Yes We Can: How to Build a Culture of Inclusion, Tips from the Women and Worth Summit

Issue 180 — October 4, 2021

Humming Alicia Keys’ song “A Woman’s Worth,” I entered the room, only my second in-person event since February, 2020, to join the Women & Worth Summit 2021: Reset. Refresh. Rebuild.

The Summit description says what I believe about the opportunity of disruption, “While the pandemic threw the state of the world into chaos, the globe is finally beginning to reopen, allowing us the chance to reset and rebuild. We can use this momentum to create scalable change and impact.”

It was exciting to see my new book Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take the Lead for (Everyone’s) Good, published by Worth Books, on the registration table as I entered the office. Actually it’s exciting just to enter an office these days but that’s another story.

The hybrid event agenda was packed with the key issues. There were panels on:

✅ How to Create Impact as a Female Leader in Male-Dominated Fields,

✅ The Importance of Investing in the Next Generation,

and the panel I moderated:

✅ Rebuilding With Purpose to Create Inclusive and Equitable Organizations

I was excited to learn from two experts who approach diversity, equity, and inclusion from the wide angle lens of culture.

Andrea Hoffman is a strategist, dealmaker, author and the founder and CEO of Culture Shift Labs a diversity and innovation consultancy. She has consulted with CEOs and a wide range of organizations to drill down into their cultures in order to advance diversity and inclusion. Raeshem Nijhon is the founder of Culture House — a Black, brown, and women-owned production company that produces entertainment forward work at the intersection of pop and politics. Raeshem launched the Culture House Consultancy, a resource for networks and studios to engage with experts across issues like race, gender, mental health and socio-economic diversity that require nuance and knowledge when being addressed through entertainment and media.

We dived right into the topic, starting with the idea that gender and racial justice and equality must go forward together or neither will succeed. According to research, the pandemic has set women’s career development back 10+ years. Women of color in particular lost jobs first because they hold a disproportionate number of lower paid caregiving and frontline jobs. And the pressures of caregiving at home have forced many women to rethink or pause their careers.

So rebuilding with purpose to create inclusive and equitable organizations, always important, has become a core business imperative.

The good thing about the current disruption and its opportunity for reset is that disruption forces boundaries of thinking to become malleable. That allows new ideas to seep into previously rigid systems. I asked both panelists to share how they see using this moment to open minds and accelerate changes.

You can watch the full video of the panel here and read Worth’s blog post about it here. Quoting from the blog:

Hoffman took the opportunity to answer this question with a call to action, saying that an increased amplification of companies who are taking strong steps forward toward creating a more diverse, inclusive and equitable society is necessary to maintain the momentum that we, as a society, have generated…Hoffman recognized the work of Dan Schulman of PayPal, noting that he is approaching his business from a “people, process and profit perspective” and is committed to the mission of equity…Nijhon, who is a changemaker in the entertainment world, took a slightly different perspective, noting that “the images that we create have a deep impact on the cultural script,” and it is therefore important to elevate and popularize movies, TV shows and podcasts that are dedicated to portraying diverse casts and diverse stories.

I noted that “diversity” and “divide” come from same root. If we view diversity as a positive, it becomes a positive. Conversely, if we view diversity as a divide, that’s what it will be. With current heated debates over critical race theory and other pushbacks against diversity efforts, sometimes it feels like we are going backward and forward at the same pace. Yet all data shows that diversity is not only the right thing to do but also results in greater profitability.

Adding to the challenge, a new study from McKinsey found women are up to twice as likely to spend substantial time on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts that aren’t part of their formal job duties (like organizing events and recruiting from underrepresented groups), but that work is often overlooked. Nearly 70% of companies say DEI is critical, but less than a quarter of firms factor such work into formal performance evaluations.

Quoting again from Worth’s rendition, we quickly moved to solutions:

One of the ways that Nijhon has been implementing tangible steps toward DEI at Culture House is to emphasize the importance of leniency and understanding. She explained how she encourages each of her employees to sit down and make a private list — a list of all the ways they have benefited from certain privileges in their lives. “There are so many things in life that give us privilege, it’s not just race and it’s not just class.”

Oftentimes, profitability and DEI efforts are not considered to have the potential to mutually benefit one another. Adding onto Nijhon’s point about encouraging a more inclusive mindset in leaders, Hoffman pointed out that utilizing available resources is a way that profitability and inclusivity goals can be aligned. She stressed that “knowledge and network combined drives impact and outcomes for companies.”

Feldt doubled down on this topic of profitability versus inclusion efforts asking how we can create revenue models that can address DEI factors and reward not just numeric goals, but the fact that greater diversity results in greater profits…Nijhon responded by stressing the impact of institutionalized racism, saying that many policies impact the ability for true inclusion at a production level because many small, Black-owned companies that have the insight to inform creative projects — like those that Culture House is committed to creating — run into roadblocks because of financial policies that do not support the needs of small businesses. She emphasized that in order to be able to incorporate the valuable insights of smaller companies, financial policy itself needs to be rewritten to be more inclusive.

We agreed there are specific actions leaders can and should take to create inclusive and equitable organizations. Summarizing, they are:

  1. True commitment from the top is essential.
  2. Focus on solutions. Have the challenging conversations with a view to create solutions, and listen to people throughout the organization for ideas and innovations that can move the dial for underrepresented groups while being sensitive to the marketplace.
  3. Make a measurable plan and use it.
  4. Take the opportunity of disruption to make changes in culture, policies, and processes such as family leave and including fathers in the assumption of caregivers.
  5. Culture change is a long-lead process. Commit to persist and take your victories where they come.

In addition to services you can get from Culture House and Culture Shift Lab to help achieve your DEI goals, Take The Lead offers resources that can help your organization with services from consulting with leadership teams, to workshops for ERG’s and leadership, to full blown annual plans to create a culture of inclusion that benefits everyone. Contact takethelead@taketheleadwomen.com to learn more about our “Creating a Culture of Inclusion” DEI program. We’d love to hear from you and design a custom program that suits your needs.

GLORIA FELDT is the Cofounder and President of Take The Lead, a motivational speaker and expert women’s leadership developer for companies that want to build gender balance, and a bestselling author of five books, most recently Intentioning: Sex, Power, Pandemics, and How Women Will Take The Lead for (Everyone’s) Good. Former President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, she teaches “Women, Power, and Leadership” at Arizona State University and is a frequent media commentator. Learn more at www.gloriafeldt.com and www.taketheleadwomen.com. Tweet Gloria Feldt.

Gloria Feldt is a New York Times bestselling author and co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a nonprofit women’s leadership organization.