Moving Beyond Diversity: 3 Ways to Change Behaviors to Foster Inclusion
Having been in the workforce for many years, I’ve seen an evolution that’s powerful. Things are changing. I remember being a young woman starting out in financial services, where it was intimidating to speak my voice in a way I could be heard. But I was fortunate to have wonderful mentors – male and female – who coached me as I learned to build my confidence. My responsibility, as a result, has been to provide that same support to others as they’re developing their careers. But has everyone had that experience? Does everyone have this same opportunity for mentorship or sponsorship? I am certain the answer is unfortunately no. So yes, things are changing, but not for everyone and not fast enough.
At Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC), our journey began in 2007 when we formally established a Diversity Office. Since then, we’ve made significant strides to foster an inclusive and diverse workplace – where employees feel they can be themselves; a place where diverse perspectives are heard and encouraged; a place with thriving employee networks and programs that support employees’ work-life
We, along with many other organizations, have moved beyond diversity to inclusion – there’s an important distinction.
From diversity to inclusion
A diverse workforce, simply defined, means having a broad mix of people with different demographics like race, ethnicity, and gender. Inclusion, however, refers to a feeling of belonging. As Gallup explains, inclusion is about creating an environment where employees are valued, respected, accepted and encouraged to fully participate in the organization.
Inclusion sparks joy
When organizations embrace diversity without inclusion, their people never quite feel accepted, supported, or empowered. When this happens, business innovation and growth suffer because people with brilliant ideas don’t feel safe enough to speak up or to experiment with a new approach.
While business growth is important, what’s most important to me is creating a space where people can thrive and fulfill their potential. I want people to feel and truly know that we need their perspective to be better as a company and as human beings. I want people to feel empowered to speak up without fear so that diverse viewpoints can be heard. Equally, I want people to feel comfortable showing up as their authentic self – how can someone be happy at work if they’re hiding who they are?
Changing behaviors to foster an inclusive culture
In order to shift from a diverse workplace to an inclusive one, you must go beyond implementing a policy or a program. You must change mindsets and behaviors, which is challenging work especially since these matters are so personal. While we may have started with a policy or a program more than a decade ago, diversity and inclusion are woven into who we are as a company today. We still have much work to do, but I can share with you a couple things we’re doing that will hopefully help you along your journey to fostering a fully inclusive culture:
1. Recognize diversity goes beyond demographics. Supporting people’s personal lives matters too.
As leaders of organizations, we have a responsibility to put our people first – it’s one of our cultural values at Blue Cross NC. Inclusion should go beyond embracing traditional demographic differences. For people to truly feel comfortable (and happy) at work, you need to consider the whole person – not just their work persona. Everyone has different needs so they can thrive in all aspects of life, personally and professionally.
When it comes to inclusivity and supporting people’s needs outside of work, HBR reports that 69 percent of women who leave their companies would have stayed if they’d had flexible work options. Having flexible
work options is one thing. Having leaders and peers who support them is what really matters. People who feel like they’ll be judged for working remotely or having a flex schedule so they can care for their elderly parents or make it to their children’s activities will never feel like they can take advantage of these options. Trust is a key factor here, which I’ll touch on next. It’s important that leaders trust their people to do great work, no matter where or when they’re working.
2. Build trust across your organization, top-down, bottom-up, and side to side.
Our internal survey results showed that employees with more frequent meaningful conversations with their manager have a more positive experience at Blue Cross NC. The key here is meaningful – quality conversations to share what’s going on in our work and with ourselves. After all, we’re humans before we are employees.
Two years ago, we eliminated performance ratings and used quarterly conversations to help our people have more meaningful performance conversations. Research, both internal and external, indicates ratings don’t motivate and engage employees. Instead, more frequent and quality conversations drive a high-trust, high-performing organization with more capacity for change and innovation. Having a cultural foundation where meaningful conversations are encouraged lays the groundwork for having difficult and uncomfortable conversations – whether it’s healthy disagreement on a project or talking about biases. It helps create a space where people feel they can speak honestly without fear.
3. Learning never stops.
2019 was a milestone year for our Inclusion and Diversity Team. They launched our inaugural Inclusion Challenge, a 6-week challenge where employees learned inclusive behaviors through online interactive activities, in-person and live-streamed talks. More than 1,000 employees participated in the challenge. It was such a success that we’re bringing it back this year for a full 10 months. The focus areas are provocative, educational and inspirational – awareness of bias and psychological safety, valuing diversity, and being curious about others.
Candidly, I don’t think we would have been able to have these types of conversations 10 years ago. Because we’ve done so much work to build a high-trust culture where people feel more comfortable being vulnerable and having meaningful conversations, today we’re able to have honest dialogue and learn from one another’s perspectives.
I’m proud of the culture we’ve built and the behaviors, practices, policies, and programs that support it. We’ve made great progress over the years and have been recognized locally and nationally for our efforts – Forbes again named us one of “America’s Best Employers for Diversity” for 2020. While we don’t do this work for the accolades, it’s a testament to all the effort that led to them.
I’m grateful for the support of our senior leadership and proud of our fearless workforce for stepping into uncomfortable spaces to drive progress in the inclusion and diversity space.