Organizational Culture

How to Create Cultures of Diversity and Inclusion

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"Include Is a Verb: Moving from Talk to Action on Diversity and Inclusion"

This new white paper in Elizabeth Weaver Engel’s series, co-authored by Elizabeth and Sherry Marts, looks at the issues of diversity and inclusion with a new twist—the conversion of intent into action. You can now download this free paper here.  

The Premise

The authors open with an imaginary association, GMA, facing a very real and common challenge for association leaders: a mismatch between the organization and its changing constituents.Despite the increasing diversity of people entering the profession and joining GMA in the past 20 years, her organization’s image and culture had not kept up.

In the course of 5 years, its new CEO succeeds in achieving alignment and creating a diverse and inclusive culture, only after realizing that “simply adding a few women, people of color, and LGBTQ people to the staff” would not bring about change unless they “committed to creating a culture of inclusion.

How to go beyond tokenism to achieve a true cultural re-orientation is what this paper deals with.


 “…It is intended for association leaders who “get it” and have the best intentions…”but who struggle to align their walk with their talk by setting up processes and procedures that create the culture change required to turn beautiful D+I statements into effective action.”

The Challenge for Leaders

As the title of the paper implies, beautiful words or noble intent do not translate into action.This is why, even after investing in things like, setting up diversity committees, allocating funds for special scholarships and minority awards programs or hiring a “diversity officer,” associations are dismayed when a few years later realize that: “…the demographic makeup of the membership and the larger profession has not really changed” and “the ‘diverse’ people are all segregated into the diversity committee, and minorities win the minority awards but not the “regular” association awards.”

The authors’ conclusion is that “beautiful statements and a handful of ghettoized programs don’t fundamentally change behavior.” The paper lays out a concrete path for anchoring change in a new culture of inclusion.  Below are highlights of the “how:”

1. Frame intent in terms of action

For some reason, we all share the irrational assumption that, if we conceive a great vision, come up with a plan and commit them all to paper, our work is done. The rest will somehow fall into place automatically. This fallacy dooms execution.

To convert words into action, Marts and Engel advise us to begin by avoiding abstract statements and backing up ideas with concrete steps– shifting from nouns to verbs.


Understand that “We value diversity” is not actionable.“We will create a leadership development program and fund ten people from underrepresented groups to participate in it in the first year increasing that to 20 people participating by year five” is.
Likewise, “We promote access” is not actionable. “This year, we will require that half of the breakout sessions at our conference include at least one speaker from underrepresented groups, increasing to 80% of sessions by year five” is.  

The authors propose beginning by asking 4 questions that are necessary for strategic success:

  1. Where are we now?
  2. Where do we want to go?
  3. How will we get there?
  4. How will we know if we’ve arrived? 
2. Understand that “Diversity” is Hollow Without Inclusion 

Marts and Engel make an important and useful distinction between diversity and inclusion.  They define “diversity” in more quantitative terms, as in looking at the composition of your “membership, board, committee leadership, or staff to judge its diversity.” Inclusion, however, is active, requiring the establishment of a two-way relationship and implying true engagement.

The former can be measured by numbers and categories; the latter is rooted in culture and practices.

The authors demonstrate convincingly how boards or organizations may be “diverse without being inclusive” and guide you through cases and concrete steps on a journey of culture change and a path toward both diversity and inclusion.

3. Rethink the Way you Manage Relationships & Work

Marts and Engel don’t employ trite formulas or repeat familiar conclusions.They allude to the larger social and economic dimensions of the issue and show that the lack of diversity and inclusion is a component of a larger type of “disconnect” in many organizations today; a disconnect between assumptions and practices designed for a different era and the reality of consumers’ expectations and values today:

“Applying Industrial Age rules to knowledge work is nonsensical and reduces productivity, employee engagement, and retention of your best employees.”

They broaden the concept of a culture of inclusion to propose building human-centered organizations.

“…rethinking how work is managed, how results are defined and measured, and how employees are evaluated, it leads to increased productivity, satisfaction, and retention. It also removes the stigma of taking advantage of “special” arrangements that stymies careers.”

4. Fasten your Seatbelt: Remember that this is a longterm process and the change that most matters involves just one person

If you are worried about massive, immediate change, you will find comfort in the author’s closing story of an man who started life with the ambition to change the world and arrived at the truth at old age.

By the time he’s an old man, he realizes a great truth:

“that the only thing he can change, the only thing he can control, is himself, but that when you change yourself, that impacts the people around you, and the people around them, and through that, you can change your nation and the world.”

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