Why I Invest in Inclusion (and How You Can Too)
By Beth McDonald, President, Wheelhouse Group
One of the first things we as leaders do is decide which key areas we want to invest in within our organizations. We know that where we spend our time and our resources impacts our people, our clients and ultimately our success.
As President of Wheelhouse Group, I knew early on that that I wanted to build an inclusive and welcoming company. Instinctively, I understood that building such a culture would be good for business. And now, 18 years later, I take pride in leading a women-owned business that is majority female and where:
- Over 10% of our workplace identifies as a person with a disability
- Over 16% identified as LGBTQ+ in a staff survey
- Over 25% of our client work is in diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA)
But our company has more work to do, and so do I as a leader. Wheelhouse Group has made a formal commitment to invest in DEIA as a company-wide initiative. I made a personal commitment to learn and build my individual awareness of racial brokenness and systemic injustice so I can recognize and remove additional barriers to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
We are still in the thick of our corporate journey – and recognize it may continue indefinitely. Through this process I have learned many important lessons that might help other leaders who also want to invest in inclusion.
Ten Tips for Investing in Inclusion
- Make the business case and set the vision. Study after study shows that inclusion pays by bringing more innovation, productivity and higher retention rates to teams that promote DEIA. Share this research with your teams.
- Commit realistically to your organization. An investment in DEIA is an investment of time and resources. Create a budget. Talk about what you will need from the rest of your leadership team and agree to roles. Team members who are passionate about DEIA will want you to do more than is realistic, so be sure to gain alignment and long-term commitment for what is doable.
- Create a vision. Our visioning work challenged us to imagine what we, as a bigger and stronger and more diverse organization, want to look like. How much more impactful could we be if we demographically represented more of our constituents? How much more effective could our staff be if they felt fully included? This sparked conversations that inspired our next steps and promoted buy-in.
- Examine your processes. With this vision came the opportunity to standardize processes such as ensuring all documents and deliverables are born accessible or ensuring that our onboarding process was personable and inclusive. This means we had the opportunity to review, and carefully design, processes that are human-centered and make sense—while ensuring a DEIA focus.
- Review the employee lifecycle. Like others, we have been very focused on recruiting diverse candidates and work with partners like Inclusively (check out our recent mention in this Wall Street Journal article). However, we know that that retention and belonging is the bigger challenge. So, we have focused significant time on onboarding, development and mentoring and what we can do in each area to support our employees.
- Engage the team. Following our initial leadership team discussions, every step of the effort since has been collective. We gathered input from all our team members, through surveys and focus groups. We also share updates with the team along the way, through written communications and in our all-team meetings.
- Follow the passion. As we identified roles, for example to lead our newly created DEIA Council, we invited team members to volunteer to take the lead. This encouraged the passions and interests of our team members. We also encouraged employee-led, grassroots efforts to create a safe space for informal conversation about race and inequity during our listen, watch and read clubs.
- Gather data. As part of our process we also looked outside, doing some benchmarking with organizations we admire. The data helped us see areas of improvement as well as our strengths. For example, ten percent of the Wheelhouse team has indicated that they have a disability. This is triple the national self-identification average and is indicative of a feeling of belonging and a culture of trust in our organization.
- Engage the experts and yourself. There are many experts in this field, and it is okay to ask for help. Even though we do work in this area, we engaged outside consultants to shed new light, avoid bias and facilitate learning. We as leaders also need to do our own personal work. Throughout the process I took the time to learn, listen and become aware of what people are experiencing so I could help remove barriers and break systemic hurdles.
- Keep momentum. In some ways, the easy part is the design phase. To keep momentum over time, ensure there are multiple touchpoints to keep DEIA on the radar. Carve out time in regularly established meetings for updates and conversations. Hold yourself accountable!
Finally, I have learned that it is important to always keep our eyes on the bigger picture. Our individual effort within the organizations we lead are part of a larger societal movement that is growing and evolving. In June 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce, which we have used to inform our own work. Together, we can all do our part to stand in support of social justice and inclusion while growing strong and healthy businesses.