How can we can foster shared purpose, working together in creating a better tomorrow than today?

Business leaders are going beyond the business case, and are focusing instead on the behaviours that make a workplace inclusive. The ultimate prize is better-balanced and more innovative organisations.

Forward-thinking companies are “looking at talent in a different way”, says Sue O’Brien, the new chair of CMI’s Women in Management advisory committee. They tend to promote internal hiring opportunities, and do lots of internal development, “reaching down into the business”.

This latest shift may even be leading to a less purely profit-centric approach to talent management, one whereby ethical aims are made more explicit.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, Danny Guillory, head of diversity and inclusion at Autodesk, was open about the company’s ethical motivations, warning that, if you’re motivated purely by profit, “you’re stuck”.

So how are the best organisations are moving beyond tick box diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives?

Inclusive organisations can articulate the purpose and values of their D&I measures in clear, simple terms.

Sometimes, the business case alone is compelling, but often it’s the personal stories that are more convincing.

“What’s your story?” says Allyson Zimmerman, executive director at Catalyst Europe.

Pooja Sachdev, co-author of the book Rewire recommends storytelling and visual imagery as a way of articulating purpose. She cites HSBC’s ‘Focus on what matters’ poster campaign, which pictures women and disabled employees, and asks viewers to focus on what they can do, not how they look.

“Often, it’s very transactional, but it’s the behaviour and mind-set that will get you there,”  says Allyson Zimmerman. When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took time off for paternity leave, it showed he was genuinely behind the social media giant’s family-friendly policies.

Inclusive leaders share four traits, according to Catalyst: they enable individuals to learn and develop; they have humility and are receptive to feedback; they have the courage of their convictions; and they give people accountability.

“It’s everyday behaviour that creates culture. So leaders need to link inclusive aims to values, behaviour and KPIs.” says inclusion consultant Charlotte Sweeney.

Inclusive managers must strike a balance between valuing what is unique in the individual and making them feel included as part of a team and encouraging everyone to speak up in meetings.

Inclusive organisations analyse data both to expose weak spots and monitor progress of talent development groups. Vodafone analysed three years of data and discovered it was losing a significant number of female employees within a year of their return from maternity leave. So, it rolled out a minimum 16week paid maternity leave policy, followed by six months at 30 hours a week on full pay.

Managers increasingly need to act as ‘facilitators’ of conversations around inclusion.

“If you can do only one thing, talk to your team, ask questions and listen,” says Amir Kabel, of search firm Green Park.

Managers need to do more to destigmatise disability and to reframe the recruitment equation, says Kate Headley, founder of The Clear Company, which helps organisations develop inclusive best practice.

Organisations should ask themselves questions such as: why would someone from a different race or gender be valuable for new product development? What competencies will be needed? How does hiring someone with autism fit with the organisation’s goals?

GCHQ and SAP have both actively sought to hire people with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

One of the most remarkable stories is that of Berlin-based software tester Auticon, founded by Dirk Müller-Remus, whose son is on the autism spectrum. The company started in 2011 and today only employs people on the autistic spectrum as IT consultants, as software testers. These organisations see their employees’ unique abilities as a positive asset rather than a cost.

“They have a genuine awareness for quality, outstanding attention to detail and intuitively recognise novel patterns in complex quantities of data. They uncover these patterns swiftly, effortlessly and free of preconceptions,” says Dirk Müller-Remus.