Conversations and Connections Can Shape a Welcoming Workplace

Written by Jennifer Yi-Boyer, Chief Talent Officer at ACT

In the 24 years I’ve worked in the corporate world I’ve both built and experienced literally hundreds of leadership, inclusion and cultural development programs around the globe. These programs often highlighted culture change, communication and empowerment – it didn’t matter if the organization was comprised of 280,000 team members or 800. It ranged from hospitality, financial services, manufacturing, and education to nonprofit work. I evaluated and participated in countless online trainings about diversity and compliance. I’ve mentored others inside and outside my organizations in formal programs to advance diversity in leadership and been the recipient of others’ expertise. I’ve been a panelist and honoree for women’s associations and architected minority intern programs and affinity groups.

What I’ve learned being on both sides of the table in these situations is that inclusion behaviors in an organization have little to do with any of these formal programs.

The best inclusion-based cultures were organic and unscripted. They were felt. They were heard. They were authentic and based in experiential learning thoughtfully aligned to positive consequences.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no hope for programming or training to have an impact. In fact, these activities are necessary and appropriate cues for leaders and teams to know when and how to recognize bias and where to start the journey toward shaping a welcoming workplace. The stall occurs when we check the box and end there.

Countless studies tell us that behavior choices – like being more inclusive and welcoming of diversity in the workplace – are motivated primarily through the consequences that result when we engage in these behaviors. Specifically, consequences that are in the moment and consistently positive. So, how do you accomplish this when changing culture and behavior is a long-term effort? Well, you intentionally create a radar and space for celebrating the moments.

At ACT we are focused on experiences where we can celebrate inclusion behaviors in the context of learning moments. We’ve found that safety and absence of judgment in the forum is critical to this process. These interactions are not crafted for a cast of thousands, to check a box or for public consumption. We focus on leveraging an open-to-outcomes model with the goal of accomplishing only three things: conversation, connection, and continuation. This is what fuels community engagement.

While daily work collaborations are filled with chances to reinforce these behaviors, one of our most successful initiatives at ACT is the Women@Work Series. Session topics are seeded by real issues that we are tackling in ACT’s work environment today – unconscious bias, communication challenges, work-life choices, and ally-ship. While materials accompanying the session include facts and tactics for improving our environment and selves, the forum is designed to spark conversation between participants and level the playing field with leaders. Connections made through experiences are positively reinforced, and advice about constructively continuing the conversation creates momentum. We conduct sessions with a casual lunch and create a comfortable and safe atmosphere for 15-20 participants. While the series this year is focused on women, men also attend. Next year we’ll focus on generational opportunities. Our goal is to use these levers – conversation,

connection and continuation – to nurture membership in ACT’s community. There’s no question or concern that is off the table. We have a dialogue where we share and learn from each other in a rich discussion about experiences, perspectives and life lessons. We facilitate from a perspective of humility and a growth mindset. We invite reflection, dissention and feedback. Defensiveness is checked at the door – no matter your level in the organization. It’s just one example of how we’re doing inclusion at ACT every day.