Continuing our discussion on diversity and inclusion (D&I), what else can you do to increase your organization's inclusion? The second installment of this two-part article builds off the advice outlined in Part One and suggests additional practices for HR practitioners seeking to improve their inclusion initiatives.

3) Create non-judgmental environments that encourage authenticity from all employees

If we want employees to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and perspectives, leaders need to learn to distinguish facts from opinions or points of view and to create environments that are less judgmental. If voices are silenced, you will not have an inclusive environment that is more agile as a result of varying perspectives. You will also have difficulty holding on to people who feel sidelined or boxed-in. Many factors contribute to an environment where people are authentic; one of these is leaders who can accept feedback non-defensively.

Several years ago, I sat in on a town hall meeting led by a CEO who had privately admitted to feeling that he needed managers and staff to express themselves more authentically in order to avoid needless mishaps and better seize opportunities from diverse voices. He had been practicing and preparing to ask questions to coax more direct and honest feedback on several of the company's projects and he wanted me to sit in on the meeting as an observer. Everything seemed to be going well and participants were warming up to the openness of the meeting, until one young man asked a question that challenged the CEO's view of how a particular program was progressing. The CEO immediately and publically challenged the young man's experience and ability to assess the situation, effectively countering the feedback by discounting the messenger. At that moment, the open door of discourse slammed shut and the next few comments were in the old familiar tow-the-line format.

The CEO, to his credit, realized his mistake and commented on it when we met to talk about this meeting. It took time, but with a little self-discipline, he gradually became the type of leader that supports an authentic environment by not jumping into a defensive stance at the first sound of a critic.

4) Use actions to demonstrate that differences are valued

Look for opportunities to engage the different qualities brought to your teams by employees. Create project teams that are truly diverse--across a number of dimensions--in order to address big challenges and opportunities. Not only will this inject into the effort the innovative and creative potential of diversity, but it will also add to the teams' responsive agility.

One executive I met years ago personally drove a similar strategy by requiring there be at least one dissenting opinion that needed to be considered at every decision making meeting. If he chaired a meeting on an important topic and everyone simply agreed on a decision or course of action, he would say, "We need other people in this room," and ask his assistant to set a follow-up date to continue the discussion when a more diverse set of perspectives could be brought together.

Fix the bucket first

Many years ago, I heard a fellow executive say that you had to bring in diversity before you could create inclusion. At the time, I couldn't put my finger on why that statement did not sit right with me. Now I realize that it is like saying, "We need to catch fish before we fix our buckets."

Today, almost every organization has become more diverse, either through intentional effort or simply because of local changes and economic globalization. The competitive opportunities now lie in how well we leverage this diversity.

For more information on the leading practices that are being used to drive inclusion, consider joining i4cp's Chief Diversity Officer Board. For more information, download the brochure.

Mr. Santana is i4cp’s Chief Diversity Officer Board facilitator and Chair and an established thought leader in the field of D&I; for additional insights, read: 6 Thoughts from Diversity Leader Joe Santana.