4 Steps to Creating Your Truly Inclusive Culture

The typical diversity & inclusion conversation can bring up a lot of overwhelm and anxiety. Especially for big-hearted creatives & mission-driven organizations who want to cultivate a more diverse community, but are worried about further alienating historically marginalized people. Right now, our world is in a moment of breakdown around human difference. We see it in the headlines, and we feel it in our guts. It’s time to transform difference from a source of stress and division into a catalyst for connection, collaboration, and collective success. 

Creating a culture that truly nourishes people of all identities is indeed possible. These steps will guide you to amplify your powerful work to a more diverse community and breathe easy knowing your platform is speaking authentically to the people you want to serve.

 

1. Recognize call-outs as opportunities for connection. 

When someone posts a critical comment or tells you your words were offensive, it’s easy to get defensive and push back. However, to build a culture where everyone can thrive, we need to reframe how we perceive negative feedback. Humans don’t often take the time to express our truth to others unless some part of us cares about them understanding us. Being shown uncomfortable things is a gift in service of our collective healing and evolution. Show the same investment in the connection by showing up to learn and repair together. 

Action Step: Practice responding to call-outs with grace, compassion, and integrity. Pick your go-to phrases. Some options: “Thank you for letting me know how my words impacted you. We’re committed to building a community where everyone feels welcome.” “I hear what you’re saying and I will shift my words in the future.” “One of our values is ongoing learning, and this is a great example. Thank you for taking the time to educate us so that we can better serve you.” 

“The role of the artist is exactly the same as the role of the lover. If I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see.” – James Baldwin

 

2. Heal yourself to heal the world.

We are affected by how we treat other people just as much as we are affected by how they treat us. Your work starts with you – owning your story, and releasing the blocks that stand between you and truly recognizing yourself in another. Regardless of your identities, you live in a world that still reinforces fear and disconnection over love and understanding.

Our social autopilot reinforces the idea that connecting with people from different backgrounds puts us at risk in some way. For those of us (read: all of us!) who have felt minimized or unsafe because of who we are, leaning into greater discomfort can feel scary. So, the call to collective healing starts with self-love. The more we connect with our own sense of humanity, the more we can extend that to others.

Action Step: Take some time to do a meditation on welcoming safety and releasing fear. The more you cultivate a feeling of security within yourself, the more you will be able to welcome others into your world. You are safe, you are resilient, you are here to thrive and make space for others do the same. This meditation is one of my favorites: https://bit.ly/2GpCy9s.

“The two of the great lessons humanity will learn in the 21st century will be: to harm another is to harm oneself; when you heal yourself, you heal the world.” – Yung Pueblo


3. Cultivate deeper trust in others’ experiences. 

Understanding the experiences of historically marginalized people can be hard for folks with more centered identities. When certain institutions were built with your needs and perspectives in mind, it can feel like that’s just the way things are. And our world is still built to reinforce a status quo that values some experiences over others (men over women, straight people over queer people, white people over black people, etc). It takes courage for marginalized people to express their needs and struggles, and these experiences should be honored and acted upon. 

Connecting with people of different backgrounds does not mean giving up what makes you you. It simply means bringing awareness to your reactions and striving to communicate with care. Creating space between our reactions and our responses makes more room for nuance, truth, and our own peace of mind. Everyone’s story matters, and we can’t possibly see the whole picture right away. 

Action Step: As it arises, notice the instinct, however subtle, to not believe someone when they share their experience with you. What old belief or hurt is standing in the way of you honoring their truth? Is it an autopilot belief that someone with their identity might be prone to exaggerate? It is a fear of how it might feel to acknowledge that their experience (of marginalization, of invisibility) is still possible in the world? Is it the pain of never having others fully trust you? Say to yourself: In the spirit of a healthier life for myself and others, I am willing to see this differently. I invite a new perspective. 

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson


4. Use your work to repair generational imbalances. 

After centuries of harm and exclusion, we are in a phase of reworking all of our institutions and social structures to be truly accessible to and supportive of all people. We are all called to participate in that process. Consider how your work can participate in shifting the status quo, in uplifting marginalized voices, in giving all people the opportunity to thrive and achieve their creative potential. This looks different for every organization and individual. 

If you are a white person working in a field whose knowledge base comes from people of color (i.e. yoga teachers, reiki practitioners, etc.), you may choose to donate 10% of your profits to an organization that cares for the living descendants of your teachers. You may choose to list an “accountability statement” on your website, in which you acknowledge the origin of your work and the steps you take to honor its history. You may choose to overhaul your recruitment practices to more explicitly seek out talent from more diverse backgrounds. You may choose to do a more comprehensive audit of your company’s brand guidelines, to ensure that your language welcomes rather than alienates. Taking action in this way meaningfully contributes to building a new world and sends a strong message to your community. 

Action Step: What does it look like for your work to be in alignment with collective healing? What action will you take to demonstrate your commitment to shifting our institutions from exclusion to inclusion? Commit to taking one step forward this week. 

“Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.” – Don Miguel Ruiz

 

What steps are you taking to make your organization or community a place where people of all identities can thrive? Comment below or share your latest action step on Twitter or Instagram and tag me @aaronxrose!

Want to learn more about consciously designing inclusive cultures and leading a diverse team with integrity and confidence? Download my full 10 Steps to Inclusive Culture Design guide here.