July 17, 2018.
For a long time, I've found the idea of fostering an inclusion organization to be somewhat intimidating. For most tasks, I've been able to plan out a roadmap, identify some reasonable metrics, and get to work, but for inclusion I was apt to stare at the blank page, filled with uncertainty.
Since then, I've found a framework for thinking about inclusion efforts that is simple but which has allowed me to think about the problem broadly, identify useful programs, and move from anxiety to implementation: an inclusive organization is one where folks have access to opportunity and membership. Opportunity is having access to professional success and development. Membership is participating as version of themselves they feel comfortable with.
I've found this framework powerful for reflecting on what is going well and where we can improve, and I hope you'll find it useful as well. For both themes, I've written notes on investment and measurement.
There are workplaces where everyone around you is delightful, where the customers are friendly, you feel respected, but you still return home each night dissatisfied. Occasionally an interesting project will come up, but those typically go to more tenured folks. When I think about having access to opportunity, I think about ensuring that folks can go home most days feeling fulfilled by challenge and growth.
The most effective way to provide opportunity to the members of your organization is through structured application of good process. Good process is as lightweight as possible, while being rigorous enough to consistently work. Structure application allows folks to learn how the processes work, and build trust by watching the consistent, repeated application of those processes.
As the saying goes, this is simple to do but far from easy. The key question is whether you'll continue to respect your processes when it's inconvenient to do so. If one of your best folks want a specific opportunity, are you willing to run an open application process? What if they plan to leave your company otherwise, would you be willing to bypass your processes to keep them?
There are infinite ways to create and distribute opportunity! Some of the programs which I have found more helpful are:
I'm pretty confident that these will significantly improve the distribution of and access to opportunity, but we can do better, we can measure. I've found measurability of opportunity to be surprisingly high, which is one of the reasons I think it's an effective pillar in thinking about inclusion.
The metrics which have been useful for me are:
Getting access to some of this data will require partnering with your human resources team, but I've found that friendly persistence, along with sharing your thinking behind the asks, works well to get folks working with you.
Membership is a bit harder to measure, but equally important. I can remember once having coffee with a coworker where they described their daily calculus of trying to find someone to eat lunch with. Their work was generally going well, but each day as noon approached, what they thought about most was feeling lonely.
If you're spending so much energy wondering who you'll eat lunch with, that's energy you can't spend being creative. If the idea of going to work gives you anxiety, at some point you're going to decide to stop coming. Membership is the precondition to belonging.
The programs I've found most impactful here are:
These programs are all simple, and their simplicity can hide the degree of thoughtful care necessary to do them well. Depending on where a team or organization is, you'll have to adjust your approach to make them effective. Always take the extra day to test your implementation proposal with a variety of folks.
As you roll these out, measuring remains extremely important, although I've found membership rather harder to measure than opportunity. Some of the potential measures are:
Similarly to collecting the data to measure opportunity, this will require some partnership with human resources, but it's well worth the effort.
A second similarity between the two is that balancing opportunities for membership across a large population is pretty tricky. Many activities and events don't work well for everyone–meals can be difficult for folks with complex dietary restrictions, physical activities make some uncomfortable, activities after working hours can exclude parents–and success here requires a broad portfolio of options and willingness to balance concerns across events and time.
Combine efforts on opportunity and membership, and you will find yourself solidly on the path to an inclusive organization. Not much flash, but results are louder than proclamations. The most important thing is continue your investment over the long term. Pick a few things that you are able to sustainably continue, get started, and layer in more as you build steam.