If cross-cultural diversity and inclusion is the “grail” you seek for the way it has been shown to boost productivity, innovation, and even profits, your organization faces multiple challenges.
But no diversity-and-inclusion challenge is more important than building trust. Engagement is impossible without trust—and without engagement, there can be no inclusion! A team of researchers from several universities across two continents—in other words, from multiple different cultures—found there are strong causal linkages between diversity, trust and employee engagement.
Trust, though, must be fostered. Every inclusion expert I’ve ever heard, read, or spoken with agrees that fostering trust is one of the true requisites for achieving diversity and inclusion. But trust doesn’t just happen. You have to earn it.
Here are four clear steps for boosting trust within your organization in order to build the diverse and inclusive workforce that improves business productivity and profits.
1. Build trust with employees. If you’ve committed to inclusion and diversity, the first thing you say or do that is perceived as counter to that can damage the trust you’ve built. That doesn’t mean you should be paralyzed by fear of saying or doing the wrong thing, but it does mean you should think about how your words and actions may be perceived. It also means that you should follow through—visibly and publicly—on any promises you make, especially any that directly relate to diversity and inclusion. For example, don’t say that you value varied perspectives and then don’t allow commentary from someone who disagrees with you in a meeting.
2. Walk the talk. It’s not enough to simply say that you appreciate diversity. Employees must believe that you mean it, and they’ll make that decision based on what they see you do when times are toughest. Be an oak in a storm, not a willow.
3. Trust employees. In many cultures, micromanaging can be a sure-fire engagement killer. If you’re in an egalitarian culture, for example, trust that the people you hired will solve problems and make good decisions and that, if they don’t, they’ll fix their mistakes. Best-selling writer Daniel Pink, who has studied today’s workforce, identified autonomy as a vital motivator. Guess what happens if you jump in at the first sign of trouble and take away the autonomy? Trust withers.
4. Be vulnerable. You’re not perfect; no one is. If you make a mistake, accept responsibility in a way that is appropriate for your culture, and explain how you’ll fix it. If you inadvertently offend someone, apologize. Your team will forgive a lot if they genuinely believe that you are learning and wanting to be inclusive.
5. Cover your bases. Not everyone will be looking at the same things as they decide whether to trust you. People whose primary culture is interpersonal will focus on you as a person—can they trust the relationship? How much effort do you invest in knowing them as people and making it clear you are worthy of their trust? In contrast, people from transaction-dominant cultures will focus on process, rules (and whether they are applied fairly), and follow-through. (See The Relationship Dimension: A Fundamental Building Block Of Cross-Cultural Awareness.)
Diversity and inclusion may have become a major focus in talent management departments only recently, but it is a proven way to drive better business performance. And trust is its fuel.