Break Down the Doors: The Importance of an Inclusive Culture

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A little over a decade ago, I started a new job. I had out kicked my coverage and landed what I considered to be my “dream job.” I was on the corporate ladder and starting from the middle instead of the bottom. The sky was the limit and I had big ambitions walking in the front door on my first day. But that was the last time I walked in through those doors.

I know what you’re thinking, “What happened? Was it not everything you wanted?” It was, for a time, but my tenure on the corporate track isn’t the purpose of this article. I didn’t walk in those doors again because I wasn’t allowed to.

Keep it clean

After walking in the door on my first day, I was greeted by the same smiling receptionist I had gotten to know throughout my interview process. After she called my new supervisor to let him know I had arrived, she looked up at me with a smile and said, “Oh, and tomorrow you’ll come in through the side door. Only executives and guests come in through the front.”

I’m sure surprise and confusion were written across my face. She quickly added, “We like to keep the lobby clean so we limit the traffic through here.”

I nodded. It made sense — for a minute or two. But before I had a chance to really digest what she said, I was escorted back to my new department and shown to my office. The next day, I parked near the west side of the building and walked in with my new coworkers. A ritual I kept up for the four years I worked there.

Message received

The day the receptionist told me not to use the front doors again, I was given a message: “You’re not important.” There I was, a 27 year old woman embarking on the first management role of my career and I wasn’t important enough to walk in the front door. Which made me feel like I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t good enough.

There weren’t very many days when someone didn’t mention feeling slighted or “less than” the folks upstairs because of the front door situation. My colleagues would joke the executives had a Perrier water fountain while we got the flat water. Or their bathrooms had gold fixtures like Trump Tower while ours were stainless steel. Even if someone didn’t mention the front doors specifically, they were always present in frustrated conversations and sarcastic replies. The front doors had such a palpable impact on so many lives and yet, I wonder if those executives who walked in and out of the front doors every day ever knew it was such a big deal.

Developing an inclusive culture

These days, we are hearing a lot about organizational commitment to diversity and inclusion. And while many of us are recruiting a more diverse workforce, the inclusion bit of the equation is often forgotten. After all, creating a culture of respect and appreciation for all employees takes time. And to many executives, inclusion isn’t easily defined. Personally, I like David Juday’s definition:

Diversity is going to a party; Inclusion is being a member of the party-planning committee.

According to SHRM/Economist Intelligence Unit research, when employees who are different from their colleagues are allowed to flourish, the company benefits from their ideas, skills and engagement. The retention rate of those workers also improves.

Think about the culture you want and how you can create one that is authentic to your brand while meeting the needs of your employees. Here are some questions intended to help get the wheels turning:

  • Does leadership understand what “inclusion” means?
  • What messages are you sending to your employees today?
  • Do you have rules or customs that may be sending the wrong message to team members?
  • Have you asked employees how they feel about the company culture, their job, manager or team?

After thinking through these questions, consider whether or not your employees are being asked to plan the party or if they’re just invited to attend.

If an inclusive culture is something you want to focus on and develop, ADVISA can help. Through our model of Data → Insight → Action, we start by collecting data on how your employees are currently feeling at work. Then, we identify insights that help you create action to become a more inclusive company culture. To get started, contact us today.

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Interested in learning more about developing an intentional culture? Read this blog post from ADVISA Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett: “Culture is more than a buzzword in today’s marketplace”.