Diversity & Inclusion: How creating cultures of integration brings us all to greater heights

Creating cultures of integration brings us all to greater heights

Let me ask you… what does integration mean to you?

By definition, integration means bringing different things together. When we do that, the result is something new.

Imagine a bunch of different ingredients – flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, eggs, milk, butter – each with its own unique properties. When combined, those unique properties work together to co-create something wonderful (in this example, pancakes!).

The properties of each ingredient have value on their own, but it’s when they’re integrated that they bring the full force of that value forward.

What do pancakes have to do with diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

People are not pancakes. We’re not flour, sugar, butter… but we are all unique, each with our own strengths, talents and passions that bring great value to the organizations we work for… IF our organizational culture is one of integration.

Integration > Assimilation

Many organizations say they’re practicing diversity, but it’s really assimilation, meaning people are hired and expected to work themselves into the existing environment.

This misses the beauty of diversity, which is to create something even better – for your organization, your people, your community and the world.

With integration, people are hired and/or promoted with the expectation that they bring unique value, and that the environment will evolve in positive ways through that inclusion.

I can only go so far with the pancake metaphor, but imagine as each ingredient is added, it takes on the properties of baking powder instead of shining its own uniqueness. Not very effective!

Creating a workplace culture that welcomes, empowers and integrates uniqueness leads to wonderful things like greater creativity, innovation, engagement, collaboration, problem solving and more.

Why Diversity Matters for Business

Aside from the fact that it is the right – the human – thing to do, diversity and inclusion matter to a company’s overall success and placement within the global business community.

Earlier this year, the industry firm Catalyst published a report on the business case for diversity and inclusion, which includes such benefits as:

  • Lower turnover
  • Higher engagement
  • Greater innovation
  • Better decision making
  • Lower rates of team conflict

They also reported that organizations that prioritize inclusion experience boosts in their overall reputation, and that many consumers are more likely to purchase from a business they see as diverse and/or inclusive.

All that said, the report also points out that, “Instead of trying to seek that elusive “proof” that diversity causes improved business performance, companies should focus on diversity as a talent issue, and recognize that to be an industry leader, it is critical to tap into the full talent pool.”

Why wouldn’t you want the best and most diverse talent possible? People who challenge the norms and expand your field of possibilities?

Beyond Headcount

Of course, one of the first steps in creating a diverse organizational culture is actually having a diverse workforce, at ALL levels. That’s where you may need to examine your hiring and promotion practices.

Many companies already do this… and they stop there.

Whether I’m coaching individuals, teams or organizations, I always say that to create something different, you have to do things differently. If you’re changing your hiring practices, but your internal culture stays the same, you aren’t really doing things differently.

Beyond diversity is inclusion – cultivating a culture where everyone feels included – and beyond that is integration – cultivating a culture where everyone is valued.

Value in Action

What does it mean to actually value someone? Value in action looks like:

  • Openly recognizing contributions
  • Holding authentic conversations
  • Asking for input and advice
  • Taking all opinions into consideration
  • Getting curious about strengths, interests and passions, especially beyond the job description
  • Constructive feedback
  • Active listening
  • Regular face time where people are given your full attention
  • Interest in, and guidance for, professional and personal development
  • Embracing conflict as an opportunity for better understanding

It is primarily intangible actions – behaviours and practices baked into the culture – that tell people whether or not they are genuinely valued.

A person who feels valued feels secure in bringing more and more of their uniqueness forward, integrating that uniqueness into their team and the overall organization, contributing to a culture of continual evolution towards higher and higher levels.

Creating a Culture of Integration

You’ll never know what awesomeness people can really bring to the table unless you do the work to create a safe space for all of it to come forward.

Here are 5 ways to start transforming your workplace culture into one of integration:

  • Prioritize authenticity
    If you really want people to go above toeing the line, you have to make authenticity a real priority. That means, letting people be human, making it ok to get it wrong, thanking people for sharing ideas that are different, and setting the example by stepping into your own authenticity.
  • Assume a mindset of anything is possible
    It’s such a common thing in business environments to get caught in that “this is just the way it’s done” mindset. Especially in times of chaos. But that’s how you get stuck and growth stalls. Be intentional about adopting an “anything is possible” mindset at all times. If you are clear on your values and goals, staying open to possibilities won’t throw you off track. It’ll get you on an even stronger path.
  • Value the whole person, not just their direct contribution
    What someone brings to their role is important – their skills, experience and practical knowledge. However, if you want people to be engaged, creative and productive, they need to bring the full force of their strengths and energy into the work that they do. As a leader, you need to be the one driving this by living it yourself and valuing it in others. Get curious about what fires people up, what they enjoy in their downtime, what other interests they have, their personal goals and passions.For example, maybe someone is really into health and fitness in their personal time, but they never talk about it at work. If you get curious about it and ask them about it, maybe other people overhear or they start mentioning their interests from time to time. Maybe that turns into a group of people becoming running buddies, either in person or through an app. Now you have employees connected to each other in a stronger way. By finding that point of connection, they develop better relationships that translate to more creative collaboration. Whether it’s cooking, travelling, reading, meditation, online gaming, writing fan fiction, creating makeup tutorials, celebrating holidays, following cricket… celebrate people bringing their joys and interests forward to create an inclusive, integrated work culture.
  • Establish an internal coaching & mentorship program
    It isn’t just hiring practices that hold people back and keep work cultures homogenous instead of dynamic. Your internal development and promotion practices need to change as well. Take an honest look at how careers evolve within your organization and who is rising through the ranks. Chances are, whether the practice is intentional or not, it’s mostly people who follow the status quo that get promoted. That’s a red flag that not only is your culture not inclusive, it also isn’t growth focused. One way to combat this stagnancy is to develop an internal coaching & mentorship program where the focus is on uncovering and growing the unique strengths and talents of your people and guiding them to align what fuels them with organizational objectives. This may require coaching your leadership to become coaches within the organization, and that is a powerful way to kick off top-down change that cultivates multi-level evolution.
  • Learn to lead from the heart
    Many of us want to welcome all ideas and perspectives. We want dynamic and inclusive workplace cultures where innovation and going against the grain are celebrated. So, why can it feel like such a challenge? One reason is that we aren’t conscious of how much our behaviours and actions aren’t coming from our true selves. From a young age, most of us are taught that fitting in is better than standing out. We then bring that mentality into our professional lives, limiting ourselves and everyone around us. Embracing heart-based leadership is about reconnecting with the core of who you are, what you truly believe, and what matters to you. It means identifying your limiting beliefs and cutting them off at the root so that the best parts of you can thrive. When you do that, you can lead from a place of genuine authenticity; a place of vulnerability and courage. This is how you become a safe space for others to bring their truest and best selves forward, driving inclusion and integration in such a powerful way.

The bottom line is, everyone benefits when diversity is celebrated – when we elevate it to something critical to our advancement and success as individuals, organizations and a society, rather than a line item to check off.

When we see the things that make us different as things that make us better, we empower diversity in all forms and open up endless possibilities to reach higher and higher levels.

If you would like guidance in how to put value into action and create a culture of integration, I invite you to connect with me.

Related articles & pages: