Inclusion and diversity in the context of people with ‘unpopular’ views is an an issue I’ve thought a lot about recently, especially in the context of Trump and the same sex marriage plebiscite here in Australia.
At Culture Amp, we believe that to fully embrace being a Culture First company means we have to be truly inclusive and diverse - that includes having people within our organization who have strong perspectives on issues that may not be popular.
The priority is to create a safe space for any conversation
At the heart of what makes a company truly Culture First is that people are allowed to be different. We shouldn’t avoid hiring people who have strong opinions that may be unpopular or don’t agree with the majority of the organization. We can't say we’re a Culture First company if we only want liberal like-minded people that have the same set of ideas.
One of the most valuable things about diversity is being able to share divergent perspectives and learn from them. These are the type of conversations we should be able to have - that’s the type of culture we want to build. If we start excluding or self-selecting people out we lose the value of these divergent perspectives.
To truly embrace diversity we need to help people create a safe space where everybody can be themselves. People should be allowed to have the courage to be vulnerable and talk about what they think and feel. Everyone’s perspective should be respected and have equal validity. This is what means to be truly inclusive.
Creating a safe space means accepting that it’s alright to engage in difficult conversations. In any company there are multiple valid truths that must be allowed to co-exist - you can't force everyone to feel the same way. If someone has a conflicting opinion it’s alright to engage with it. It’s an opportunity to sit down and talk about it and see whether there's something we can learn.
A classic example is when we miss the opportunity to hire someone from a more diverse background into an executive position. Even if that person was the right one for the job, some people may be annoyed that, for example, a woman was not hired into the role as a way to redress gender imbalance. That’s an acceptable perspective and a good starting point for a conversation about gender balance.
Issues arise when someone doesn’t feel safe or comfortable engaging with a topic or expressing their point of view. A red flag goes up the moment conversation stops. If people feel that they’re not allowed to have a point of view or talk about their perspective then diversity stalls. If you want to have a truly diverse company you can’t remove the right to offend. We have to be tolerant of all views - the only thing we shouldn’t be tolerant of is people enforcing their views on others.
It is quite possible for someone to live with a set of principles that they don’t betray, yet still engage with others who may not hold the same beliefs. Vegans, for example, often have close friendships with people who wear animal products or eat meat yet they don’t necessarily force their beliefs upon them. In my experience, most vegans are open to a healthy conversation about their views, without forcing their perspective on others.
Being truly Culture First means that no matter what somebody thinks, that's not the end of the conversation. We should be able to sit down with somebody, talk about our different beliefs and work together. In my experience, if people talk openly for long enough most will eventually find common ground.
The company is not the same as the individuals within it
A company isn’t a democracy - there is no expectation that the view of the company should personally represent every person in the company. Even though there are multiple truths within an organization, the company may choose to publicly support only one of those truths. For example, as a company we would never publicly support something that goes preaches inequality because that is not consistent with being Culture First.
That’s a line that we have to draw as a company but it doesn’t mean that everybody in Culture Amp needs to have the same political persuasion or point of view. We can still have conversations within our company where people are free to express and discuss divergent opinions.
There’s also a difference between what a CEO or senior leader says under the auspices of the company and what they say as an individual. As a CEO I can't speak against the values of our company but I can speak on my own behalf.
Culture First companies need to challenge ourselves to be diverse
Culture Amp, like many Culture First companies, is generally quite liberal-leaning so we do need to challenge ourselves if we truly care about diversity. If we want to create a company that brings out the best in people, that means we need to embrace all sorts of people not just those that look or see the world a certain way.
A truly Culture First company is not one where everybody thinks the same. We need to support people with divergent views and allow those views to exist within the organization. All of our people should feel safe and comfortable to express themselves and engage in conversations about what they believe. That's genuine diversity and it’s at the heart of building a true Culture First company.