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Many companies with a goal of building a culture of inclusion to attract and retain diverse talent wonder why their efforts fail to produce their desired results. The key to achieving sustainable outcomes is to consider each decision in your diversity and inclusion strategic planning process from an inclusive lens before taking action. Adopting a problem-solving methodology that integrates diversity and inclusion principles with design thinking can help.
An inclusive culture results in belonging, the feeling of acceptance, security and support – what everyone wants in a workplace. When you belong, you feel like an important member of the group and that you can express your opinions without fear. Research shows a virtuous cycle that occurs when there’s belonging in a workplace.
Fostering a culture of inclusion requires leaders to acknowledge their blind spots and biases and replace assumptions with empathy and understanding. Similarly, designing strategies that more effectively drive a culture of inclusion requires intentionally considering diverse perspectives before making decisions about strategy development and program execution. The key is creating a framework to integrate ED&I principles in your organization’s strategy development in a repeatable way.
Enter design thinking.
What’s design thinking?
Design thinking is an approach to problem solving embraced by digital product designers. Design thinking requires having deep empathy and understanding of the customer and uses a process of questioning to challenge assumptions in order to identify innovative solutions not instantly apparent with one’s initial level of understanding.
Design thinking and inclusion principles strongly align. Apply design thinking questioning techniques to approach diversity and inclusion strategic planning in a structured and repeatable way to lead to more meaningful and sustainable results.
How to integrate diversity & inclusion and design thinking
Here’s the questioning process I use with clients who wanted to rethink their diversity recruiting strategy to achieve better results of attracting and retaining qualified people of color into the company:
1. Define the desired outcome. The greater the clarity about what you want to achieve, the easier it will be to create a strategy to enable success. Ask:
- What do you want to achieve?
- Where, when and with whom do you want to achieve this?
- How will you know when you’ve achieved the goal?
- Why is it important?
2. Uncover the root problem. Articulate the biggest problem or obstacle to achieving your desired outcome, then repeatedly ask “why” five times to determine the root cause of a problem.
3. Ideate solutions with empathy. Brainstorm possible solutions to address the root cause of the problem by asking, “what if…?” to generate ideas, concentrating on possibilities, not constraints. Then select one solution to flush out in detail by delineating process steps needed to execute it. Consider how to execute each step to best achieve the desired outcome by putting yourself in other people’s shoes and connecting with how they might think and feel about the solution. For each process step, think about “what wows?” – the approach stakeholders will love, value and appreciate the most.
4. Check assumptions and biases. Consider how your thinking differs from stakeholders. What assumptions have you made? What questions should you ask to validate your ideas? Who can give you needed feedback and how will you get that feedback? You may need to get creative to identify people outside of your current network to provide the diverse perspective you need.
5. Refine the strategy. Redesign your solution based on what you heard from your interviews. Ask:
- What did we learn?
- Based on what we learned, what aspects of our strategy should we keep, stop or modify?