Diversity & Inclusion: It’s about culture, leadership, and making your business better

Fostering true diversity and inclusion is about finding out what people are all about and celebrating their differences. The importance of D & I really drills down to the concept that, when you look at things from someone else’s point of view – listening and understanding where they are coming from – you allow yourself to be open to new and different ideas and ways of thinking.

So, what does it mean to build a culture around inclusion?

We really can’t talk about inclusion without first addressing our own biases. We all have them and so do our organizations. Now admittedly I am not an expert in this area as it relates to peeling back the layers as it relates to bias. Implicit or unconscious bias are the unintended, subtle and unconscious thoughts that happen to most of us, most of the time. These include the attitudes and stereotypes we develop based on characteristics such as race, age, ethnicity, weight, gender, ability, cultural values, or appearance.

By learning to recognize our own unconscious bias, we can begin to reprogram our mindset. Our brains are wired to make assumptions – it requires a conscious effort to disrupt our biases. We are human, after all – and, it is an ongoing process.

By fostering an inclusive culture, we begin to breakdown these biases. Too often we hear about organizations that look to increased diversity as the answer, by hiring diverse talent, without ensuring there is a culture of support and inclusion in place.  This sets organizations up for failure in this critical area.

How do we become more “inclusive” leaders? 

The following are what Deloitte describes as the “6 Traits of Inclusive Leaders.”

  1. Cognizance of Bias:  Bias is a leaders Achilles heel. It is important to be aware of unconscious bias so our decisions can be made in a transparent, consistent and informed manner.
  2. Curiosity:  Understanding that different ideas and experiences enable growth. We need to listen to learn, and thus listen attentively and value the viewpoints of others
  3. Courage: Talking about imperfections involves personal risk-taking. Fear of change is a big destabilizer of DEI efforts. By leading by example and engaging in respectful, but tough conversations when necessary, we model the desired behavior. This also includes identifying opportunities to be more inclusive, take ownership and engage others. 
  4. Cultural Intelligence: Not every employee sees the world through the same cultural lens. Seek out opportunities to experience and learn about different cultures and be aware of other cultural contexts.
  5. Collaboration: Create teams that are diverse in thinking. 
  6. Commitment:  Treat everyone with fairness and respect and foster an environment where every team member can be themselves. We do this by modeling authenticity and empowering each other’s well-being.

Truly fostering inclusion requires active, intentional, and ongoing efforts to promote full participation and a sense of belonging. It involves policies and practices, but also the ability to envision and enact new ways of leading. It also means developing a better understanding of how our employees and members identify themselves, and ensuring their values are represented in what we do.

As I shared earlier it is not just simply about hiring more diverse talent. We need to be explicit with our D & I vision and let this guide our actions. We want to create a culture where diversity and inclusion is practiced by all but owned by leadership. And, that change doesn’t (and shouldn’t) happen overnight. 

To make these changes requires a joint effort (the collaboration and commitment traits discussed earlier) from everyone, from leadership to the front lines. There is no one-size fits all solution and it is important to understand this is a long-term commitment!

Maurice Smith, former CUNA Board Chair and President/CEO of Local Government FCU had this to say about Diversity & Inclusion:

“It must be everywhere from the grassroots of our communities to the top of our credit unions or we will not fully serve our purpose.”

This is our WHY as credit unions – to reach, engage and serve diverse communities. The work of D & I requires certain ingredients to make it sustainable. It requires institutionalized “hard-wiring” of the D & I commitment, and data for tracking impact. As you look for support and/or guidance depending on where you are in your DEI journey, know there are many resources within the credit union space. Also, look outside of credit unions to other industry groups to learn more about what they are doing and how they are doing it.

Why It’s Important

The heart of a good DEI strategy needs to focus on shifting our behaviors and mindsets and ensuring D & I is woven throughout the organization and at the center of all decision-making.

With an approach that aligns awareness with action, addresses organizational culture and systems, and engages leaders, we can create and benefit from a more diverse workforce, a diverse and loyal membership, and reduce the negative consequences of getting it wrong.