How Sharing Our Stories Builds Inclusion

by Selena Rezvani and Stacey A. Gordon - Published on HBR

Conversations around inclusion are on the rise in 2021 following an intense and unprecedented two years. Converging events like the Covid-19 pandemic; the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery; hate crimes against Asian and Jewish communities; and stalled progress among working women are creating an awakening in many organizations. But is this reinvigorated conversation translating to results? What’s the actual impact?

As inclusion consultants, we see more and more companies doubling down on diversity metrics like business cases, scorecards, and targets. After all, what matters gets measured, right? These programs track things like workforce demographics, diversity hiring, retention, promotion rates, and utilization of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) resources. While those measures have their place, we’ve found that they’re insufficient to create inclusion on their own. In fact, an overly mathematical approach actually deemphasizes the very thing we hope to build in inclusive workplaces: awareness, connection, empathy, and mutual respect.

In our attempts to create more awake and aware environments, we’re forgetting that numbers typically don’t inspire us to change our behavior — people and stories do. With our corporate clients, it’s the exchange of human experiences via stories, focus groups, and listening sessions that tend to inspire lasting change for people on a personal level.

We can make actual progress on inclusion by implementing a story-based approach where employees are encouraged to tell their stories, own them, and consider how they impact their day-to-day experiences at work.

Whose Stories Get Told?

So now you might be thinking: If we’re going to tell more stories, it makes sense to start with leaders, right?

Not necessarily.