Driving an inclusive culture in your firm

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While “reimagine” and “what if” are phrases we hear more and more, most of the time we are talking about business processes, meeting new client expectations, or implementing new technologies. What about talent initiatives? Without people, the most critical resource in any firm, how would we make the changes needed to remain competitive? In today’s uncertain, chaotic times where the pace of change is only getting faster, inclusive leadership is the difference between shrinking margins and market opportunity.

As a result of COVID-19, firms shifted operations from physical to virtual locations almost overnight, and we leaped ahead at least three to five years in our ability to embrace change and technology. Business continuity, disaster recovery, risk management, customer relationship management, and cash management dominated boardroom discussions around the country – right along with talent management. And, while we have long appreciated team achievements, even the most flexible work environments have been challenged to support varying scenarios, including barking dogs, kids on laps, and pseudo home offices that also serve as storage rooms. For those colleagues who maintain an invisible but firm line between work and home, we find the lines blurred with responsibilities for work, homeschooling, and eldercare during the same 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours.

With no immediate end in sight to the coronavirus, an inclusive culture is needed now more than ever. An inclusive leader actively considers strategies to inspire and motivate the team through the inevitable tough decisions and new operating priorities – whether in physical or virtual locations. Inclusive leadership is not a one-and-done or one-size-fits-all approach to talent management. Simultaneously serving as a mentor on individual development plans, a coach during implementation of new processes, and a sponsor for career advancement, inclusive leaders actively seek diversity of thought to provide the fatal flaw check on the reimagined path forward.

What if that same leadership approach was evenly applied or perceived across the firm? Tragic incidents over the last few months have magnified the various challenges faced by our Black and African American colleagues. In response, allies and champions have joined the national discussion about racism and unconscious bias. The unified shared value of diversity across race, gender, age, orientation, physical ability, religion, ethnicity, and other areas amplifies the need for an inclusive culture that includes everyone.

While daunting, an inclusive culture is possible, and together, we can make a difference. Diversity of perspective is an untapped strategic advantage for firms of all sizes, and is just what is needed as we ponder what our firms can be in a post-COVID world. Going beyond diversity, inclusion means everyone feels comfortable to speak up and share their ideas. Imagine what would happen if your entire team recognized that our differences represent an amazing kaleidoscope of strengths and more strengths? They would be able to anticipate change, learn new competencies from one another, and seek leadership opportunities. Also, with an inclusive approach, one group would not feel neglected to the benefit of another.

Leaders lead people, and people represent a rich tapestry of differences that matter to the future of the organization. In an inclusive culture, we would all become carpenters to build a bigger table of opportunity and access that lasts beyond the current leader.

An inclusive culture provides the foundation for inclusive leadership, and requires tone at the top, steadfast commitment, a strong sense of purpose, firm-wide accountability, bold initiatives, proactive communication, and courageous training to identify our biases.

While not easy, we all can become more Inclusive leaders and make a difference in the lives of many, even as we better position our firms for continued relevance and growth.


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