Is Your Company Culture Inclusive?

I recently read an article on the Society of Human Resource website called, “Speak Up When Offended at Work”, January 4, 2013. To be honest, I had not given much previous thought to some of the points the author made in her post. However, the article did stop me in my tracks and make me wonder if I had or have been an offender of using some of the words and phrases she mentioned such as, “OMG”, “Holding down the fort” and “Going Dutch.”

You can see how seemingly innocent the above words and phrases seem but we are a global world now and we all come from diverse backgrounds. In some cases we have become quite informal in how our businesses operate, whether it is individuals speaking with one another in the office or with customers. I’m not saying we need to go back in time but I do think we have lost some of our common courtesies when we interact with one another and may not even realize we have offended someone by the language we have used – unless they tell us.

In the July/August 2012 issue of State Magazine (page 8), John M. Robinson of the Office of Civil Rights, wrote ”Language is a living, changing and evolving medium, but over time, words create innuendo. Unconventional usage becomes slang or takes on a completely opposite meaning from the original.”

Robinson goes on to note that many of the words and phrases we use today actually come from historical use. Such as when NIKE decided to celebrate the Irish culture on St. Patrick’s Day by introducing a new sneaker in the U.S. called the Black and Tan. Unfortunately the historical context of the Black and Tan is that they were an ad hoc military group that committed atrocities against Irish civilians. I’m quite sure NIKE did not mean to offend anyone; they did apologize and recalled the shoe. There are many other phrases noted and I highly recommend reading the complete article.

In the March 2011 study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity noted that “two-thirds of companies surveyed indicated that inclusion is part of their people strategy but few companies are actually searching for a connection with business performance in a meaningful way.” The study goes on to also note that their “research shows that higher market performers are three times more likely to devote the necessary resources to explore the link between inclusion and the overall productivity of the enterprise.”

Developing a culture of inclusion could be as simple as making a small number of changes such as

  • Providing a safe environment during meetings for all participants to share their views about the project
  • Calling on people and have off line conversations
  • Leaders can model inclusive behavior
  • Incorporate inclusion into your leadership agenda

These small steps can have big a big impact in the overall culture of an organization. Note: if you do plan to ask employees to share, be ready to listen and act on the information and insights they provide. Leaders that want to create a culture of inclusion and can recognize unconscious bias will find it’s all about asking opinions and finding solutions and not going toward consensus.