How Your Unwritten Rules are Harming Your Inclusive Culture


Many organizations, though trying hard to implement strategic diversity and inclusion initiatives, are failing miserably. Yes, your diversity numbers and affirmative action stats may be up. They may even be better than your peers.

Bravo, HR Team. Bravo. Yet, according to a recent Harvard Business Review study, 61 percent of workers “said they had faced overt or implicit pressure” to hide some aspect of themselves, and 66 percent of those employees “said it significantly undermined their sense of self.”

What does this tell us? A diverse workplace population does not necessarily translate to an inclusive culture or an environment where this diverse group of people can be themselves. And when a group can’t bring their unique experiences and skills to a problem, there dies creativity.

As a leadership team, you will have a hard time identifying the nuances in a company culture you have built over the past years or decades. Though this groupthink is easy for a new hire to pick up on, even the most vigilant employees will eventually succumb to these conventions. Over time, they, too, start to conform.

If you are serious about an inclusive culture, ask yourself and your employees the following questions:

  • Is it safe to be unpopular?
  • Are there topics we don’t discuss?
  • Is there a penalty for candor or honesty?
  • Do we share all aspects of our lives?
  • Are some team members ‘off limits’ in terms of healthy debate?

These are your company’s unwritten rules.

As you root out your unwritten rules, make sure to replace them with a truly inclusive culture. More than hiring a diverse workforce, inclusivity is “the blending of different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives” and “support for a collaborative environment that values open participation from individuals with different ideas and perspectives.”

This is what your leadership team should focus on in its quest to create real inclusivity – but be prepared for an uphill battle. Each positive action you take adds a small token to the “inclusive and awesome workplace” fund; however, one simple misstep is equivalent to withdrawing 100 tokens from that fund.

Here are several steps you can take to become a more inclusive culture:

  1. Identify your own personal biases. How they are impacting your team’s behavior?
  2. Value honesty, openness, and uniqueness. Do you support these values in all settings?
  3. Evaluate your past hires and your overall hiring practices. Are you looking for someone who will fit into the organization’s mold or do you want someone to challenge your status quo?
  4. Recognize the behaviors that support these values. Do you share these stories openly with the organization?
  5. Hold conversations when you see a misstep. How effective are you at holding a performance and development conversation when there is a counterproductive action?

As a leader, recognize the demands to conform and try to eliminate this set of unwritten rules in your workplace. Most importantly, model these behaviors by being more authentic yourself.

What do your employees think of your company culture? What are the unwritten rules that need rewriting? Survey your employees today to find out how your organization is fairing with workplace diversity and where it needs to improve.

Benefit From a Customized Employee Survey!

Published September 15, 2016 | Written By Megan Maslanka