Diving Into The Rich Tapestry Of Team Success
Let’s talk about building amazing teams! In the current corporate jungle where diversity, equity, and inclusion can be buzzwords, we often miss the real game-changer- embracing diverse thinking styles. The road to realizing the power of different perspectives usually starts with personal stories, shaping our understanding of inclusivity in this interconnected world.

My Unconventional Journey: Embracing My Quirkiness
So, picture this- I grew up with a mishmash of cultures: Saudi, Native Indigenous, Spanish, and American vibes all swirling around. Moving across countries, I constantly felt like the odd one out. Take Thanksgiving, for instance; my family rocks the turkey with our traditional rice and ground beef stuffing, and that turkey stuffing (rice) is served with yogurt on top. Yeah, we’re all about mixing it up. I always felt a bit offbeat to the other kids, no matter which country we were living in.

Fast forward to my career as an Industrial-Organizational consultant and coach, where I realized that my quirks were my strengths. Unique perspectives became my fuel, and mantra became breaking the mold. No one-size-fits-all leadership here. Your style should be as unique as you are, blending your individual strengths with some savvy best practices.

Cracking The Code Of Cognitive Diversity  
In a recent team building session with a church leadership team, we dug into their communication styles using the HBDI too. It was like opening a treasure chest of insights. The key takeaway? “Meet people where they are at, then guide them through your door.” Understanding the four cognitive diversity preferences is gold for leaders looking to level up their communication game. The four different selves include: Analyze, Organize, Personalize, and Strategize.

Beyond Skin-Deep Diversity
Diversity isn’t just about looks; it’s about varied thinking styles that are crucial for supercharging team dynamics and ramping up productivity. The Whole Brain Thinking Model is like the wizard behind the curtain, making conflict vanish and decisions a breeze. It’s all about embodying those four different thinking styles-analyzing facts, channeling your inner feelings, plotting your course, and mapping out the steps to get there. It’s a real walk in the park once you get the hang of it. Teams can increase productivity by a whopping 66% with diversity, including diversity of thinking styles. So spice up your team with individuals with diverse thinking styles.

Wrapping It Up: Harnessing Differences For The Win
Let’s drive this point home- the value of cognitive diversity in teams is off the charts. Embrace those different thinking styles, and you’re on the fast track to success in today’s wild world landscape. Cheers to those who don’t fit the mold!

When the doorbell rang, I couldn’t help but grin because it meant my all-time favorite meal was here! My workspace was set up like a pro, ready for the evening’s Zoom call. Each year, the Steople team pulls off this amazing global planning session, spanning time zones from Australia to New Zealand and, of course, the U.S. It’s a night (for us in the U.S.) and a morning (for our Aussie and Kiwi buddies) filled with connection, planning, and, most importantly, amazing food. This is hands down one of the best times of the year for us because not only do we get to shape the company’s future, but we also get to hang out with our colleagues from around the world.

Picture this: the U.S. team was soaking up the late afternoon sun, donning short sleeves and sandals, while our mates down under in Australia were all cozied up in sweaters, enjoying fireside chats. This year, our global planning session had a laser focus on our Employee Value Proposition (EVP), and it was a blast exploring all the reasons that make our company so special, backed up by stories from our valued team members.

Now, as for the EVP champions, they’re still rounding up the data from our offsite adventure, but certain themes have already emerged. These themes are all about the heart and soul of our organization: our fantastic people, the flexibility we offer, and the endless chances to learn and grow, just to name a few.

Speaking from my own experience, our company has an incredible knack for supporting our folks when they’re going through tough times. If someone needs to take medical leave or deal with a family emergency, we all pitch in to help with work and anything they need on the personal front. We’ve done everything from sharing food to helping with chores, and I’ll never forget the time a tornado left many without power, and a colleague offered up their fridge space to save everyone’s food from spoiling. That’s what we call integrity and teamwork at Steople.

Now, let me share a heartwarming story I stumbled upon while diving into the world of EVPs. It’s about a former Dodgers player named Andrew Toles. Despite his battles with schizophrenia, the team leadership’s response was nothing short of inspiring. Instead of parting ways with him, they extended a helping hand, allowing him to continue working with the team year after year, primarily for the sake of maintaining his health insurance coverage to address his mental health needs. Talk about taking care of your people!

Ever wondered what makes your company stand out in the crowd? Check out Mark Mortensen and Amy Edmondson’s article, “Rethinking Your Employee Value Proposition.” They break it down into four super interesting categories:

1. Material Goods: These include things like pay, physical office space, location, commuting perks, cool tech gear, flexible work hours, and a bunch of other awesome extras.

2. Opportunities to Grow and Shine: Think about all the ways your company nurtures its employees’ skill sets and enabling them to become more valuable in the job market. It could be through new roles, job rotations, training, or promotions.

3. Feeling Connected and Part of a Community: This is about being appreciated for who you are, having a sense of belonging, and forming great relationships at work. It all starts with having a vibrant culture that lets people be themselves and encourages a sense of togetherness or belonging.

4. Finding Meaning and Purpose: This is your company’s aspirational objectives, aligning with employees’ desire to make a positive impact on local and global communities. These objectives answer the fundamental question of why employees dedicate themselves to the work they do. It’s all about matching your team’s desire to make the world a better place with the work they do every day.

Remember, your Employee Value Proposition isn’t just about the money. Sure, we all need to pay the bills, but think about all the other cool reasons people might want to join your company. We recently helped out an organization with their EVP by doing something called “listening tours.” Basically, we gave every employee a chance to share their thoughts. After a couple of weeks of daily sessions, we collected all their stories (anonymously, of course) and shared them with the big bosses for a day of “sense-checking.” This day was all about understanding the stories and figuring out what truly makes the company special and why people choose to be a part of it.

It was a privilege to be a part of these listening tours, and it was an incredible experience hearing stories from all levels of the company. When the senior leaders joined the sense-checking session, they were blown away by the stories and distilled them into five overarching themes. These themes now guide their talent acquisition playbook, from hiring to development, engagement, and career transitions. So, having a clear Employee Value Proposition can really set the stage for everyone involved.

So, what’s your secret sauce that makes you stand out in the business world? What forms your unique moat in the business landscape?

As I was boarding the flight, I was filled with anticipation to see my family. Every year, I fly back to the Middle East to enjoy some time off with family, enjoy good food, and relish in traditions and customs. I look forward to unplugging from all work-related items and concentrating on being around the people I love. This comes with a lot of traditions and customs that are followed. Growing up, my immediate family moved from one country to another. This accompanied different norms, ways of life, and customs. As a kid, it was difficult for me to weave in and out of different cultures. As an adult, I love experiencing different ways of life. One tradition that has been passed on to me and my siblings is teatime. I remember drinking a small cup of mint tea after lunch or dinner. This is the tradition I anticipate every year. My family and I would have a small cup of tea at the end of the day, sitting around outside as we closed out the day. The small teacup would be laid out on the tray with the tea in a teapot perched on a mount with a small candle to keep the tea hot.

As my time came to a close with visiting family, I knew exactly what I wanted to get everyone back home as a souvenir. A traditional tea set. This was the ultimate symbol of my gratitude to each person who would get a tea set. The tea set had traditional colors in the small cups and saucers. I was so excited to share this gift with my friends and co-workers. It was not only a symbol but a reminder to each person that they are like close family to me. So with each set, I told them the story of why the tea set is such an important tradition to me. It reminds me of the simple times when family would gather around to talk, laugh, and tell stories. What does this tradition have to do with an organization’s culture?

When I got back to work, I was given the time to tell my story and share the tea sets with everyone at work. Everyone listened with enthusiasm, asked questions, and made me feel valued. I was proud to share my customs and traditions with everyone at work. They each picked out the set they wanted, and it made me feel heard and appreciated. Sharing my story and tradition with them made me feel valued at work. Our amazing leader and CEO has always encouraged me to share my stories with her and my co-workers. This has always made me feel appreciated for my background.

There has been extensive research around measuring inclusion at work in the past few years as diversity and inclusion efforts have increased in companies and in society. In a study based on more than 30 DEI executives and an extensive review of the academic literature, there were seven key dimensions of inclusion: fair treatment, integrating differences, decision-making, psychological safety, trust, belonging, and diversity. The study included a survey of nearly 10,000 employees around the world, asking them to rate their level of engagement. This is now known as the Gartner Inclusion Index, which utilizes a broad definition of inclusion and addresses the related concept of diversity. While diversity and inclusion are different concepts and can stand alone, when combined, they are a powerful source of engagement for a team. This survey can create a baseline measure of employee perceptions and look for gaps or inconsistencies on a team or in the organization.

I can say that the simple act of allowing me the space to tell my story made me feel that the company integrated my differences. I had enough psychological safety to tell my story as well as give my perspective on decision-making according to my experiences. Trust is high enough that I can bring this story to the table and know that not everyone shares my views, but everyone listens, and we have great conversations about the topic. I feel that I belong on the team by the provided time and space to be myself and share experiences. I also enjoy being a part of a diverse team of people of different races, cultures, ways of doing things, and experiences.

Here are the top 7 dimensions to measure inclusion in the workplace:

1. Fair treatment: Employees at my organization who help the organization achieve its strategic objectives are rewarded and recognized fairly.
2. Integrating differences: Employees at my organization respect and value each other’s opinions.
3. Decision-making: Members of my team fairly consider ideas and suggestions offered by other team members.
4. Psychological safety: I feel welcome to express my true feelings at work.
5. Trust: The communication we receive from the organization is honest and open.
6. Belonging: People in my organization care about me.
7. Diversity: Managers at my organization are as diverse as the broader workforce.

Remember to establish a cadence in your organization or on your team for pulse checks for your culture of inclusion after your baseline is established. An action plan after the survey is essential to illustrate transparency and consistency to your employees. When there is diversity AND inclusion, engagement on your team will increase.

As the leader walks into the room, people were greeting him with handshakes and smiles. You could feel his amazing presence the second he walked into the room. Everyone was anticipating what he was going to discuss. As I glanced around the room, I noted the dynamics of the different pairs and people on the team. Everyone was very cordial as they spoke together.

The ornate conference room was set up meticulously for the 24-member team. They were meeting together for the first time since several new individuals were hired. Team members started to arrive, and I could hear people greeting each other and mentioning their excitement that the whole team will be at the retreat. Mostly, they were excited to hear from their leader about their progress and looking forward to working together into the future.

The leader proceeded to kick-off the meeting with a brief story about himself – how he grew up and how he got started in the business many years ago. He had a PowerPoint deck prepared with numbers and statistics to back up his story.  However, the very inspiring moment came when he started to articulate his past, present, and future vision for this team and the organization. He then told the story of how this team consisted of only 3 people jotting down ideas of how to expand on his very ambitious long-term goal in the industry. He took his idea and consistently prodded the stakeholders to invest in his idea and him. It took several years for the stakeholders to finally buy in, but he was relentless.  The stakeholders finally accepted his challenge, and the team of 3 grew to the 24 individuals in the room.

One of the activities of the day was to share journey lines. They each discussed 8-10 life events made up of personal and professional events that have now shaped them into who they are today. You could feel the excitement around the room as the leader discussed his own life events. The theme was that of tenacity and perseverance. He set the tone for the rest of the team as they illustrated and spoke of their own journey lines. This was the “past” portion of the meeting.

He then proceeded to talk about the journey line of the business.  He honored the past, spoke of the challenges they have endured along the way, and shared what it took to become the strong business they are today. Lastly, he shared his own vision and articulated what he sees for the future of the work and his team. He discussed how every single person fit into the bigger picture, what they needed to accomplish, and why the work is important. Looking around the room, I saw people taking notes and listening in awe to this leader’s words.  It was inspiring.

The day progressed with some strategic milestone benchmarks and ended with an exercise of how the team is expected to collaborate and break down silos in order to achieve this ambitious goal that had been laid at their feet. A month later, and the update following the retreat is amazing. The 24 individuals have reported improved collaboration and productivity in addition to reaching one of their benchmarks goals within one month after meeting. It’s incredible!  Everyone knows the vision and why they do what they do. It is clearly engraved into their own vision of how they need to work together to achieve this common goal. They walked in cordial to each other and walked out as if they were old friends.

Remember, leaders bring the weather! Clearly articulating the vision and core purpose of the team enables everyone to understand their role and provides guidelines of expected behavior to achieve the larger goal. This leader started his team on their individual and collective journeys.  By sharing his own story, they were able to follow the signs he had clearly posted along the way that allowed them to gain alignment and ensure a clear path forward.

What is your story? Steople consultants are ready to begin the work of articulating your vision through storytelling. Will you accept the challenge?

Standing outside on the balcony, feeling the hot rays of sun on my face, and catching the breeze coming from the north, I could see the Pacific Ocean just a block away. As each wave rolled in, I saw figures bobbing in the water – easily flowing back and forth. I realized they were surfers out to catch a wave before they started their day. It was at that moment that I gained clarity on my North Star. “Why am I doing what I am do every day?”  It’s because one day I want to be on the water with my kids trying to catch the perfect morning wave!

The Steople team gathered in sunny California to enjoy time together and gain alignment on our goals and rallying cry moving into the end of the fiscal year. Our annual strategic planning offsite event was booked several months ago, and we were all excited to spend time together. We started out the day with air travel. Not surprising to say that everyone’s travel was eventful with cancellations and delays. Nonetheless, we all got to Los Angeles in one piece and met for a late lunch at a restaurant on the beach. We enjoyed a team building activity that night talking about what drives us and what drains us as individuals and as a team. This provided much needed insight to the team and how to work better together. Even though most of us have worked together for a while, this activity helped us realign on each individual value. Apparently, my drainer is “enjoyment.”  Of course, the team found this revelation quite funny!  However, it wasn’t a big surprise to me. When I am tasked with work, all I want to do is put my head down and get it done. Go ahead and think it… Layla’s the buzz killer (smile)!

We spent the entire next day aligning around goals and reviewing Steople’s core ideology consisting of our core purpose, core values, mission/vision statement, and SWOT analysis. In reviewing our core values, we provided examples of how we “walk the talk” every day in our behaviors and work product with our clients and our own team members. These core values provide guidelines for us of how we want to behave in our own Steople culture. By knowing your core values, it allows you to get you through challenging times because the strong foundation is set and clear for all. This sets the culture in an organization. Talking about our vision statement enables each of us to see how our roles guide us collectively into the envisioned future.  We asked ourselves, “Why are we doing what we do?”  Client meetings often take us away from our families and, sometimes, we even have to face the challenges of working across global time zones.  Indeed… why do we do this kind of work? Simply put – we love our team, the work we do, and the clients with whom we do it!

I gained the most clarity during our talks of core ideology, metrics, feedback/recognition session, and strategy discussion.  As a team, we strategized around how we will achieve our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) during our session on our one big commitment. Before I reported out on my own One Big Commitment to the team, I walked back to the balcony, looked out to the ocean, and asked myself again, “Why do I get up every day and get excited about the work that I do?” Because one day, my kids and I will be on the beach at sunrise to “catch the perfect wave.” How do I achieve that? I need to be aligned with my teammates and on the same page with my vision for the upcoming year.  Getting alignment may require difficult conversations; this is where the turning point was for our team. Being able to have healthy conflict on a team enables the team to gain trust and become more open to innovation and creativity instead of being reactive to a situation or person.

As we faced the last day in sunny California, we packed our bags and piled into a Jeep laughing about funny moments from our time here.  We broke bread together one more time at a restaurant on the pier before heading back to the airport. As a reminder of the clarity I achieved, my mentor – who happens to by the CEO of Steople – gave me a ”Surfing the Wave” sticker that I have in front my computer as a daily reminder of my WHY.

Remember to invest in your business and your people by ensuring your strategic planning offsite happens so you can realign around your core ideology.  Make it a priority as this will help guide individual team members through challenging times and help them find the focus and desire to work as one team.  Allow Steople to be your compass as you find your North Star.

Recently, I attended a birthday celebration for a friend of a friend. As we walked up to the open patio of the restaurant, I saw a table full of people chatting and sharing stories over food and drinks. There were lively conversations, people laughing and a lot of hand gestures from the people who were talking. As my friend made her way around the table to say hi to everyone, I noticed the close proximity to each other. There were handshakes, hugging, and kissing on both cheeks to everyone. After we sat down, a few people asked if we wanted to go order some food and drinks. A group of us went to stand in line and after the first person ordered, my friend gestured to me to order what I wanted. The cashier said, “Is this all on one bill?” I stood back and looked at my friend. She gestured again for me to order, and I said, “Well, he asked if this is on one bill?” She looked at me and said, “Just go ahead and order.” After I ordered, I realized that there were two individuals fighting over who would pick up the tab for everyone in the party. The “look” from my friend was that of “Don’t ask about the bill. It’s inappropriate.” We sat there for hours just talking, storytelling, and enjoying everyone’s company. I had met several people previously, but I did not know them very well. However, by the end of the gathering, we were all good friends. We were “family.”

This particular group was a gathering of Arabs. I find it heartwarming to see the intensity Arabs express “fighting” over the bill. There is a lot of hand gestures, loud “No way! It’s forbidden that you get the bill!” and so on. Paying the bill is not about the money; it’s a symbol that you are a part of the “family.” This culture is a collective culture, and each person is part of a larger family. Throughout the night, the individual who was celebrating his birthday asked my friend and I several times if we were comfortable or wanted anything else. When he picked up the tab, it made sense. Since I was now a part of the “family,” he wanted to ensure that I, and everyone else at the table, was happy and comfortable. If my friend and I were happy, he was happy! This is an attribute of a collectivist mindset.

Here a few attributes of an Individualist Leader vs. a collective leader:

View of Organizations Organizations as machines Organizations as communities
Structure Hierarchical, pyramid Connected networks, flattened structure
Who leads? Individual managers A team
Who makes decisions? Top management Distributed and aligned with areas of responsibility
Basis fo authority Positional power-based on title Personal power-based on knowledge and strengths
Communications Top down, holding on to information, exclusive Multi-directional, more transparent, inclusive
Diversity and Inclusion Less likely for multiple cultural influences More likely for multiple cultural influences
Process Directive-people need to be told what to do Collective-people are capable and trustworthy to do the right thing
Accountability Buck stops at the top Shared
Beliefs about success A few individuals have the skills or talent to create success Success comes from the diverse perspectives and skills of many

Adapted from Straight Talk by Ross Wilson

Many of my clients describe the struggle in the organization as trying to break down silos to increase accountability and buy-in. I’ve heard this many time before. The pandemic seems to have increased these challenges as more people return the office or now working hybrid. Consider the lessons learned from a collectivist mindset and leadership. How can you weave in some collectivist attributes into your leadership to reap the benefits of this concept and become a “family?”


Have you made new years’ resolutions before that did not stick? I have. I vowed to change my behavior with dieting, exercise, getting outdoors more etc. etc. Why can’t we acknowledge the behavior that we want to change and just change it? Well, it’s not that easy and we tend to bite off more than we can chew with a long list of ambitious items we want to work on. I learned long ago, that if you focus on too many things to change at once, it does not have as big an impact than if you focus on one thing in behavior that will make a huge difference. We are talking small tweaks here and there.

I remember being on the receiving end of my first 360 degree feedback about 10 years ago and I had to contain myself as I was being debriefed on the results. Needless to say the results were not great! I had a lot to work on as a leader. My coach took me through the process of focusing on one thing at a time, and now 10 years later the 360 feedback was a lot better. Behavior change is about habit and routine. How can we shed an old behavior and create a new behavior!

As facilitator of the 2-year leadership development program that I am currently running, the cohort of high performing leaders are working on their one big improvement goal that will make a big difference in their leadership and bring them to the next level as leaders. As I started working with one of my clients a few months before, we debriefed her 360 feedback results. There was nothing surprising in the results, it was just now amplified in black and white from a number of evaluators. We narrowed it down to 3 things to work on. From there we prioritized and only focused on delegating and setting boundaries for herself. As we talked through where the behavior came from, she uncovered that it was deeply engrained in her at an early age to help everyone in her family and always be busy. This was an aha moment for her. Just acknowledging where this behavior was stemming from made a huge difference in shifting her mindset to shedding her old behavior. We then talked through the WHY. Why did she feel she needed to take on all the work and say yes to all the projects and tasks. Once we thought about the behavior that she was currently portraying, we talked through the new desired behavior, which was to set her boundaries (to be able to say no without feeling bad), and delegating to others on her team. From there we discussed what would make her feel “safe” to delegate to others and set boundaries. For her, she wanted to know that the work quality would be excellent like her own work. So she decided to create time for a morning team huddle to track progress and establish space for 1:1 check-ins with team members. Once we talked through where the habit stemmed from, what assumptions she had about the work or task, then she started to test her assumptions. For this part, we decided to use a text message to remind her of her habits. The commitment on the reminder went something like this: “When I come into the office each morning, instead of working on my tasks right away, I will prioritize what only I can work on and delegate other tasks to my direct reports”. We set the reminder for every morning. She received a text at 8:00am as she walked into the office of this reminder for 28 days. I can proudly say that after 6 months of coaching and consistently working on this behavior change just making little adjustments and tweaks along the way, the new behavior and habit is starting to solidify in her daily routine.
What is your new desired habit and how will making that behavior change impact your leadership for the better?

In today’s changing environment, leaders have to be open-minded instead of telling people what to do; flexible enough to adjust goals as new information emerges instead of sticking exactly to plans; and rely on data to make decisions instead of deciding from the gut. This is emerging leadership rather than traditional leadership. I worked with a client who has been in a senior role for the last 20 years at the same company. She has seen a lot of change and growth as well as different leadership styles throughout her time at the company. She often mentioned that it was difficult to adjust to the way she used to do things and how she needs to adapt to the changing environment now. One aspect of the role as senior leader we worked on was the balance between the old and new way of leadership. Research shows that there are several core tensions between emerging and traditional leadership approaches and these may cause stress.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many leaders made the call to shut down their offices right away and move their employees to remote work without checking-in with their teams. This may remind you of a traditional leadership style, but the reality is that leaders need a balance between the old-fashioned way and the new way of leadership. Listed below are some tensions between traditional and emerging leadership that leaders should be aware of:

  1. The Expert vs. The Learner Traditionally, leaders built their careers by developing deep expertise while demonstrating competence as they moved up the corporate ladder. In emerging leadership, leaders must accept that they learn from others too.
  2. The Constant vs. The Adaptor– Traditionally, good leaders should stand firm in their convictions and decisions. With today’s changing and unstable environment, leaders should recognize where they need to be flexible and change course by responding to new information and making critical adjustments.
  3. The Tactician vs The Visionary– Serving up the north star for the team is important and there needs to be a realistic long term goal but not a rigid plan to get there.
  4. The Teller vs. The Listener– The traditional approach calls for leaders to tell others what to do and how to do it. The emerging approach utilizes active listening and probing to understand the situation before making a decision.
  5. The Power Holder vs. The Power Sharer– This is all about the people that make up the organization. The traditional calls to hierarchy decision making. The emerging approach values and empowers the people surrounding them to support in decision making to achieve a goal.
  6. The Intuitionist vs. The Analyst– Traditional leadership styles utilized “gut intuition” while emerging leadership style base next steps largely on data.
  7. The Perfectionist vs The Accelerator– The traditional approach asserts that leaders should take the time to deliver a perfect product. The emerging leadership approach  calls for leaders to acknowledge that doing something well but quickly and moving to the next step is more important that doing it perfectly.

Leaders need to be aware of these tensions and can improve their effectiveness by learning to navigate between the traditional and the emerging leadership styles depending on context.

How do you define yourself – traditional, emerging, or a little of both?  How do you think your team and organization would define you?  If you’d like to grow in your own leadership development regardless of how you are defined, Steople can provide the professional, knowledgeable support for you and your team.  Be a “learner.”

By Layla Bokhari | Consultant

During my early professional career as a manager in a fortune 500 company, I remember the day I was promoted to regional district manager. This meant I would manage 2 offices in the region. I was excited and ready to take on the responsibility. I convened a town hall of all the managers in the region for a meet and greet and expectations meeting. The district had a community that was about 75% Hispanic, so I was expecting several bilingual Hispanic managers. To my surprise, there was only one bilingual manager and two staff members that identified as Hispanic. I decided to meet with all the managers to get to know them and ask them what they like about working in the district and what they though could improve. Everyone had various items they discussed, but when It came to the one manager who identified as a person of color, she expressed that she was thinking about resigning her position. She stated that she felt many of the staff and leadership did not respect her. So during my usual check-in at the office, I probed with the staff and some stated that her family came to visit often, she spoke too fast and loud, and they felt uncomfortable when she spoke to her Spanish speaking clients in Spanish. I discovered that this was a classic case of an organization that lacked cultural competence internally. Inside the organization, leadership and staff needed training because they were driving away their best employees. It was a process, but over some time of incorporating DE&I into the regular leadership training, it made the organization became more inclusive. So now it was time to work on the external factors of DEI for the organization.

I saw a missed opportunity in the Hispanic community, so I started recruiting several bilingual Hispanic managers and staff members. The next season, new client sales increased by 30%, mostly Spanish speaking new clients. I still receive periodic updates from the manager who wanted to leave the organization. She is now a regional district manager and has recruited many other individuals into the organization. This was a proud moment for me. I love hearing how she has flourished in her career and how the organization is growing clientele as well as increasing a diverse staff.

Many times, I receive calls and urgent emails from organizations asking for support with DE&I. They are usually looking to hire more diverse candidates or appeal to more diverse clientele. I first tell them that they need to get their house in order and ensure everyone feels included and that they belong in the organization. Then they can move onto the higher levels of structural and systemic issues.  I have been helping organizations implement (DE&I) practices for the past 7 years. Driving organizational change can never be accomplished in a one-time training. Below are 4 levels to becoming an inclusive organization and some best practices, resources and case studies that I utilize in my DE&I work: level 1- Personal, level 2- Interpersonal, level 3- institutional, and level 4- Structural.


Level 1 | PERSONAL:  Are your people aware of their personal culture bias?

This level is the foundation for diversity, equity, and inclusiveness (DE&I). One must know the history of race and class oppression and resistance in the U.S. and communicates where they work. Individuals should understand their own identity, power, privilege, and they affect their work, relationships, and impact. Lastly, they should believe in the potential of other individuals to grow and develop in DE&I.

Knowledge. Individuals understand the history of colonialism, race, gender and class oppression, and resistance in the U.S. and their local communities. The sources of systematic and institutional inequities are important to understand, as well as the basic terminology and concepts of diversity, equity, inclusiveness, and justice. A historical foundation grounds us in the present.

                   Action Item: Simply reading about the history of power and oppression in the work setting will help with a historical lens. I find that excerpts from the book written by Paul Kivel, “Uprooting Racism”, provides an accurate historical lens into these topics. You can also take the Implicit Bias test as a  starting point for your DE&I journey.

Self-Awareness.  Understanding one’s own identity, power, privilege, and access, and how they affect one’s work and relationships creates critical consciousness. Having a clear sense of one’s own unique value, potential impact and limitations is essential for understanding the value of cultures different from one’s own. Multicultural competence is the ability to differentiate your own culture from others and to accept differences without judgement.

                    Action Item: Read DiAngelo’s work on white fragility for a deeper understand of power and privilege.  

Learning/Continuous Exploration.  Organizations promote the potential of their individuals to grow and develop in inclusive leadership by promoting continuous learning and exploration. If the tools and resources are present in an organization, and leadership encourages growth in diversity, equity and inclusiveness, then individuals will take ownership in their own growth in the organization and personally.

                   Action Item: Have resources available for employees in your newsletter or in your weekly email. Promote these resources internally and externally. This will build the psychological safety in your organization and diverse talent. The Circle Way is one such tool to facilitate group exploration, and Layla F. Saad’s book “Me and White Supremacy” is a guide to self-awareness exploration.


Level 2 | INTERPERSONAL: Are our personal relationships equitable?
Once an individual has the foundational knowledge and history of DE&I, then it is time to work on how they are relating and communicating in their relationships.

Relating. Relating means building trustful, meaningful relationship across levels and groups and adapting to work collaboratively with all teammates. This is especially important for inclusive leadership. Leaders should build authentic manager-report relationships with all direct reports and listen to different experiences at the workplace.

                  Action Item: We are all so busy at work that we don’t stop and listen sometimes. Having Friday coffee with the leaders in the lobby or lounge area at work can provide a space where the team can relax for an hour and talk about anything other than work. This builds relationships and may even clear up misunderstandings in communication and acknowledge patterns of privilege.

Communicating. Communication is at the forefront of an inclusive culture. Through identity work, leaders should have a good grasp on their own triggers and effectively manage their own triggers to engage productively in dialogue and race and class discourse or simply bring up any conflict. Engaging in conflict productively, without avoiding or prematurely shutting down the interaction builds trust and illustrates that all voices are heard.

                   Action Item: Listening to others experiences helps to mitigate microaggressions in the workplace. Simply having a conversation about what surprised or resonated with the individual about the list of microaggressions and common patterns of privilege and oppression can spark great conversation.


Level 3 | INSTITUTIONAL: Are institutional policies and norms within your organization equitable?
The third level recognized that cultural bias and oppressive assumptions become embedded in the policies and procedures of an organization.

Acting on Equity.  Includes identifying cultural breaches and taking active steps with appropriate urgency to address the challenge. Leadership should be able to identity inequities on their team and systems and take action-steps to drive positive change at an institutional and systemic level. Communication and transparency are especially important when working for equity in the processes and systems of an organization.

                   Action Step:  Creating leadership and decision-making structures that invest and give voice and power to marginalized groups and ensures budget, talent and management systems and all policies further inclusiveness. Take a look at the equity lens decision-making tool that Multnomah County utilizes to drive equity in its decision-making process in order to avoid cultural bias an “unnatural” process of reflection can drive better decision-making.  

Valuing and Staffing for Diversity. Organizations value diversity by being open to different ways of being and thinking and by understanding that this change can achieve better outcomes and results. Maintaining curiosity about others’ perspectives, experiences, and motivations will endorse a culture of diversity. The organization and hiring managers should actively seek out and hire a diverse staff at all levels. Although women in senior positions are increasing, there is still a lag on marginalized individuals assuming higher level positions.

                    Action step: A full policy and procedure audit can hold leadership accountable of inclusive policies that affect all staff. The more inclusive the system and rules, the more feeling of belonging. Mellody Hobson on staffing diversity at the top levels of the organization.

Leveraging Diversity.  Leadership should actively seek out and ensure multiple voices are heard on key issues, particularly marginalized voices of the communities we partner with or serve. Lifting all voices either in a board room where a decision is being made or providing a space where everyone can add input or suggestions is a simple step towards leveraging diversity.

                    Action step: Check out this Harvard Business Review article for more information on action steps to ending systemic and structural racism.


Level 4 | STRUCTURAL: Does your organizational structure promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice?

Acting for Inclusiveness. Distinguishing cultural differences and differing work styles from true performance challenges will help leaders seek out and leverage skills, traits and characteristics that may be unrecognized or undervalued in the dominant culture. This is where cultural competence comes into play. Seek out articles on culture or resources to help you understand different cultures and experiences.

                   Action step: This clip of Teach Us All illustrates an organization living true to the core values of DE&I.      

Leadership commitment. One of our favorite saying here at Steople is that “leaders bring the weather”. Culture is set and modeled by the leaders at the top. Thus, leadership commitment is essential, so it trickles down to the staff level.

                  Action step: To understand the what systemic and structural racism is, check out 13th on Netflix.  

Case Study #1: Teach For America lives out the core values of diversity, equity and inclusiveness in everyday life as well as at the structural level. They implement inclusive leadership identity development to senior leaders all the way to incoming corps members. TFA conducts quarterly power analysis and equity tools at the leadership level, and perform communication audits even at the board level.

Case Study #2: Johnson & Johnson is an organization that values DE&I initiatives and incorporates this work into daily activities for the employees and leadership. DE&I is at the forefront of every training, coaching, and meeting.
Tracking and implementing these 4 themes in your organization will ensure an inclusive organization. But remember, leaders in the organization should endorse and model these themes for inclusiveness to resonate throughout the organization. Diversity, equity, and inclusiveness should be at the forefront of decision-making and conversations. Organizations may want to move fast on DE&I initiatives, but changing corporate culture is not an overnight fix. It is a process, and a habit that takes time to flourish. Working on an inclusive leadership identity at the top will in turn trickle down to the staff level, then the organization can work on the institutional and structural implementation of filling the pipeline with diverse talent and filter DE&I as a norm in the organizational culture.