The true power of inclusive culture

And the real feelings that go along with it

There is a lot of conversation right now about inclusive cultures and the importance of creating them in organisations, but have you ever stopped to think about whether you’ve really experienced one?

What does it really feel like to be part of an inclusive culture?

I recently had cause to think about this in a beautiful city of the world – Stockholm, Sweden.  Ironically a city of 14 islands, one might hypothesise that this might create a fragmentation in the country, but connectivity is maintained in the city by its 57 picturesque bridges.  A really interesting metaphor for inclusivity – enabling our separateness and individuality but feel connected and part of something bigger than us.  But town planning in Stockholm is not really the point of my article.

I was in Stockholm to participate in a global community of practice, established more than 20 years ago by Yury Boshyk and his colleagues.  Having attended one other such meeting of this community of practice in Switzerland 2 years ago, I was excited and energised to return to this group.  Now those who know me well, know that I am a quieter and more introverted soul, happy in the company of a small group that I know and trust.  Certainly not the person who is likely to relish the chance to mix and mingle with a group of 100, very many of whom I don’t even know.  So what was it that made me so eager to return?

I felt welcomed and included right from the very beginning. 

Welcomed in a way that feels like coming back to a family I didn’t even know I had.  Unconditionally accepted and valued for my contribution.  Cared for as a person by complete strangers.  In fact, this sense of inclusion was so strong last time I attended the community of practice that this time I decided to bring my family with me.

So, here’s what I am discovering about truly inclusive cultures:

  • We don’t even need to know each other to start from a place of acceptance
  • We don’t need to see each other regularly to foster inclusivity – this group meets once a year only and in no two years is the group composition exactly the same
  • The inclusivity can be ‘referred on’ and extend beyond the boundaries of those members that might be considered typical for the organisation.  I’m thinking here of my 9 year twin daughters who were gracefully accepted into this business forum and were able to engage in delightful and mutually respectful conversations with people from places in the world they didn’t even know existed
  • Distributed leadership is the expectation and the norm, and enables fluidity which fosters creativity
  • The culture enables genuinely open sharing of information, without any sense of competitive behaviour or withholding

And the impact of this on me? 

A profound sense of being able to be whole person – integrating my heart and my head, leveraging my technical expertise and my life experience, and weaving my professional and personal journeys together.  What a wonderful gift!

All that is left to say is a heartfelt thank you to the whole group, and its’ founders for the privilege once again of this experience which I will carry with pride, back to Australia.

About Fiona Stewart

Fiona Stewart is the Managing Director and Co-Founder of LTA People, a specialist Organisation Development consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia. Fiona defines the critical people levers that drive strategy execution, and translates these into actionable people and culture frameworks, plans and programs that are woven into the fabric of the organisation.

Photograph courtesy of Ola Ericson

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