Organizations are sometimes big, unwieldy things, filled with people. Occasionally, these organizations can find themselves grappling with large-scale social forces whose impacts can affect how their people interact with one another. MIT Sloan, investigating how best to support a diverse group of colleagues, gathered educators, staff, and others to learn more about improving operations using research-based tools and inclusive strategies. One of the tools, its Open+Inclusive program, has shown promise.
Open+Inclusive (O+I), a series of four 90-minute sessions delivered in a small-group format, examines how to change a workplace’s climate by coupling individual behavioral change with measurable cultural change. It aims to uncover impediments to what research calls “conscious inclusion” - identifying and reckoning with demographic and cultural differences that can produce and sustain systemic inequality - and argues that a poor workplace climate is a systemic challenge that demands systemic solutions.
O+I groups participants using a cohort model, offering opportunities to collectively share experiences and investigate outcomes. Each cohort is asked to complete a series of post-session assignments meant to reinforce each of the lessons and associated goals for each session. Resources are available to help participants understand things like the curse of knowledge and how multicultural experiences can make more effective leaders.
O+I participants, through a combination of theoretical and practical exercises, can discover how a workplace that values and practices conscious inclusion is likely, by definition, more diverse and equitable and can produce better organizational outcomes. These exercises include an examination of participants’ business and personal networks, a theoretical hiring exercise to determine how group dynamics can shape decisions, and how biases can affect both how we shape our networks and the accompanying interactions.
MIT Sloan is investigating the effectiveness of O+I, researching knowledge retention among the more than two-thirds of its staff that have completed the course to date. This helps facilitators, program leads, and senior leadership learn more about whether participants are understanding the tools and strategies presented. So far, participants have demonstrated an in-depth knowledge of the importance of inclusive frameworks, celebrated the tools the sessions offer for diversifying their networks, and begun incorporating “conscious inclusion” into meetings and other network-driven interactions.
Commitment to and creating support for building and sustaining diverse, equitable, and inclusive spaces can be challenging. Some organizations’ cultures aren’t designed to offer spaces in which DEI can flourish or otherwise don’t know where to begin. If you’re interested in developing a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive workplace, here are four ways to approach the process:
1. Ensure Organizational Communications ARE Diverse, Equitable, and Inclusive
Research is teaching us that diverse populations within organizations can produce better outcomes, improve efficiency, and strengthen relationships among colleagues. Similarly, it’s important to organize operations (like communications) in such a way that DEI is built into processes rather than treating it as a separate area of concern.
Shelly Willingham, Vice President of Business Strategy at The Diversity Movement, notes that DEI efforts are global efforts. Audiences expect the institutions and organizations they support to operate in ways that demonstrate their values. Audiences have shown they’ll engage with brands if the brands’ values are evident in their operations. If an organization believes in and, through its actions, demonstrates its commitment to DEI, its marketing, communications, human resources, and other institutional and organizational processes will reflect that commitment.
2. Design to Delight Your Audiences
The human brain is fascinating! We’ve learned quite a bit about how brains organize information and how humans respond to or engage with the world. All kinds of people from all kinds of backgrounds respond to certain kinds of stimuli.
Andres Zapata, Founder and Executive Vice President of marketing agency IDfive, has described neurodesign as “an emerging field of design practice that accounts for how our brains are wired to create designs that promote simplicity, emote joy, and drive action.” As with O+I, there’s scientific support for “conscious inclusion” as part of an effective organizational communications and design strategy. DEI is built into IDfive’s design philosophy. Zapata recommends the following when developing digital communications:
Only present information related to the task
Use images of human faces to direct attention and elicit emotion
Use brightness to convey relevance
Group data to establish relationships between elements
Use movement to draw users’ attention
3. People Make Great Brand Ambassadors
Organizations whose representatives are engaged and have an ownership stake in outcomes, who understand how their roles influence those outcomes, and who feel heard, may hold positive opinions about those organizations. Moreover, they may share those opinions with other people, which could impact both public perception and revenue. Creating and sustaining inclusive spaces can lead to cheerful feelings and a sense of belonging among internal and external audiences. Studies show customers are more likely to act on word-of-mouth recommendations from trusted friends or family members, including folks who work at the kinds of organizations described here.
Boost your bottom line by building an environment in which people are likely to think and act in ways that align with inclusive values and build an organization in which these values are shown, not just said. For instance, O+I models behaviors organizations can design and implement to ensure diverse workplaces are an effective way to do business, inviting partners from across all levels of the organization. These folks’ skills and abilities, coupled with the diversity of their experiences, can yield more insights into everything from audience composition to design improvements. Ensuring their inclusion when making decisions demonstrates you value their input, increasing the likelihood they’ll value you and, by extension, the organization.
4. Prioritize Geography and Its Appeal to Audiences
The places where folks inside and outside organizations are interacting can sometimes be as important as why. Engagement can be physical, digital, or emotional, but it happens somewhere. Take care to imagine the kinds of people who’ll visit your spaces, the support they might need to enjoy and appreciate the time they’ll spend there, and how organizing for all kinds of audiences might lead to improved outcomes and engagement.
Designing accessible spaces regardless of where they are requires input from all types of people, so invite their participation when you’re building the place where they’ll share space. MIT Sloan unveiled a redesigned lobby wall that features accessible, interactive touch screens and other features meant to ensure people with all kinds of abilities can engage with the content it displays.
DEI is challenging! It can also be rewarding. Prioritizing diverse, equitable, and inclusive communications and design while also creating spaces in which people are supported and empowered can lead to improved engagement and outcomes. "This work demands consistency and collaboration and can be challenging," said Bryan Thomas, Assistant Dean, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. "However, patience and partnership can yield amazing results for organizations." DEI that doesn’t draw attention to itself and incorporates “conscious inclusion” as a business practice is probably sustainable and can reflect an organization’s commitment to mission-driven, values-based work.
Learn more about MIT Sloan’s research-driven, data-supported approach to DEI.