Here’s a Model that Explains the Culture Portion of Your DE&I Work

February 2, 2022 Jamie Notter

If you are serious about doing real diversity, equity, and inclusion work inside your organization, then there are certain culture requirements that go along with it. Here’s the formula.

  • If you want to EXPLORE DE&I concepts (productive internal conversations), then your culture must be open and supportive.
  • If you want to EDUCATE your people more deeply (expand internal awareness around DE&I concepts and practices), then your culture must be rooted in accountability, growth, and feedback.
  • If you want to ADAPT your organization to a world that takes DE&I more seriously, (making real changes to internal behaviors, structures, and processes), then your culture must embrace fluid hierarchy and boundary lines.
  • If you want to TRANSFORM your organization (equity and inclusion are integrated into who you are and everything you do), then your culture must revolve around being truth-centric and employee-centric.

The model can be summarized in this graphic:


graphic depicting model

I think a pretty decent percentage of cultures are open and supportive enough to do the first part: having productive conversations. Of course the level of depth of those conversations—and the level of change that happens as a result—are both fairly low (but hey, it’s a start!).

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The next level—education and adaptation—includes parallel tracks that move in different directions on the depth/change axes. Education emphasizes depth (going deeper into the DE&I concepts), while adaptation emphasizes change (to behaviors, structures, and processes). As you might have guessed, you’re going to need both in the end, so in that sense, it doesn’t matter which one you start with (but don’t try to skip one of them!).

The bad news is, I see a lot of organizations get tripped up on either or both of those tracks because of their culture. Cultures that are truly disciplined about accountability, growth, and feedback or that genuinely embrace fluid hierarchy and boundary lines are simply less common. Our research data confirm that. And when your culture lacks those features, the DE&I work around education and change usually doesn’t stick.

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Even less common that that, however, are cultures that are truth-centric and employee-centric, which is why it is rare to see a truly transformed organization that integrates equity and inclusion into its culture (though they do exist). Advanced DE&I work requires an evolved culture.

So as you and your leadership decide how far you want to go in your diversity, equity, and inclusion work, make sure you are developing the right parts of your culture at the same time. At PROPEL, we don’t do the DE&I work (though we can refer you to some outstanding professionals in that field), but we do have a culture assessment that shines a bright light on all of the areas we mention above (plus others, of course). In fact, it was in our analysis of our aggregate culture assessment data that we identified those culture patterns and developed this model.

If you’re interested in complementing your DE&I work with a culture analysis, please reach out to us.

Jamie Notter

Jamie is an author and growth strategist at PROPEL, where he helps leaders integrate culture, strategy, and execution to achieve breakthrough performance and impact. He brings twenty-five years of experience to his work designing culture-driven businesses, and has specialized along the way in areas like conflict resolution and generations. Jamie is also the co-author of three books—Humanize, When Millennials Take Over, and The Non-Obvious Guide to Employee Engagement—and holds a Master’s in conflict resolution from George Mason and a certificate in Organization Development from Georgetown, where he serves as adjunct faculty.
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