Building Trust in a Diverse Culture

Joe Weinlick
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Diversity goals get lost in corporate politics when employers only focus on creating the appearance of an inclusive workplace, instead of strengthening team relationships. Diversity goals are about building an attentive and compassionate workforce, which only happens when employees trust one another to be kind, fair and open-minded. Navigate the hurdles of a diverse culture by modeling positive behavior and values from the top down.

Assessing Patterns of Leadership

When confronted with change, many employers and workers see diversity goals as an opposition to their comfortable business model. The core purpose of diversity and inclusion is to create a productive environment where employees respect and support each other, even when they disagree. A workplace built on trust, transparency and equitable relationships is beneficial to everyone and promotes a healthy organization with a strong internal talent pipeline.

If your organization is completely opposed to diversity, it may be a sign of broader cultural issues. Do employees feel comfortable presenting new ideas or dissenting opinions? Do senior executives listen to feedback and try to implement positive changes? Are employees frequently in conflict with company values and expectations? Are rudeness, poor communication and bullying behavior everyday norms? Distrust infects the entire workplace when employees can't count on company leaders to treat everyone fairly and resolve ongoing problems.

Defining Diversity Goals Through Cultural Ethics

Diversity grows naturally in inclusive workplaces that embrace different perspectives and empower employees across the board. To get reluctant managers and employees on board, address fears that diversity goals are an attack on traditional values. Openly discuss how employees want to be treated and define the behavior and work ethic you expect from the workforce. Use these common pillars of trust as a guide:

Respect: Make it clear that bullying, gossiping and name-calling are unacceptable, and hold employees accountable for negative behavior, regardless of their role or status.

Integrity: Show willingness to protect the interests of all employees, rather than valuing some groups over others. Implement policies that support wellness and productivity, such as non-gender-specific parental leave and flexible work schedules.

Competence: Promote people with the skills, self-awareness and influence to lead by example. Employees take cues from leaders, and they often mirror bad behavior from weak, biased or incompetent managers.

Transparency: Encourage leaders to keep employees in the loop about important decisions and be honest if they don't have all the information. Lying destroys trust, while transparency instills confidence that leaders care about providing solutions.

Mindfulness: Urge employees to spend more time listening and learning and less time judging others. Create opportunities for workers to bridge cultural gaps and improve relationships through team-building activities, such as workshops, job shadowing and reverse-mentoring.

Trust grows from a mutual commitment to understanding and caring for others. While it's impossible to accommodate every need, employers get better at achieving diversity goals when they allow workers to talk openly about their experiences and concerns. Make it easy and routine for employees to share fresh opinions and methods, reminding them to be equally considerate and thoughtful towards others who speak up.

Photo courtesy of Sebastiaan ter Burg at


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