Thought for the week

Building an inclusive culture

A summary of the findings from our online event series, The Inclusive Culture.

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At the beginning of lockdown 2020, Serenity in Leadership embarked on a dialogue journey to create a space where D&I professionals could explore what their fellow professionals were doing, and how they were managing the challenges brought about by the pandemic. In just 4 months, we have run 8 online facilitated dialogues. As these have evolved and transformed, they have proven to be enlightening, generative, and at times very challenging. Navigating these challenges and the dynamics of discomfort when facing core issues, the Serenity team have cultivated a safe space for attendees. This has created a sense of community and provided an important opportunity for all of us to learn, grow and ultimately, invoke change both individually and systemically.

Each dialogue is seeded by a set of warm-up exercises and is then allowed to evolve organically as delegates listen to each other. What emerges is a melting pot of anecdotes, practical advice, proactive suggestions and perhaps most importantly, challenges to the status quo. The combination of responses all form part of a route to solving some of the greatest obstacles facing organisations and society today.

In this article, we explore ways to create a more inclusive organisation - starting from helping others to become more aware of their biases so that a greater sense of empathy and understanding emerges when confronted with differences.

How do we help people notice experiences that are different to their own?

Talk it out: When we get people to talk about their own personal experiences, this increases their reliability factor. Why? By drawing on the premise that everyone has experienced some form of exclusion, we can build an empathy bridge and increase the level of understanding of others. Some ways to talk it out are through focus groups, engaging with the population through surveys, or involving observers and external facilitators in the conversation to act as mediators. The most important thing here is to ensure that those who need to hear the conversation are in the room and that everyone has the space to express themselves fully.

Learning Styles: Let’s recognise that people understand and express information in different ways. When we engage with others in their language, be it emotionally, logically, visually, kinaesthetically - we will have a higher chance of coming to a mutual understanding. Another way to help others understand differences is with the use of learning through participation. Activities such as role play, reverse mentoring, storytelling through role models (using true stories and real people to get a point across), windows on the world (“what it's like to be me”) are all ways of interacting with others to achieve a deeper sense of understanding and connection.

Meeting people where they are: How many times have you tried to make a point but were not successful? This often happens when we fail to connect with people in a way that is effective for them. When we allow people the space to be clumsily human and respectfully curious, we help eliminate the fear of getting something wrong as the cause for disengagement. Often shame or guilt can be a barrier to people opening up. Compassion and patience are key when it comes to meeting people where they are at.

What tools can we use for internal reflection to manage biases once identified?

Dialogue with ourselves. Since our own dialogue occurs within us, confronting our deepest thoughts and beliefs allows us to get real with ourselves. We must reflect on our inner world before we can move forward and engage in dialogue with others. This is important in order for change to be sustainable. A few ways in which we can achieve this are through a coach or by asking ourselves difficult questions through journalling. These methods all provide the opportunity to better understand - and therefore manage - our biases through a process of self-reflection.

The role of the facilitator. Facilitators are key in the reflection process. How can facilitators create trust in the room in order to allow the conversation to flow?


  • Create a safe space where there is non-judgement and respect for others
  • Create a space where everyone is accountable for themselves
  • Challenge resistance openly and effectively. There will always be resistance; the role of the facilitator is to find ways to alleviate it.

Whether the facilitator is internal or external will bring about different value, process and outcomes. External facilitators are normally able to bring greater challenge, particularly to those at the head of an organisation.

Organisations must educate themselves and others. How does self-reflection sit within the workplace, given its emotional nature and need for vulnerability? Organisations will need to create a more reflective culture in order to get down to root causes of issues such as discrimination. They can achieve this by creating a learning culture by investing in dialoguing, listening spaces and education that covers all aspects of inclusion.

For more information on how to build an inclusive culture, contact us for support.

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