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Inclusion and Diversity - A Programmatic Approach

Inclusion, diversity, equity and more recently anti-racism and allyship are a skillset, a mindset and a business imperative. Organizations are feeling the mandate and struggling to enact change beyond performative declarations.

This work didn't just start. There are many lessons to learn in the history of inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E) work within corporations and governments. The Civil Rights Movement of the 60's showed us we can enact laws but that doesn't mean we change hearts.

The inclusion and diversity work of the 90's and early 2000's informed us of the potential for backlash, creating more division. Neuroscience informed us of the need for psychological safety, and ID&E efforts that fell short informed us of the need for courage and accountability.

So where do we go from here? I've always been baffled when organizations approach the work of inclusion as a program in a box. Disconnected from how the organization would launch any other change effort. Disconnected from existing leadership competencies, values, and behaviors people are evaluated on. Change is an integrated process. ID&E work is no different.

I'll readily admit the work is not easy, however, what change is? How do you get to the work of changing hearts, increasing self and other awareness, building inclusive leadership skills, holding courageous conversations, and enacting change where the data shows systemic disparities exist? Juxtaposed against the mandate to run a profitable business.

In deciding to create the Creating Cultures of Belonging curriculum many things informed the decision. I was tired of disconnected programs. It was frustrating to not have enough time to actually build the psychological safety, trust and the skills required to do this work. Three hours is just not enough time to learn to manage your biases, act inclusively, value diversity and be an ally. And forget about erasing institutional bias.

I get it. When looking at the data, and seeing the disparities, how do you act to create more equity? There are so many variables to consider. However, inaction is not a strategy. The work of eliminating institutional bias, creating a culture of belonging, is definitely long game. Instant gratification is not a realistic expectation. Progressive organizations put the hard work in now for greater belonging, engagement, innovation, talent acquisition and profit later.

Change is a process. All of the above-mentioned headwinds, combined with the social factors demanding we act, drove the decision to create a curriculum that uses a programmatic approach. The same kind of framework organizations use to launch a product, system, or anything else they want adopted.

Organizations do not launch products in a couple of 90 min workshops. There is a process and a project plan. There is preparation for the rollout. Anticipation of product adoption. A strategy to address barriers to adoption. There is support, evaluation, feedback, and accountability for course correction to make the launch work.

Creating a more equitable organization, a culture of belonging, where people feel empowered to be themselves, to speak up to interrupt and stop acts of exclusion, feel safe to point out disparities and hold courageous conversations to determine how to address systemic bias is not different. It requires a programmatic approach.

All inclusion, diversity, unconscious bias work starts with self. Innerleadership is our starting point. In the workshop our cohorts share themselves, their culture, their values, and start the journey. Then there are the skills needed to actually practice inclusion, surface your unconscious biases, show you value diversity and encourage authenticity, and start the journey to allyship. These competencies, research shows us, equip people to exhibit the behaviors of an inclusive leader. Competencies comprised of specific skills. Skills that are developed through practice, feedback, support, trust, accountability and safety.

Our participants go through the program as a cohort. They support each other, learn from each other, and share how they are practicing these skills in their daily life. They feel connected and safe. We asked people to step out of their comfort zones, be courageous, and be the change. The trust, skill building, and accountability for each other makes all of this work worthwhile.

The stories participants share as they use their new skills. Stories of success using the tools to win hearts and minds and the stories of failure. In this work a learner mindset is key, as you will try, fail, and learn. But like baseball, we may strike out 99 times but those hits and home runs still keep our average high. If perfection is your jam this work may not be for you. However, with a programmatic approach and a learners mindset, this work will change your life and the lives of so many others.

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