Psychology research finds that deeply rooted attitudes and beliefs are some of the most immune to change. And that diversity training has a history of failing to make a difference in the creation of a truly inclusive workplace.
So before starting that next presentation that is supposed to radically change your employees’ belief structure, perhaps it’s time to consider that education-based approaches, like “implicit bias” or diversity training, aren’t the answer. Instead, we should consider how to shape the social environment to build a more inclusive workplace.
3 recommendations for creating an inclusive workplace
People generally act in ways that align with what they think the people around them will approve or allow. In doing so, they estimate the consensus of their social environment, or the culture, more or less. Understanding this can shape how you approach building a workplace culture that communicates inclusivity.
Leaders need to model the behavior they want from employees.
Research specifically finds that management is the most resistant to anti-bias or diversity training. After all, whatever they’ve been doing got them where they are today, so why change? But if managers don’t take racial inequality seriously, their employees won’t either. They will establish a culture that either implicitly or explicitly tolerates bias.
Few things more effectively teach people NOT to do something than experiencing negative consequences. These consequences don’t need to be material (e.g. loss of advancement or employment). We experience social consequences, such as coworkers shunning us, as punishments (even literally as “pain” in our brain). But as long as we have allies who accept and reinforce us, we are less likely to change our behavior.
Perhaps one of the most important discoveries in Social Psychology is that teamwork has a unique power to unite people. It can even overcome well-established racial/ethnic divisions. A recent study found that a multicultural soccer league in Iraq made inroads at reducing animosity between Muslims and Christians when they were united together as a team.
Teamwork creates allies, and once someone is your ally, other differences don’t seem quite as important. However, the opposite is true as well. Competition can breed division and mistrust. So as much as teambuilding interventions are mocked, the research says they work.
The path to building a more inclusive workplace
Change is not easy, but it’s also not that complicated. However, it is critical to define the vision of what the company is working towards is key. That’s the role of leadership. Leadership sets the tone, not just in a memo or press release, but by spreading work throughout the organization that this is real.