5 ways to get organisational buy-in for workplace diversity and cultural competence programs


By Grant Hall, Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

My business, League Cultural Diplomacy (LCD), recently announced its workplace diversity and cultural competence training services.

LCD designed these services through international partnerships with some leading experts in the field of cultural intelligence (read more here).

We created these services because there was an obvious demand; everywhere we went, people would ask us about helping their organisation develop the diversity and cultural intelligence (CQ) of its workforce.

Despite the high demand for these services, each of our partnering experts and I regularly come across individuals seeking to improve the diversity and CQ within their workplace but facing ‘push-back’ from within their own organisation against such programs. In the face of push-back, programs are unlikely to be successful or even initiated.

Some people who feel uncomfortable with diversity are bigots, but most simply haven’t spent time with people outside their own familiar cultural group. Whilst few would admit to it, many people feel uncomfortable working with people who have different coloured skin, work approaches, sexual orientation or have disabilities.

I understand this feeling. Growing up in post-White Australia Policy society, there weren’t very many people around me who weren’t white. I started travelling in my early twenties and I can remember how uncomfortable I felt the first time I found myself to be the only white person on a bus in Chicago. Thankfully, through travel, living abroad and working with a diverse range of people I no longer feel such discomfort. What I’ve learned is that people have more in common than they don’t, and we all pretty much want the same things.

As for bigots, well, you don’t want bigots in your workforce – and if a workplace diversity or cultural competence program makes them leave their jobs, so be it. Your workplace will be better for it.

So how do you get “buy-in” from your colleagues regarding diversity or CQ (cultural intelligence) programs and initiatives?

Dale Carnegie suggests in How to Win Friends and Influence People that;

“THERE IS ONLY one way under high heaven to get anybody to do anything… Yes, just one way. And that is by making the other person want to do it”.

 I agree, wholeheartedly.

Highlight the business case

It’s very important to get everyone in your organisation to understand the business case for why diversity and CQ are important. Organisations implement diversity and CQ programs because it attracts better staff from a larger talent pool, increases their client base and aids them in their overseas operations. Other reasons include increased creativity, enhanced communication skills and just because it’s the right thing to do! At LCD, we believe that in a multicultural society it’s important to have a workforce that reflects the community simply to stay relevant in the marketplace. I go into much more detail about the benefits of diversity programs in a post titled Workplace diversity. What, why and how.

Form a Cultural Advisory Team

A good way to get staff on board with diversity/CQ is involving them in the change processes. Form a ‘Cultural Advisory Team’ and invite people to join it. The team itself can then help drive enthusiasm for diversity/CQ programs and manage some, if not all, of the initiatives. I previously served on such a group for an Australian Government Agency and it certainly raised the profile of workplace diversity as an important consideration. The very fact that your organisation has a Cultural Advisory Team reflects good corporate values and can be used to promote your organisation’s commitment to cultural diversity. Don’t forget that high-value potential clients and staff can often be actively seeking companies with diversity/CQ values, so having such a team is worth promoting and can be written about in company documents, social media and blogs.

Use hard data

Another strategy that highlights the importance of diversity/CQ and drives change is through hard data. Client satisfaction surveys are a good way to highlight the need for diversity/CQ and, measure the success of your diversity/CQ programs. Through a simple ‘tick-box’ approach, you could ask customers to provide relevant details about their heritage, first language, disabilities etcetera. This approach is now quite common and people are generally accustomed to it. If the survey is anonymous, its invasiveness can be negated and if you tell participants that the reason why you are asking such questions is because you want to improve your workplace diversity/CQ, they will be quite sympathetic. Also, include a question that relates to the cultural diversity of the staff and to what degree this attracted the customer to engage with your company. Your organisation will initially score low on this account, giving you a hard data argument that supports your desire for an adequate diversity program. Once your diversity/CQ program begins to unfold, this will also give you one measurement of the success of the program. You can also use staff surveys in a similar way, asking questions about openness to diversity and to what degree diversity has improved workplace innovation, for example. Once again, the initial low scores against the question will demonstrate the need for change, and later surveys will demonstrate the positive impacts that the changes have brought about.

A little internet research will reveal other methods of measuring the success of your diversity/CQ program. The results should be included in your organisation’s annual reports which will help enshrine diversity as a core value and provide evidence for its value.

Highlight how workplace diversity/CQ benefits everyone

Where possible, each staff member and department needs to understand how a diversity/CQ program will improve their lives at work. For example; a marketing executive will obtain more PR mileage from a diversity program, an operations manager will find increased efficiencies, the CSR manager will value increased access to different community groups whilst the legal department will welcome reduced legal risk stemming from possible anti-discrimination proceedings.

It’s also worth letting staff know exactly why diversity/CQ programs are “the right thing to do”. Having a diverse and culturally competent workforce benefits the broader community as well as the organisation; helping to develop an inclusive economic and social environment allows more people to prosper and enhances the day-to-day joy that life can bring. Diversity/CQ initiatives often contribute to CSR objectives, filling two needs with one deed.

Get some allies

If you feel like you are a lone voice in the wilderness in your attempts to make diversity/CQ a priority in your workplace, take the time to build support from the people around you, gaining allies so that there are voices other than your own. This is important to prevent your colleagues and superiors getting tired of hearing the same messages from the same solitary voice. Recognise that your organisation will be more likely to respond positively when hearing more than just your one voice speaking up. Having a Cultural Advisory Team, as previously mentioned, is a good example of this, and will certainly help you to get the messages across. Other ways are by quoting from the successes of other organisations, providing articles which add strength to your cause, inviting speakers to your workplace or attending off-site functions which include presentations by experts in workplace diversity.

“The most dangerous phrase in business”, so it’s said, is “we’ve always done it that way”. All around the world, organisations of all types are discovering the multitude of benefits that having a diverse and culturally intelligent workforce can bring. If you would like to learn more about workplace diversity or cultural intelligence, why not contact League Cultural Diplomacy today?


Workplace diversity. What, why and how

LCD’s workplace diversity services

LCD’s cultural competence training services

Posts about cultural intelligence by Grant Hall, Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

Click here for image credits.


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