How to Make Inclusivity a Core Component of Professional Development

Creating, nurturing, and growing inclusive cultures of belonging is key to thriving in today’s marketplace.

The most successful companies learn to adapt. Whether it is driven by innovation, recruitment, or dedication to social responsibility, companies understand that inclusivity is key to their future success. Beyond well-structured diversity and equity policies, creating, nurturing, and growing inclusive cultures of belonging are crucial to thriving in today’s marketplace.

Organizations that cannot do so are at a competitive disadvantage internally (innovation, recruitment, retention) and externally (brand strength, customer attraction, and loyalty). In the same vein, individuals who do not understand and actively foster an inclusive culture are similarly disadvantaged regarding promotion and leadership. It is, therefore, our responsibility to infuse professional development training with inclusion work. Not just when onboarding new employees but through all levels of professional development, including our senior leadership teams. Policies are necessary, but an organization’s culture is rooted in employees’ daily actions in putting those policies to work.

6 Ways to Make Inclusivity a Core Component

  1. Start with empathy. We cannot create or promote inclusive cultures without a willingness to know what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes. Empathy does not require agreement or sympathy. It merely requires a willingness to understand someone else’s perspective. Training employees in active listening skills and empathy is key to infusing inclusion at every level.
  2. Analyze current training programs. Representation is everything. If we are looking to shift or strengthen culture, we need to look critically at representation in all training programs and formats. Diverse perspectives must be shown in DEI training and ALL training. Look at who is teaching, who is learning, who is not shown. By doing a deep dive into our current training models (including multiple perspectives on how those materials are received), we can make a fair assessment of where we are to better chart where we need to go.
  3. Make diversity, equity, and inclusion measurable and part of performance reviews. DEI concepts can seem intangible and, therefore, immeasurable. However, what gets measured, gets changed. DEI is not just a Human Resources issue. If we are trying to create and enhance organizational culture, everyone needs to know it is a priority. Beginning individual DEI goals can be as simple as education (reading books or attending external DEI training) or joining an Employee Resource Group as an ally. Where we start measuring these goals is much less important than the fact that we start measuring them.
  4. Center DEI training on finding the solutions rather than having the answers. A true culture of belonging means everyone’s voice is heard, respected, and valued. That being said, it is not the responsibility of the HR department or training teams to have all the answers. We must train employees to find solutions. We need to make collaboration as integral to addressing DEI issues as any other team endeavor. Training our employees to have the knowledge, resilience, and empathy to have hard conversations is the only way to effectively create a cultural shift.
  5. Establish lines of feedback for employees. If every voice is valued, dissenting voices must be heard, as well. Getting feedback from people who genuinely believe it will be considered is invaluable. Employees are less likely to be frustrated by disagreeing decisions if they feel their perspective was heard. They will still disagree, but they will feel valued.
  6. Present the case for inclusion inclusively. There is a multitude of reasons creating a culture of inclusion and belonging is beneficial. Know that individuals will be inspired to advance the culture of inclusion for different reasons. Some people will be motivated by the business case—diverse organizations outperform industry averages by 15 to 35 percent. This justification may turn others off, but know that the most significant innovation comes from a workforce that draws from a broad range of backgrounds. Others may have a personal connection to diversity or are motivated because it is the “right thing to do.” If we are preaching inclusion, we must BE inclusive. We must be willing to meet people where they are to get them on board with the cultural shifts we are trying to make.

Inclusion and belonging do not happen because the employee handbook says they should. Cultures bloom, grow, and thrive through hundreds of actions taken on a daily basis by all employees throughout an organization. As the world shifts, our professional development training must adapt, as well. The goal of training can no longer be to instruct employees on how to behave. Our goal must be to give employees the tools to understand the importance of DEI and how critical their actions are to the organization’s overall culture. Culture is not dictated, it is experienced, and every member of our organization shapes that experience.

Ash Beckham
Ash Beckham is an inclusive leadership expert and author of “Step Up: How to Live with Courage and Become an Everyday Leader.”