How can business leaders overcome the obstacles of creating an inclusive workplace?
It’s encouraging to learn about more and more high profile companies make the commitment to a more inclusive work environment. Thanks to business leaders like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, the corporate responsibility bar has been raised significantly over the last decade. But it’s not easy to transform organizational culture. The biggest challenge companies face is dispelling the myths concerning outrageous cost. Some studies show the cost of accommodations for a new employee with challenges is, on average, only $500.)
So how can business leaders get buy-in from their management teams and create an inclusive work environment?
In sales training you learn a lot of trite sayings meant to get your pumped and ready for a sales session. Personally, I find them annoying. But I have found one I believe is 100% true: “Facts tell, stories sell.” People buy in to a product or ideology based on emotions. They claim their decision was based on facts, numbers, and logic. But those are really just excuses to justify an emotional decision. So, using that as a basis, the best way to affect a transformation in corporate culture is to tap into the power of emotions. And the best way to tap into those emotions is through the use of stories that connect emotionally on a very base level.
(If you want to witness the power of stories and photographs I suggest you visit www.storiesofautism.com and take a look at some of the entries.)
In the effort to make that emotional connection most businesses find existing case studies and stock imagery to use in their educational campaigns. They’re widely available and licensing for distribution is relatively inexpensive. They distribute these in a series of emails, consider their job done, and hope for the best, generally seeing short term gains that decrease until all that hard work is forgotten. But the organizations that are truly successful in transforming their culture take it a step further.
A Formula for success
A majority of my corporate clients hire me to create images to accompany stories of their own employees who have overcome any number of challenges to become a successful part of the organization. When there is that kind of direct connection to someone people either know or recognize from another hallway, the positive effectiveness of the campaign is exponentially higher. Like the kind of companies I referred to above, their stories and photos are featured in internal newsletters, on posters displayed in common areas, included in digital signage, and any other number of creative ways.
But once their initial goals are met, these companies don’t just pull up stakes and move on. They continue their educational program with regular updates. They continue to feature their current employees and publish hiring and promotion metrics that show they are transforming to a much more socially conscious organization. (HR should also hold management teams accountable to reporting on progress on a quarterly or semi-annually basis.) Some companies even institute a recognition program for teams and individuals who have shown exceptional leadership the efforts to create a more inclusive workplace. On the outside that may seem like a very soft ROI. But an employee base that is recognized is often more collaborative and productive.
Speaking of ROI, there’s one more point that should be considered. Businesses should share their inclusion successes with its industry, community and client base through press releases, marketing, and in especially in their online presence. Whether it’s global or local, this work has the potential to increase brand awareness, loyalty, can clear a path to a new client base, and establish them as industry leaders in the move to a more inclusive workforce. In the current environment, businesses that excel in their inclusion initiatives are seen as leaders and examples in this cultural transformation. And that can’t be bad for business!
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if your organization is considering a transformation to a more inclusive environment. In addition to creating the photographs for your initiative, I work with a team of experienced inclusion communications experts who can create your program and guide you through every step of the process.