How to truly build a diverse and inclusive workplace

$8 BILLION!

That’s the extraordinary figure business is said to have spent on Unconscious Bias training. And research shows that it has had little effect on diversity, let alone inclusion, and in some instances does more harm than good.

There is definitely a role for it – however no single intervention or strategy is the answer. It is time to think beyond Unconscious Bias training – there is more we can do.

The good news is that we’re in a corporate landscape becoming hungrier to do more, to take things to the next level.

The general consensus is that diversity coupled with inclusion is complex – and will take a lot more than what has been invested in and tried previously.

D&I has become a well-accepted priority at all levels in many organisations in many sectors. Long gone are the days where D&I are simply about gender targets at board level.

There is general consensus that having a workforce diverse in thought, and one that is more representative in gender, culture, generation, race, sexual orientation, academic background, social background, and more, leads to higher productivity, innovation and better engagement with customers and clients.

Increasingly, D&I are viewed as a moral imperatives, or strong business strategies, or both.

In their book the ‘Inclusion Dividend’, authors Donovan & Kaplan state that D&I is no longer just “the right thing to do,” it is a core leadership competency and central to the success of business. 

D&I and Early Career Talent

For those responsible for recruiting and developing early career talent in this current landscape – and for any of us leading and managing teams or a workforce with a growing or strong millennial or Gen Z base – leading on the D&I front is now key to attracting, developing, leading and managing our teams and future workforces.

Deloitte states that, “good pay and positive corporate cultures are most likely to attract both millennials and Gen Z, but the key to keeping them happy are diversityinclusion and flexibility.”

Forbes recently stated that “more than any other generation, millennials (who will represent 20% of the global workforce by 2020) are flocking to companies with better diversity and inclusion programs”.

Unfortunately, that same study by Deloitte found that millennials do not believe most organisations ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to D&I.

Many organisations, leaders and managers have the best intent to embrace diversity. However, translating that intent into action and decisions against their biases – to fulfil the moral imperative they feel, achieve the business benefits that exist, or both – is not always easy and could now benefit itself, from a more diverse approach. There are things we can do to make it easier.

Behavioural Science can help

Behavioural Science looks at how people really behave, versus how we think they ought to behave – and helps us to design context and tools to make the desired behaviours and decisions easier for people to chose. In D&I terms, by better designing context and tools we can help people take different, more diverse and more inclusive actions and decisions.

One of our own leaders, Alice Scott, recently earned her Executive MSc in Behavioural Science at the London School of Economics. Alice is forever reminding me of one of her favourite, and simplest, Behavioural Science principles:

“If you want people to do something, make it easy”.

An example of a behavioural science strategy within recruitment would be removing information associated with inaccurate ‘representative models’ in the application process. Hiding demographic information on forms helps ensure that initial selection decisions will focus only on the data most relevant for the role.

An example of a behavioural science strategy within a development program would be to give participants a small handful of ways they can easily choose to put content (say, from a workshop or virtual class) in to action, and in the course of their normal day. Actions that are easy to choose and carefully designed in the specific context of their normal work and unique environment. In D&I terms, actions can be designed to make choosing inclusive behaviours easy, unlocking the benefits of diversity through your development program.

Increasing inclusion through Psychological Safety

Organisations may achieve diversity quotas and have an equal gender balance, and cultural, racial, generational and sexual orientation represented in their workforce; but without inclusive cultures the benefits are few.

A lack of inclusion can lead to poor retention and lower performance in people of difference. Evidence shows that the pain of being excluded affects similar parts of the brain to those that experience physical pain. Ouch!

It's true that people no longer just want to come to work; they want to be part of something. One catalyst for inclusion, and helping people feel they are part of something, is Psychological Safety.

In psychologically safe environments individuals feel ‘safe’ to express their authentic self without fear of repercussion. With this comes diversity of thought and thus the wonderful moral and commercial benefits of having a diverse team or workforce.

Behavioural science-based development and tools around Psychologically Safety is a strategy organisations can now deploy - particularly for people leaders, and early career talent.

For example this approach can empower people leaders to lead more inclusively by being equipped with the context and tools to create Psychological Safety in their teams. It can also empower Millennial and Gen Z early career talent to leverage their existing inclusive mind-sets and behaviours to drive cultural change from the bottom up, by building psychologically safe relationships with their peers and stakeholders.

In a snapshot

•    We need to think beyond Unconscious Bias training.

•    Behavioural Science can be applied to D&I to make it easier for people to chose more diverse and inclusive behaviours and decisions.

•    Development and tools for Psychological Safety are catalysts to create inclusive cultures.


*Article co-authored with Alice Scott (London) and Saskia Spaan (Sydney)