The building blocks of an inclusive culture

The building blocks of an inclusive culture

How inclusive an organisation are you?

“The reality of life is that your perceptions — right or wrong — influence everything else you do. When you get a proper perspective of your perceptions, you may be surprised how many other things fall into place.” – Roger Birkman1

Many organisations are realising the importance of fostering an inclusive culture of equality and diversity through their corporate policies, recruitment practices and leadership rhetoric. At the ground level, how is this culture fostered without paying lip service and thereby undermining inclusiveness? First, we need to understand barriers to inclusion.

What are the barriers to inclusion?

I believe the barriers we face are those unconscious biases we’re not necessarily even aware of:

  1. Fear of that which is unknown or different to us – have we experienced it?
  2. Stereotypes – where have these come from and how useful are they?
  3. Prejudices – have you questioned where these views have come from?
  4. Lack of role models by way of mentors and sponsors who challenge these pre-conceptions
  5. Organisations not accommodating diversity in leadership, communication or working styles. A motivated and flexible workforce is often a more diverse and inclusive one.

How inclusive an organisation are we?How we perceive differences in people has a massive impact on how we interact in the workplace. We naturally find it helpful to group and categorise people to aid our understanding. Despite this we must remember that for all our similarities and differences, we are individuals. No two people will have the exact same experiences, genetics, socio-economic status, education, beliefs and values. We are all different in some way and that’s a positive thing!

How can we act to avoid bias?

I think the ancient wisdom of the Toltec can help provide some valuable insights as described in the book ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz2:

  1. Be Impeccable with your Word – Speaking with integrity. Let’s avoid generalising the beliefs and behaviours of an entire group of people. Consider the impact of what we say and our actions on others.
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own model of the world. I think it is healthy to provide a different perspective and challenge views in a constructive and balanced way
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions – Get to know the individual. Ask before assuming. Foster a culture of openness where you can clarify and challenge inappropriate comments in private.
  4. Always Do Your Best – One of Interserve’s values is ‘take pride in what you do’. If everyone did their best – just imagine what we could achieve together. This also has the effect of creating a positive working environment where we don’t judge/blame ourselves or others.

I strongly believe we all need to take responsibility for our words and actions. If we value what others can offer and create the right, supportive environment for collaborative team working we can achieve so much together.That’s why I’ve been involved with the Women in Interserve Network, sharing my experiences and supporting others.

Difference in others can be a source of learning for us. Let difference be the making of us by way of innovation, growth and prosperity that benefits our business and society.


1 Roger Birkman, an American organisational psychologist, created the ‘Birkman Method’, a workplace psychological assessment

2 The Toltec were ‘people of knowledge’ – scientists and artists who created a society to explore and conserve the traditional spiritual knowledge and practices of their ancestors. The simple ideas of The Four Agreements provide an inspirational code for life; a personal development model, and a template for personal development, behaviour, communications and relationships

Sobia Iqbal

Sobia Iqbal is a Bid Manager within Interserve Developments. She is also an active committee member of the Women at Interserve Network (WIN), promoting the benefits of having a diverse workforce that is given equal opportunity to fulfil their potential based upon merit.

  • Tim Haywood

    very nicely written and thought-provoking, Sobia. And, despite what it says in your blog, you should take that personally!

  • Leah Shafik

    This is great Sobia. Let’s hope that the good work continues within Interserve.

  • Great blog Sobia, really nicely written

  • Jayne Capel

    Sobia, I was very pleased to read your blog as I have always believed in the ‘spiritual way’ which your words reflected. This fosters a unity not only within the workplace but also in the wider world. Thank you.

  • Afia Chaudhary

    Very Interesting! Really good read!

  • Steve

    Great blog Sobia. The four suggestions of things we can do to avoid bias are so simple and all they take is a little bit of self awareness. I sure that many people are not even concious of the impact of some of the things they say or do, or consider that how they act is being watched and copied by other people that look up to them, (regardless of what position within the organisation they hold).

  • Really good article. People often don’t like to share their knowledge because they fear that their ideas and intellectual capital will be ‘stolen’. That someone else will get the credit for their work. In reality this rarely happens – there are people that try to pass off others’ work as their own, but this isn’t a long-term way to succeed. Unless you can understand and articulate the reasoning behind an idea you won’t be able to exploit it. Getting to a collaborative space where sharing is normal is a shift in culture that many large organisations need to make, and we’re no different.