Diversity is more than a buzzword – it is an important issue within society and one that all organisations and their leaders should be invested in. At the end of last month I was invited to give the keynote speech at the Chaplain General’s Conference on the topic of diversity and organisational culture and thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a few of the points I touched on in that speech.

It has been said that “organisational culture is not just another piece of the puzzle, it is the puzzle…..Culture is not something an organisation has; culture is something that an organisation is”[1]. This is a view that I firmly share. Having the right organisational culture isn’t just an item on a checklist; it is an essential element in building a strong and resilient organisation.

There are many factors that are important in achieving this but I believe that the following three principles are key:

Organisational culture should be the epicentre from which everything else flows

The culture of an organisation is what makes an organisation – give it the priority it deserves.

Too often the culture of an organisation is only given thought when something has gone wrong. Although steps can be taken to fix it, it is much more difficult to change an entrenched culture than it is to establish the right culture from the outset. The first question that should be asked when starting an organisation or going through a period of transition is “What type of culture do we want this organisation to have?” Once the answer to that question is known any process that comes after will support the development of the right culture.

Embrace diversity

Diversity is not just a “trendy” concept. It is something that is integral to the success of society as a whole. It requires a real commitment to not only realise it in the first instance but to sustain it long-term in a meaningful, rather than tokenistic, way.

Diversity is an important tool in establishing the right organisational culture. This not only applies to the 9 protected characteristics of diversity recognised by the Government (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity) but also the diversity that comes with social mobility.

One of the best ways to achieve a healthy organisational culture is by ensuring the organisation is diverse – after all, what type of culture would it be in reality if there was no one with a different perspective to challenge assumptions, to inject new ideas or to question the status quo?

Check your unconscious bias at the door

Unconscious bias is one of the biggest barriers preventing organisations from truly achieving diversity. We all have bias and there are valid and necessary biological and psychological reasons for this.  However, when those in a position of authority don’t check their bias, it can lead to the development of an unhealthy culture.  When people appoint in their own image or develop policies that only address the needs of particular groups to the exclusion of others due to lack of knowledge or awareness, unconscious bias then has a significant and damaging impact on the experience of others.

 

Of course there are many more factors that I have not touched on in this brief blog. Ensuring that an organisation has the right culture is not a one off exercise – it is an ongoing process. Ensuring diversity within the organisation is part of that process and initiatives that seek to increase or promote diversity are themselves culture change initiatives. These are issues that should be discussed openly and often at all levels in order to maintain or establish the right culture within an organisation.

[1] Paconowsky and O’Donnell-Trujillo 1981 p126