using the Culture Design Canvas

Where do diversity and inclusion fit into the Culture Design Canvas? I've been getting this question a lot lately. Some people are shocked because no specific block on the Canvas is dedicated to DEI.

My answer is simple: everywhere. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion shouldn't be put into one box, but instead lived and breathed across your entire company culture.

Many diversity programs fail because they don't transform culture. If you want your organization to become truly inclusive, move beyond increasing diversity and inclusion – create a culture where anybody and everybody belongs.

In this article, I will show you how to apply the Culture Design Canvas to promote DEI across your organization, including specific examples and practices from successful companies.  

Build a Culture of Belonging, Not Just Diversity and Inclusion

The benefits of creating a diverse workplace are more evident than ever. Diversity is good for business. Research by McKinsey shows that:

  • Companies with gender diversity outperform by 21%
  • Organizations with ethnic and cultural diversity outperform by 33%

Other studies demonstrate the many benefits of a diverse workforce:

• Diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee

• Diverse management boosts revenue by 19%

74% of Millennials believe that innovation is a byproduct of a diverse culture

Although lots of progress has been made, we are only on the verge of building a genuinely inclusive future.  There's a long way to go.

A McKinsey report, Women in the Workplace, concluded that progress on gender diversity has stalled. Another study shows that 41% of managers say they are too busy to prioritize diversity, while a Glassdoor analysis found that almost 6 in 10 employees believe their organizations can do much more to increase diversity.

Over 1 billion people worldwide live with some form of disability, yet only 4% of the companies that claim to prioritize DEI consider disability in their programs.  

Take the case of Coca-Cola, which has implemented company-wide changes to its hiring, promotion, and compensation policies. However, after seeing positive results for almost two decades, now the progress has reversed.

Transforming company culture is a never-ending job. That's even truer when it comes to increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion. It must become the responsibility of every manager and employee, not just limited to the specific function.

To succeed, your organization must build a culture where everyone can belong, not just a DEI program.

Using the Culture Canvas to Build a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

The Culture Design Canvas is a visual tool to map and design your company culture. It includes ten building blocks that cover the Core, Emotional Culture, and Functional Culture.

To effectively design a culture of belonging, you must embed different mindsets and practices across the various elements – go beyond core values or principles that talk about diversity.  

Start with The Purpose

A purpose is why an organization exists; it drives people to give their best and work together. When it comes to building a diverse and inclusive culture, you don't need to call out diversity. However, it's essential to connect your purpose with why you want to be more inclusive.

Cisco reimagined its mission statement to be squarely centered around inclusion: "Power an inclusive future for all."

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins has continually acknowledged social inequality and the tragic police killings of Black Americans. He has reminded employees of the need for dignity, respect, and equality in society.

Microsoft's purpose is to empower every person and organization on the planet to achieve more. CEO Satya Nadella recognizes "the enormous responsibility that requires to ensure technology benefits everyone on the planet, including the planet itself." Microsoft has announced plans to expand broadband access to underserved communities and make technology easier to use for people with disabilities.

Core Values, Not Empty Words

What we value, we protect.

You don't need to call out "inclusion" in your core values to show that you care. There's nothing wrong with it. However, the organizations that call out "diversity," "integrity," or "honesty" are usually the ones that care about looking good, but don't live up to their values.

Regardless of whether or not you make diversity explicit, your core values should shape your inclusion efforts.

For example, two of SLACK's core values are empathy and courtesy – the company believes in helping people bring their best self to work. Being respectful, open-minded, and tolerant are critical to promoting a culture of belonging.

Similarly, at capital equipment company Barry-Wehmille, altruism is an inflator that provides energy and fresh air to its culture. That means people who are willing to do something for someone else without thinking about what's in it for them and not expecting anything in return.

This selfless spirit to serve each other is vital to promoting belonging. It's a byproduct of Barry-Wehmille's core values.

Establish Clear Priorities

A purpose without clear priorities means nothing; the choices we make show what really matters to us. Here are some examples of how organizations focus on the right thing.

Potential even over skills: Software development Atlassian is fighting those barriers by teaching women and people over 40 how to code. Voya Financial hires African Americans or Latinos with strong potential and then develops their industry-specific expertise.

Harmony even over trade-offs: At Barry-Wehmiller, rather than seeing people and performance as conflicting ideas, the company uses harmony to bring them together. That's how they become more powerful.

Weirdness even over fitting in: Zappos believes in bringing your weirdest self to work. The online retailer has a robust and tribal culture. However, it encourages people to be their best (weirdest) self rather than adapt to the culture.

Behaviors That Are Rewarded and Punished

Consistency is critical to building a strong, inclusive culture. Words must align with what is rewarded and punished.

What You Reward

Target rewards a more inclusive world: The retailer believes that a culture of belonging requires a collective effort. Target has been building a diverse ecosystem that includes its supply chain, vendors, partners, and customers.

P&G rewards executives who champion diversity: 10% of executive compensation is dependent on DEI results.

Living and leading diversity: At Voya Financial, 50% of managers' performance reviews are based on their achievements in prioritizing diversity, living and leading the culture, and developing other people.

What You Punish

Diversity Islands: After consistently investing in employee resource groups, Ericsson learned that it's vital to create focus without isolating other segments. By shifting toward a more integrated approach, men now represent 50% of the attendees to women-focused workshops. Ericsson celebrates men's day, too.

The absence of diverse people in key projects: Lenovo believes that, without diverse minds, you cannot innovate with diversity in mind. The company doesn't invest in new products or services if the teams working on those projects are not diverse.

No one left behind: Zappos' company events celebrate culture by encouraging people to be adventurous, creative, and open-minded. The events are not competitions, but opportunities for everyone to participate.

Discrimination or abuse: Airbnb has rejected over a million potential customers because they wouldn't commit to accepting everyone, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or age.

Psychological Safety Is Vital to Build Inclusion

Feeling safe to speak one's mind is fundamental to creating a sense of belonging and driving participation, collaboration, and innovation. There's no point in hiring or promoting diversity, if different voices won't be heard.

Start by welcoming divergent thinking and diverse group identities, like Zappos, by inviting everyone to bring their weird self to work.

Southwest airlines combines humor and responsibility to create a psychologically safe workplace.

People from minority groups are often interrupted by louder people. Creating a safe space for people to speak up without the fear of being ignored, interrupted, judged, or experiencing retaliation is crucial to building an inclusive culture.

Atlassian uses conversational turn-taking to guarantee equal airtime for everyone, keeping the loudest voices to the last.

Minority leaders are rated more harshly than non-minority leaders when making a mistake, according to research. Psychological safety invites people to experiment and fail fast and smart.

At Pixar, everybody can talk to anyone. The film studio, unlike their competitors, believes that hierarchy only creates barriers. Even better, the company encourages you to trust your colleagues "even when they screw up."

Everybody Matters is a perfect summary of creating a safe culture where everyone belongs. That's the name of a book by Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. It wasn't written to make the company look good, but to recount real life at the company. It has become a guide for the way managers should treat people.

Download the above canvas in PDF format

Feedback Creates Belonging

A diversity and inclusion report by Bersin found that listening to employees and acting on their input is the strongest predictor of a culture of belonging. Regular feedback switches DEI from a compliance program to one focused on learning and growth.

People that can feel empathy, as well as listen, hear, and respond, are more open-minded and inclusive as a result.

Pixar's secret sauce is a strong feedback culture. Issues are addressed collectively as a team, rather than shared in private 1:1s. The animation studio conducts Brain Trusts, where a team working on a film shares their work in progress with another working on a different movie.

Pixar believes that originality is fragile, leveraging feedback to turn "ugly babies" into box office successes. Directors are expected to be open to all feedback, regardless of from whom it comes.

The engineering culture at Airbnb is default to open. The belief is that the more people know, the better they can do their work – everything is shared unless there's an explicit reason to not. Even management meetings are transparent; the minutes are distributed to everyone in the organization.

Team Rituals Make Everyone Feel Welcome

How a team celebrates culture or welcomes new employees says a lot about its culture. Well-designed team rituals are human, simple, and meaningful – they help transform behavior one nudge at-a-time.

Bak USA, a mobile computer manufacturer, holds potluck parties to celebrate the many nationalities represented among its employees. This ritual showcases the food of everyone's home countries, encouraging conversations about culture.

Most companies throw a Christmas Party and forget about the different religious and non-religious holidays such as Gay Pride, International Day to End Racism, or International Day of People with Disability.

Target was one of the first companies to make Juneteenth a formal organizational holiday. Now Twitter has followed suit.

Recognition is vital to make people feel valued and welcome.

Southwest's CEO publicly praises employees who have gone above and beyond, making invisible people visible. Similarly, Zappos' Weird Talent Show is not about discovering the future star, but about giving everyone their moment of glory.

A welcoming culture takes care of new employees. Airbnb's team forms a human tunnel where new hires come out renewed on the 'other side.' New employees go through a week-long immersion experience that makes the assimilation process more welcoming.

Norms & Rules that Promote Diversity

Rules clarify the behavior expected from everyone. Building a culture of belonging requires making sure that rules don't limit people's ability to succeed and be themselves.

Without accountability, diversity is just lip service: At Lenovo, the company realized that making diversity everyone's responsibility meant it became no one's. Now specific goals and roles are set for each team member and division.

Appoint women in senior positions: When Tim Cook took over as CEO of Apple, he appointed three women to the executive team and recruited directors from underrepresented groups. Apple is now at the top of the list for D&I within the tech sector.

Drive bias out of hiring decisions: Deutsche Telekom uses diversity scouts to achieve this. Chevron created diversity committees to review all pay, promotion, and career decisions, as well as take power out of the hands of a single manager.

The Rooney Rule requires NFL teams to interview at least one candidate of color when recruiting for a new coach. This has increased the number of coaches of color from two to eight.

Include everyone: Airbnb realized that it had to create a welcoming culture to achieve its core value, "Be a host." Airbnb welcomes candidates with backgrounds that are traditionally underrepresented in tech, building diverse communities around the world.

Pay Parity: Starbucks, Apple, Salesforce, Intel, and Adobe have recently reached full pay parity for women and underrepresented groups. They are also taking steps toward creating a better workplace for women and minorities to thrive, advance their careers and move into more leadership roles.

Meetings that Are Inclusive

Your meeting culture is crucial to promoting diversity and inclusion.

Distributing materials in advance makes it easier for quiet people to reflect before asking questions or sharing their thoughts. It's also helpful for those whom have English as their second language.

Invite people from underrepresented groups to observe executive meetings in order to learn and get exposed to a different experience.

Start your meetings with a check-in round to see what's keeping everyone's attention. It's important that people feel listened to and, most importantly, that someone will act on their concerns.

Limit the number of participants to keep meetings more productive, but also less intimidating for people to attend.

Monitor your company meetings for diversity. Make sure you have not only representation, but diverse perspectives. Zappos hosts the Voice of the Employee, a workgroup where randomly selected members from different departments 'voice' the issues affecting their teams – they act as ambassadors of their colleagues.

Be mindful of local time. At Siemens, the time of recurring meetings rotates to adapt to the different time zones.

Decision-Making Fueled by Diverse Thinking

More diverse teams make better decisions up to 87% of the time.

Ensure that employees of various races, cultures, and ethnicities have a say in your organization's decision-making processes.

At Chevron, all talent decisions are reviewed by a diversity committee – less than 15% of companies do this.

Southwest allows employees to decide how best to do their work so long as they're aligned with the company's purpose .

DEI doesn't necessarily need to be explicit in your company purpose or values. However, your diversity strategy must have a purpose.

The Culture Design Canvas allows for the designing of a culture of belonging by tackling all the building blocks.

Why do you want to be more diverse? What is diversity at your company? What does it mean to have a more diverse team, and how it will help the organization achieve its company purpose and business goals?

Need help building a culture where everyone is welcome? Share your challenge and let's chat and discuss how we can help you.

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