Change your thoughts and you change your world.— Norman Vincent Peale
We live in a time where many people are seeking societal change, particularly in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. One way to create such change is to change or eliminate old laws and policies. In the public sector, such changes can be easily done with the support of public officials. Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity are two examples of such changes. In the private sector, hiring and promoting practices can be easily changed by senior management and often board approval.
Having been a student and professor of organizational behavior, I learned and taught that making these kinds of changes depends entirely on how well they’re implemented. In brief, such changes are more successful when principles of change are adhered to, such as these three key principles:
- There has to be a felt need for change among those where the change needs to happen
- There should be those who model the change where the change needs to happen
- Existing practices and social connections that reinforce the status quo must be addressed and not forcibly altered
Let’s examine each of these in a little more detail.
1. There has to be a felt need among those where the change needs to happen.
Although politicians and senior management might feel the need to change policies and laws in order for society and organizations to be more inclusive and equitable, do the employees of the company, particularly lower-level managers or the majority of the constituents of politicians feel the same need?
2. There should be those who model the change where the change needs to happen.
Political leaders are too often a consequence of the popular vote and so their actions to make these changes are often seen as addressing political needs rather than reflecting their own personal value-based choices. Similarly, within corporations, senior management may be seen as a reaction to a political dynamic more than a personal commitment. Probably more important are the line managers’ choices in hiring, training, and promoting practices and what that says about inclusion and equity.
3. Existing practices and social connections that reinforce the status quo must be addressed and not forcibly altered.
Here’s a simple request to the reader: Stand up if you would just as soon be disconnected from your friends and family. When social changes are seen as disrupting existing networks in society and in work settings where people enjoy and are comfortable with them, there will likely be resistance.
Underlying these principles of change is the importance of the individual being affected by the change. It could be said that societal change is essentially impossible without changing individual hearts and minds. However, before any of us attempts to change the hearts and minds of others, we can begin to tackle the challenging work of changing our own hearts and minds.
We can work on being the change we want to see.
A productive way to do that is to first examine our own inclinations toward being inclusive and equitable. We can ask ourselves, really how open are we to change, really how well do we adapt to an environment of diverse people, really how well do we connect with others who are different from us, how much do we actually value diversity and reflect that value in our associations, how empathetic are we toward others, and how sensitive are we to inequities in power structures in organizations with which we work.
In addition, we can seek feedback from others about our tendencies in these areas. We can also increase our awareness of our inclinations and abilities to be inclusive and equitable is through assessments that help us understand ourselves.
Awareness is the first step to effect change. We shouldn’t wait for company officials to model the change or for legislative bodies to pass laws. The change can begin happening within us. The Inclusion Competencies Inventory (ICI) was developed to provide insight into our current tendencies to be inclusive and help us understand how we might need to change.