4 Ways to Create Inclusive Cultures

Most leaders today recognize the value of diversity in the workplace. In 2017, Deloitte surveyed 10,000 leaders for their Global Human Capital Trends report. In the report, Deloitte found that two-thirds of the surveyed leaders said they felt diversity is “important” or “very important.” Yet many leaders wrestle still with practicing leadership strategies that promote and utilize the business-growth opportunities inherent in diverse workforces.

Technological and informational advances continue to shape the demands and opportunities of business at an unprecedented rate. Technologies such as virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) now demand workforces with deep technical understanding and cognitive agility. Additionally, customer information needs to move at the speed of social media and its numerous outlets, necessitating team members with both creative and psychologically astute minds.

In other words, leaders help their companies remain competitive by cultivating workforces that are cognitively complex and varied. Today’s effective leaders value demographically diverse environments and develop cognitively inclusive cultures, which is where exciting business-growth opportunities are discovered.

Diversity Is Only the Beginning

Diversity is typically related to workforce demographics, which leaders facilitate through intentional hiring practices. After all, most applicants want to work for companies with diverse employees. A study by Glassdoor found that two-thirds of job seekers said that diversity is a crucial component when considering a place of employment.1 The problem, though, is many leaders can satisfy D&I metrics by hiring a workforce representing a variety of constituents and do little once they’re in the door to harness the competitive advantages that emerge from employees’ unique backgrounds, thought patterns, and talents.

If a leader thinks of diversity strictly as mere metrics, it becomes a simple calculus, a checking of the box, instead of a business catalyst. As one PROMARK coach shared, “Leaders often view diversity … as a numbers game vs. as a competitive advantage.”

For companies to yield its advantages, leaders need to see diversity and inclusion as distinct yet inseparable qualities, with inclusion as the operative dynamic.

Inclusion is the encultured empowerment of different ways of thinking—shaped by employees’ unique backgrounds, commitments, and priorities. Employees’ unique talents and skills are harnessed where they are encouraged to think differently, debate differently, and contribute from their differing perspectives without fear of rejection due to favoritism or differences in race, orientation, and gender.

If diversity is an engine for growth—with its various and constituent parts—inclusion is the high-octane fuel that empowers the engine.

As Laura Sherbin, co-president of the Center for Talent Innovation, and Ripa Rashid, author of Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets, wrote:

“Without inclusion, the crucial connections that attract diverse talent, encourage their participation, foster innovation, and lead to business growth won’t happen.”2

When a leader fosters an inclusive culture with a diverse demographic environment, the results are unparalleled compared to companies not maintaining inclusive cultures. Inclusive company cultures see numerous positive outcomes, including:

  • They’re 2x more likely to meet or exceed fiscal targets.

  • They’re 3x more likely to be high-performing.

  • They’re 6x more likely to be innovative and agile in response to unknowns in the market.

  • They’re 8x more likely to achieve business outcomes.3

Diversity is a necessary indication of a healthy company, but inclusion is the only way to activate its potential.

How can a leader encourage and cultivate an inclusive environment in his or her company? It requires a multi-layered approach beginning with the commitment of company leaders to create an intentional, nuanced strategy that’s scaled by their teams and transforms company norms.

Here a four key ways leaders create and cultivate inclusive work cultures.


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4 Ways to Create Inclusive Cultures

  1. Commit to the Challenge of Inclusion: Leaders are company culture catalysts, and their role in developing inclusive workforces is no different. HR and D&I can mandate only so much. Without a leader’s commitment, workforce inclusivity is impossible to cultivate. As a PROMARK coach shared, “Pursuing inclusion will fail without leadership commitment … All levels of the organization will need exposure to the cultural vision and should have the opportunity for individual learning and development.” A vital quality to a leader’s commitment is the courage to challenge his or her own understanding of diversity. Before a company reaches inclusion’s fiscal benefits, leaders must grow cognizant of their own implicit biases. Inclusive leaders use their improved awareness to adapt their behaviors to create workplaces that allow diverse team members’ talents to elicit greater innovation and positive business outcomes. An essential component of learning one’s implicit biases comes from listening to team members who can constructively point them out.

  2. Listen Well: Inclusive leaders are approachable with reputations for listening well. Central to listening well is humility: receiving critique from others, who may be frustrated with a company’s diversity status quos, without growing defensive or “shutting down” the conversation. Through open-ended questions, leaders investigate and listen well to employee concerns and potential solutions, helping ensure they feel heard. Employees who feel heard feel valued and are more willing to commit their time and energy to new ideas and solutions, which is an irreplaceable aspect of inclusion. A leader unwilling to listen well is unlikely to appreciate and support the goals of true inclusion if they don’t intentionally create habits of listening to others who are concerned about inclusion and the company’s success.

  3. Develop an Advisory Group: Inclusivity is a team effort. A useful tool for leaders to practice listening well is to develop an advisory group to discuss and consider solutions for inclusion in the workplace. By offering a specific place to voice concern and offer suggestions, these groups experience worldview-shaping and company-transforming dialogue, debate, and decision-making. They don’t replace D&I or function as an employee resource board (ERB). Rather, they help provide useful feedback to the C-Suite concerning disconnects in implemented inclusion strategies and how to better realize inclusion’s positive business outcomes by strengthening blind spots. Leaders may find, though, that their advisory group lacks the diversity necessary for a nuanced dialogue. If so, it provides an immediate opportunity to see and address the need for inclusion.

  4. Evolve Company Norms: A vision without a plan turns into a daydream. Leaders who want to see inclusive cultures emerge in their companies need to provide clear strategies that address how everyone is involved in inclusion, provide team members with shared language, create systems of accountability, and reinforce best practices concerning hiring and maintaining an inclusive workforce. A leader’s influence gains momentum as middle managers and their teams see the valuable roles they play in cultivating inclusive cultures. “This approach can also help leaders design an employee experience that continually promotes performance for a multigenerational, multiracial, and multi background workforce.”4 Changing company norms requires a long-game growth mindset; inclusion doesn’t happen overnight. And it’s a goal every leader can begin accomplishing today.

Hiring a demographically diverse workforce is a necessary starting point for a leader. Leading an inclusive culture will provide fulfilling experiences for all employees, expand customer reach, and generate robust bottom lines.


Leading your team toward an inclusive culture is possible, and we’re here to help see how. Contact us today.


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1 “What Job Seekers Really Think of Your Diversity Stats,” Nov. 17, 2014, https://www.glassdoor.com/employers/blog/diversity/.
2 Laura Sherban and Ripa Rashed, “Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion,” Feb. 01, 2017, https://hbr.org/2017/02/diversity-doesnt-stick-without-inclusion.
3 Juliet Bourke, Which Two Heads are Better Than One? How Diverse Teams Create Breakthrough Ideas and Make Smarter Decisions (Australian Institute of Company Directors, 2016).
4 Ella Washington and Camille Patrick, “3 Requirements for a Diverse and Inclusive Culture,” Sept. 17, 2018. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/242138/requirements-diverse-inclusive-culture.aspx.