For 21st century businesses, creating an inclusive culture isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also one of the best ways to encourage the diversity of thought needed to help drive innovation, increase retention, and enhance quality and performance. A recent study by North Carolina State University backs this up. It found that when companies encourage the promotion and retention of a diverse workforce, innovation flourishes.
I’m proud to say that my firm, KPMG LLP, has long supported diversity in all of its forms, including gender, race, and sexual orientation, but also diversity of thought. We welcome different ideas and viewpoints because we believe that exciting and innovative new ideas can’t emerge when you are only listening to your own voice. They require active cross-pollination that is achieved only through the richness and diversity of multiple perspectives.
This commitment to encouraging open and honest dialogue led to the recent “Day of Understanding” in our local Detroit office and in many KPMG offices across the country.
Last year our chairman and CEO, Lynne Doughtie, became a steering committee member of the CEO Action for Diversity and Inclusion, joining more than 500 business leaders who have pledged to advance diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Inspired by this mission, on Dec. 7, KPMG invited our people across the country to participate in a Day of Understanding to increase understanding of our differences, explore how we can support each other, and continue to drive a culture of inclusion.
This is a particularly timely topic considering some of the recent and tragic acts of violence in the U.S. fueled by anger, hatred, or fear. These incidents affect each of us differently and, while some of us want to talk to our work colleagues about them, others are uncomfortable, having been taught not to discuss hot-button topics. When it comes to race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity, we are especially afraid of saying the wrong thing – yet this fear keeps us from truly knowing and understanding those we work with every day.
What’s needed is to establish an environment in which everyone can feel comfortable and empowered to have those honest and sometimes difficult conversations about who we are as individuals and the value of and strength in our differences. That’s what our Day of Understanding was meant to foster.
Several small group sessions were held in the office in December, and each kicked off with a video featuring a conversation among several KPMG partners and professionals. It was a frank, candid, and refreshing discussion that spanned issues and challenges about the stereotypes they had encountered and still face in their personal and professional lives. After the video, participants shared their own personal stories during small group discussions — discussions that our people told us were the most valuable part of the day. Overall, the feedback was very positive.
It’s important to note however, that these Day of Understanding events aren’t intended to be one-and-done affairs, but springboards for ongoing discussions to foster greater understanding. A key action that we’re taking to keep the conversation going is to start each new client project with a discussion that allows everyone a chance to share their thoughts and bond as a team. Everything we do at KPMG is centered on client teams, and the more we understand each other, the more effective we will be.
Key takeaways for building an inclusive culture
For anyone trying to foster an open and inclusive office culture, I would offer these suggestions:
- Build trust – Create an environment of trust, where all individuals feel comfortable and empowered to have difficult conversations about who they are as individuals, the value of those differences, and how we can support each other in challenging times.
- Measure progress – Track and review various key performance indicators around inclusion and diversity such as talent acquisition, attrition, career progression, and leadership and account team composition. This data can be used to help senior leaders and their direct reports set goals that will help them identify and advance high performers of diverse backgrounds.
- Inspire others to aim high – Don’t be shy about sharing successes. Celebrate differences and communicate the fact that they make us better and stronger.
To succeed in a world of constant change and disruption, we need to reframe how we approach our business relationships and be open to the diverse perspectives and solutions others bring to the table. The more we embrace and celebrate our differences, the more collaborative, innovative, and effective everyone in our organizations will be. And that’s a win-win-win for companies, employees, and customers.
Betsy Meter is the Michigan Managing Partner for KPMG LLP, with offices in Detroit and Grand Rapids.