I have just returned from a week in New York City, where I experienced first hand the amazing diversity on full display in the city of lights. But even as I was making my way back to Canada on Saturday, bigotry, racism and fascism was rearing its ugly head in Virginia, culminating in the loss of life and violence.

 By Monday morning, Corporate America was already fully entrenched in the debate that has gripped the nation and the world for a while now – how much are we willing to do to maintain and protect the diversity that make us what and who we are? Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier’s public resignation from the President’s Business Council, saying in a statement, “As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.”

 This was not merely political point-scoring but a rebuke to many leaders’ soft response to extreme bigotry and in particular the President. When you start tolerating having Nazis, Swastikas and acts of violence on your main streets, how much more are you willing to overlook? Daily, across the corporate world, there is an assault on diversity and inclusion efforts that many leaders simply stand by and let it happen, even as it weakens their organisations’ competitiveness in the marketplace. Yes, there is a real cost to neglecting diversity and inclusion efforts for your organisation. The costs vary from limited competitiveness in the marketplace, to poor image and perception among your customer base which all affect your bottom line. One company measured the impact of not creating an inclusive culture to the tune of millions annually on retention alone.

 So, it seems that time has indeed come for leaders to stop paying lip service to diversity and inclusion and take action, no matter how unpopular it might seem. The status quo is not the solution. Companies continue to spend millions every year in attracting and employing diverse talent but rarely do the work of Creating An Inclusive Culture for diversity to thrive and deliver its true potential. By now we all know that diversity alone is not enough. Actually, diversity without inclusion can actual harm an organisation, because simply putting diverse people together without the requisite skills to leverage on that diversity is counter-productive.

 Smart organisations are now leveraging on their diversity by putting plans and systems in place to Create Inclusive Culture in their workplaces. My team and I have been working with multinational companies across the world on this very issue. Before my trip to New York, I spent a week in the beautiful city of Windhoek in Namibia, Africa working with an insurance company on Creating An Inclusive Culture. A few weeks before that I was in Accra Ghana, Africa working with another multinational company on the same topic. I am scheduled to work with other organisations here in Canada as well as Michigan and California in the weeks and months ahead

Creating An Inclusive Culture is about ACTION

The program that we delivered in Namibia is “Creating An Inclusive Culture” and is typically facilitated by two of us from our team. We took an entire company through the condensed one day engagements on consecutive days. For five days we had one day sessions that were compulsory for the whole company from the CEO to the Janitor with people coming from across the country and departments. The engaging session provides everyone in the company a practical experience of not only understanding what diversity and inclusion is about but to see it in action. On day two, we had the CEO and the Janitor at the same table as their learned and frankly discussed how the company was doing on diversity and how it can improve. The result is always amazing as people in the organisation are engaging their heads, hearts and hands in making their organisation more inclusive.

By investing on creating a strategy for inclusion in your workplace creates a culture where people of differing backgrounds, cultures, personalities and orientations can feel completely engaged and at home in your company.

 Companies that are really serious about reaping the benefits of inclusive culture in their workplaces understand that it will require more than just saying and believing the right things. Creating an inclusive culture calls on organisational and team leaders to take decisive action to make diversity work. It also calls for us to put our money where our mouth is on this issue. If you do not budget it into your organisational development plan it’s simply not going to happen automatically.

 Some often question the value of this work, saying how do we justify the time and money spent on these programmes until they realise how much inaction actually costs them. Consider an organisation that spend 3-5 Million dollars a year on recruiting new talent and has to keep doing the same every year because they cannot retain them. The issue is not with the talent but with the culture of the organisation. By investing on creating a strategy for inclusion in your workplace creates a culture where people of differing backgrounds, cultures, personalities and orientations can feel completely engaged and at home in your company. This is what inclusion does it deals with biases, bigotry and exclusionary practices that otherwise would go unchallenged but in the process opens a door to great possibilities.

 I truly love the work that we do as it helps real people to stop fearing diversity but embrace it with enthusiasm. In most of the sessions we run, we often hear people say “This is going to completely change the way that I work with my team, from dealing with introverts to engaging different cultures on our team!” This always leads to real initiatives and changed policies that transforms teams and organisations.

“Diversity is being invited to the party, but Inclusion is being invited to dance.”

 When you take action to Create An Inclusive Culture instead of just talking about its importance, you change the direction and the potential of your organisation. People working in diverse environments often stumble not because they are inherently bad and hate working with people that are different from them, but because they are not equipped to do so. When you don’t equip people to think, speak and act inclusively don’t be surprised when they don’t. As the famous saying on inclusion goes “Diversity is being invited to the party, but inclusion is being invited to dance.” It’s time more people get invited to dance across our organisations so we can truly reap the potential that each individual brings.

Are you ready to take action?

Buhle Dlamini and Quinton Pretorius facilitate powerful sessions that help organisations to Create An Inclusive Culture. The team includes a variety of experts in D&I field like Seth Naicker, Ed Ramsami, Chantel Segolela, Olefile Masangane and many more. Visit www.youngable.com or www.mindgro.ca to learn more.