HR Advice

5 Questions Leaders Should Ask Themselves to Create a More Inclusive Culture

February 11, 2020
3 Min Read
5 Questions Leaders Should Ask Themselves to Create a More Inclusive Culture

The #MeToo movement, founded by Tarana Burke in 2006 to fight against sexual violence inflicted on women and girls, has raised tremendous awareness about the sexual misconduct, harassment, and assault that millions of people have faced in their lives. With a new decade under way, it is now essential that the momentum this created results in lasting, sustainable change.

In the workplace, this means putting in place policies and practices to address the rapidly changing norms and expectations of the #MeToo era. But policy changes alone cannot solve this problem--employers must also take steps to set the right culture. Culture refers to the shared behaviors, values, and norms of an organization. Simply put, culture is “the way we do things around here.” Culture is often intangible, yet its effect is ever-present in every aspect of a company’s fabric, from office layout, to how work gets done and who gets promoted.

Sustaining the impact of the #MeToo movement in the workplace starts with creating an inclusive culture.  There is a famous quote from inclusion strategist Vernā Meyers that “diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusion is being asked to dance.”  In other words, although representation is essential, leaders also need to ensure their culture allows them to tap into every employee’s fullest potential once they are there.

Here are five questions that leaders can start with to create an inclusive culture:

1. How do I make sure everyone is contributing to meetings?

No matter what one’s work environment is, one thing is a near certainty:  Each person sits in their fair share of meetings. One research finding shows that middle managers are spending up to 35% of their time in meetings, with this number nearing 50% for high-level executives.  As more of work becomes digitally-focused, meetings are one of the core avenues where teams can still spend time together face-to-face.  Meetings, when not carefully managed, can devolve into the leader doing the vast majority of the talking with the team counting the seconds until they can go back to their desks.  When managed properly, however, meetings can become a source of creative inspiration and an avenue to deepen connections among teammates. This starts with the team leader ensuring that the systems are in place for every person’s thoughts to be properly heard and discussed throughout the course of the meeting.  This could include sending out the agenda in advance and assigning topics for different team members to discuss, to asking quieter team members for their thoughts during a group brainstorm. Limiting technology use in meetings is also helpful to ensure that everyone is focused and authentically listening to one another.

2. How are promotion decisions actually being made?

It is human nature to prefer the people that we know best.  However, when it comes to developing and promoting, this can create unintentional bias.  For example, a man who is a Senior Executive may be a sports fan and spend time with the more junior men on the team watch sporting events outside of the office.  This time spent can give these individuals an inherent advantage since they’ve spent more time with the executive making promotion decisions. Senior leaders should try to schedule team activities that are of interest to all team members. If a leader does happen to spend more time with some team members than others outside of work, it is essential that systems are in place to make the promotion process fully merit based to make sure certain employees are not overlooked due to factors outside of their control.

3. Who is in charge of non-promotable tasks?

Research has shown that women are more likely than men to take on non-promotable tasks than men.  Non-promotable tasks include office “housework” such as organizing a colleague’s office birthday celebration, cleaning up the breakroom, and covering for a colleague.  When this occurs, there is often no malintent from anyone, it just becomes the natural state of affairs due to age-old gender stereotypes. However, when women are devoting a significant portion of their time to these tasks, time that their colleagues may be spending on highly promotable tasks, they may not be able to progress in their careers as easily as they deserve.  Leaders should attempt to spread non-promotable tasks across team members equally, or perhaps individuals who constantly volunteer for non-promotable tasks can be rewarded for their willingness to help their team and enhance camaraderie.

4. How can I receive feedback?

In many cases, it can be extremely difficult for leaders to receive feedback.  After all, who wants to criticize their boss? However, as leaders move higher and higher within a company, their sources of feedback to improve become few and far between.  While leaders can have the best intentions, they can only truly know if their intentions are being properly received by garnering feedback. This Harvard Business Review article has some fantastic strategies, one of which is to  make sure the feedback being asked for is specific. Simply saying “I am seeking feedback on my performance” will likely not garner an effective response.  However, asking more targeted questions such as, “How can I communicate more clearly over email” or “How can I do a better job sure everyone’s ideas are heard in our team meetings” will focus the conversation and most likely elicit helpful insights from your team.

5. How am I connecting with each team member as a unique individual?

Lastly, creating an inclusive culture depends on understanding each team member as an individual, and not a collection of demographic characteristics.  Not all people want to managed the same way, regardless of their gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics. While it is important to understand how different demographic characteristics can play into implicit biases, we also must consider the complexity of each individual’s unique personality. For example, introverts and extraverts often desire totally different leadership styles, and young professionals who grew up in the digital age will often have different communication preferences than more experienced co-workers.  Creating an inclusive culture depends on understanding each person as a unique individual, knowing what makes them tick, and ultimately being able to meet them where they are to tap into their full potential.

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