Written by Patty Rasmussen Tuesday, September 11 2012
Snapshot: Shirley Engelmeier, Founder/CEO of InclusionINC, Author of “Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage”
Shirley Engelmeier has a mission to bring inclusion — the flip side to diversity — to the forefront of business discussion.
“Inclusion is an even bigger issue [than diversity] because it’s about collaboration and a global mindset that diversity doesn’t even approach,” says Engelmeier, founder and CEO of InclusionINC. “Diversity usually means representation, but it ought to be the effect of inclusion, not the cause of it.”
Engelmeier has 20-plus years of business experience as an inclusion and diversity strategist and consultant. She held senior management positions in corporate giants Brown & Williamson and Frito-Lay, pioneering inclusion and diversity initiatives both as an employee and later as a consultant to many Fortune 1000 companies.
Based in Minneapolis, Minn., Engelmeier authored the book “Inclusion: The New Competitive Business Advantage,” outlining her thesis and proven strategies for inclusion that impact not just individuals but the bottom line. Though Engelmeier’s work addresses inclusion comprehensively, as it relates to people of color, age/generations and other differences, for the purposes of our discussion, we spoke about inclusion and women.
Womenetics: Define the term “inclusion” as you use it in your book.
Shirley Engelmeier: Diversity is the differences that we are. Inclusion we loosely call a verb – how do you get everybody’s voice heard? Inclusion requires a call to action. You have to do something to ensure that everybody’s voice is heard along the way.
Womenetics: I loved what you wrote in your foreword, “While diversity is certainly linked to inclusion, organizations can be diverse and not inclusive.” Explain what you mean.
Engelmeier: We have spent the last two decades getting women into organizations by just hiring women. Great, but how do you change the culture so that women actually thrive? You could have a revolving door of women, people of color, whatever. You keep hiring, but they don’t stick. That’s because we’ve spent roughly two decades chasing after hiring, then doing some “dip and done” (training every three to seven years). If something’s important to you, you don’t do it every three to seven years, and you don’t just have a certain portion of the organization do it. Inclusion became a set-aside little project residing in human resources, asking how many pink and purple people do we have and where are they in the plan? But we never make the connection that it’s vital for the customers and consumers that these women’s voices are heard. We might have women working there, but they’re not part of the decision-making; they’re not part of the core essence of how the business drives forward.
Womenetics: What are the attributes or characteristics of a company/organization that’s inclusion-oriented?
Engelmeier: The first thing that has to be done is to determine why you care as an organization. If you don’t make the critical business link for why women should be in leadership roles, why women should be across the organization, it’s not going to make sense. If it’s just an HR plan as opposed to a cultural shift, nothing changes. You have to clearly establish the business link for why you want to include women. Inclusion is about business. It’s about matching emergent market needs and matching your current customer’s needs.
Then there are all sorts of broad-based inclusion behaviors. In talking to over 300,000 people across corporations, the top two responses we’ve received to the questions “When do you feel most included?” and “How do you stay fully engaged in your position?” are “Ask my opinion” and “Include me in the decision-making when appropriate.” This is really low to the ground.
Womenetics: Then the practical aspects of how inclusion is accomplished really are as simple as things like including people in the decision-making and asking opinions?
Engelmeier: Right. You get alternative points of view involved when you practice inclusion. When you bring in people outside the traditional norm of thinking, it builds a culture of inclusion.
I had someone from Silicon Valley who told me, “Where I come from collaboration is a combat sport.” They said this in the Midwest, where it’s all “Midwest nice.” I say, let’s be okay to disagree with each other. Let’s be okay to hear somebody else’s point of view and openly engage that. If a company is doing well, they don’t seem to want to hear about this; everything is just fine. But there’s a six-year Harvard study that says that if a woman wants to get ahead in business, make sure your [male] manager’s wife has a career because men whose wives stays at home view women more unfavorably. The report says they deny opportunities for promotions for women. My response is, “What year is it anyway?”
There are other studies that report similar attitudes. My question is, “Okay, guys, if you’re really looking for profit, and you see study after study that says women on boards make [businesses] more profitable, more competitive – which is what we’re looking for post-recession – what’s holding you back?” On the left hand we have the opportunity to become more competitive and profitable, but on the right hand we have this unconscious bias when a woman is running things. That kind of makes me really depressed. I’m still processing the fact that we’re still talking about this.
Womenetics: What are some ‘inclusion business practices’?
Engelmeier: From a behavioral perspective we use the acronym ALERT
- Ask me my opinion
- Listen to what I say
- Encourage involvement
- Rationales – Give me rationales for why decisions are made
- Thanks – Occasionally say ‘thank you’
Those are the ground level behaviors. Building a culture of inclusion involves all sorts of things. For women in corporate America there are three practices that are helping. One is sponsorship; I don’t mean mentoring. It means getting the woman to all the right people, the informal stuff that happened with men – I’ve got your back, I’m going to suggest you for jobs, those sorts of things.
The second thing is what’s called “lattice opportunities.” Unfortunately, women have to be ready before they go in a job and have to prove themselves beforehand because organizations are so structurally flat now. You can’t take all the appropriate steps on a ladder. A boss might say, “We can’t put you in that position now so you’ll be over here, and when we can, we’ll move you laterally.”
The third thing is that, biologically, we have the babies, so allow me an on-and-off ramp without penalizing my career. Those are three really specific practices that have proven successful in creating an inclusion culture. There’s really nothing simple about inclusion. I’m looking at our scorecard, and it asks how do you institutionalize inclusion through behaviors, how do you do it through who gets selected for projects, how do you do it for [leadership] development? When we work with organizations on this we say, “Let’s look at every part of how you do business – the formal and informal processes within the organization, the broad culture of inclusion – and how can women be successful in that?” My punchline is, “They can’t unless the culture changes.”
Womenetics: What’s the bottom line impact of inclusion? Is there data to support the value of a culture of inclusion?
Engelmeier: Here’s what’s so interesting about this. We always get asked that question, “What’s the bottom line impact?”
My response is, “What’s the bottom line impact for leadership development? Do you think it’s important?” The answer is always “Yes.”
I’ll ask, “What’s the metric on that?” And the answer is, “We don’t have a metric on that.”
But they’re doing it. They still think it’s important. This is the conundrum. We’re going to develop research on this comparing before and after making [inclusion] changes – were there changes in productivity, in engagement? What additional innovative ideas came forward?
Why does inclusion have to be held up to a standard that other good business practices aren’t held up to? There’s not a body a knowledge that says developing leaders impacts the bottom line in A-B-C; it just makes good business sense to have the most highly competent leaders. Not because of bottom line, but because it’s the best culture. I’m at the point that even though we’re trying to prove [the bottom line impact of inclusion], I’m also rejecting the need to prove it.
Womenetics: Why did this topic so intrigue or captivate you?
Engelmeier: I think the body of work chose me. I’m big on living my life on what is my purpose here and what’s dynamically emerging through it. A series of life events put me in a space where I began working on the diversity side of the issue. Corporate America had a very strong impact on me for what it was like to be “the other.” I came up at a time when I was the only woman in this role. One of my best stories is when I was massively pregnant, had a bright red dress on and was standing in the back of the room with my hand raised, and, literally, the guy [doing the presentation] couldn’t see me. It was astonishing. In his filter, he kept answering questions around the room, but he couldn’t see me.
I’m not an HR person. I’ve always been a business person. I always care about the bottom line impact, and I think inclusion is a missing component. As a human being on the planet, I don’t like it ever when groups or people are excluded. I know this work called me because I didn’t know it existed. I fought against it. I was a single mom and really wanted a regular salary, but I was guided toward this work.
Womenetics: What do you love doing when you take time away from work?
Engelmeier: I intensely love my family: two sons, ages 16 and 23 years old, my parents are still living, and I have three sisters and a brother.
The highest driver in my life is my spirituality. I believe it’s very practical. I’m an ordained reverend. At one point I thought that might be my life mission. One of my things is that whatever is happening in your life, look at what the universe is trying to get to you. Get over yourself and do it! Everything in my life is about being practical. Do what resonates with you and brings you joy. I also love that my younger son is involved in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) Robotics. I wasn’t a science kid, but I just love that stuff. He’s on a new team; they’ve been to nationals twice. I’m like the team mom. I like being around really smart people and up-leveling. I think we’re all here to continually up-level, to make a mass contribution to the planet, and I don’t have much patience for people who don’t get over themselves.
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Patty Rasmussen is an Atlanta-based freelance writer. She spent 12 years covering the Atlanta Braves for ChopTalk Magazine and has written for Major League Baseball publications, Georgia Trend magazine, WebMD and Blue Ridge Country.