Culture change starts with you as a leader. In your role at your organization, you can have a profound impact on the people employed there. You have the potential to be an agent of transformation. You can make a contribution to society by making an impact on your company culture. Diversity starts with you.
We all arrive where we are based on our own experiences, and our experiences affect our worldview. But here’s the tricky thing: we are usually oblivious of our worldview. We usually think we are more open-minded than we actually are. We usually don’t realize what our worldview is until something challenges that view.
Culture change is a process, and a process takes time. It requires intentionality, clarity, and consistency. It requires doing things that we typically haven’t done before. We can’t expect a short diversity training session to change behavior. It needs to be woven into the fabric of our organizations. It requires us to operationalize our organizational values into a systemized training process.
Here are five key concepts for incorporating diversity into your company culture through a systemized training process.
1. Be aware of where others are coming from
We often are only aware of our own perspective. We aren’t usually able to see beyond our own worldview unless we experience a situation that make us reconsider our perspective. Those situations, although awkward, help us become aware of where others are coming from.
Unless we have walked in someone else’s shoes, we really don’t know what they’ve been through. And we may never really understand what someone of another race feels. But that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t try.
When people are willing to put themselves in a position to genuinely seek to understand someone else, they may be surprised about what they might learn—about the other person and about their own selves.
Your willingness to help your team engage others who are different from them in your organization will help build a culture of connection. Not everyone feels comfortable doing that, even if they would want to. That’s why it’s necessary to have your diversity training become holistically connected to every area in your organization so it can become a foundational component of your company culture.
2. Reconsider your own perspective
Many people don’t really want to have to understand how someone else’s experience has shaped them. But getting outside of our own heads is the only way we can grow and become more than we currently are.
When we don’t understand why other people do things, we tend to wonder what’s wrong with them. In reality, it’s more likely that something is wrong with our perspective. Instead of assuming that their viewpoint is skewed, we should think, “Why do I think the way I do?”
If we think people who are different from us “always” or “never” _________ (fill in the blank), then we begin to have a two-dimensional mindset. Only when we are willing to reconsider our own assumptions are we able to recognize them for what they are—assumptions. They may be very far from reality. But until we will recognize them for what they are, we will not be able to move past them.
I realize that some of your team may get defensive about confronting their assumptions. We all have our biases from our own experience that have shaped us. We can inventory them and—if they are not accurate—we can discard them. However, I realize it isn’t always that simple. That’s why it’s important to make diversity training an integral part of your culture-shaping process.
3. Be curious how others think.
We don’t all think alike. We may not understand why others do things, but it’s important for us not to make snap judgments about others. We have to be willing to understand each other and be curious how others think.
Understanding someone else requires listening. It’s important to listen to someone before we think we understand what they’re all about. It’s only through taking the time to seek out someone else’s perspective that we can understand where they are coming from. That’s why it’s helpful to have a structured and systemized process to help us really listen to one another in order to make diversity an integral part of our company culture.
4. Get outside your comfort zone.
We all like to feel comfortable. Nobody likes to be uncomfortable. But we grow the most when we are uncomfortable. So it’s important for us to get outside our comfort zone.
As much as I might be open to it, I usually don’t look for opportunities to be stretched. As much as I want to be more flexible physically, I don’t usually make the time for that kind of exercise, but I find afterwards that it makes me feel good. That’s why having an exercise regimen—with a coach—gives you the accountability that makes the difference. And that’s why having diversity training led by a skilled facilitator will help your team get outside of their comfort zone and become the team they want to be.
5. Do what you know is right.
Doing the right thing can be difficult, but that doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. When you take a stand and do what you know is right, you will find others—although perhaps not many—will also be willing to stand with you.
Regardless of whether or not it’s popular, advancing a culture of diversity will help you develop a missional perspective at your company. People will realize that they are part of something larger than themselves. They will appreciate knowing that they can work for a cause they believe in at the same time that they are working for your organization.
You can make culture change a key part of your company culture. A systemized diversity training process gives people the tools to do what they know is right and be freed from limiting perspectives. This will help you attract even more of the people you want to work at your organization. And those who don’t feel comfortable with that perspective will find another place to work.
Diversity starts with you. Culture change starts with you as a leader. Being willing to embrace diversity helps enrich the life of your team members. We all feel more comfortable around those who look like us or think like us. But the more you help your team learn to understand others who are not like them, the more likely they will feel more comfortable around them too.
Your leadership on this issue can help change the culture at your organization. Through helping your team become aware of other’s worldviews, reconsider their own assumptions, becoming curious of others’ perspectives, getting out of their own comfort zone, and doing what they know is right, you can become an agent of transformation. You can help your company do more than make money; you can make a difference.
So how are you incorporating diversity into your company culture?
Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies make ideals actionable.