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How to create a sustainable structure for organisational change

What kind of structure is needed for the successful integration of diversity, equity and an inclusive culture? In our first article, we started the discussion with an introduction to the growing need for DEI. Our second article brought forth the need of a strong and Inclusive leader.  Here, we will continue our series with a discussion on the structures you can put in place to help facilitate an effective implementation of DEI. Initially these structures are imperative while an organisation and its members look to change their habits. Once established, teams are put in position to leverage their differences and give themselves a competitive edge.  It must be highlighted that an inclusive leader is a mandatory condition for the creation of diversity and inclusive cultures. Without such a leader, the structures that will be discussed will not be enough. For example, you can hire minorities as much as you want, they won’t stay if they don’t feel safe and valued. While structure can help create these feelings, it is not achievable without the right style of leadership.

Change management

Any structural change is something to be closely managed. John Kotter, a former professor at Harvard and a leader in change management, argues that at least 75% of a management team must buy-in to have a chance at a successful implementation of change in their organisation. Kotter’s approach to change includes steps to create buy-in, a sense of urgency, and actions which enable behavioural change. The tools and processes which help change behaviour should be a priority. Using things like rewards or a narrative people can connect with, is a simple, yet effective approach to earning employee buy-in. If done successfully it will create positive behaviour change and increased attendance. Earning buy-in is not a one-off. It must be earned over time and maintained.

Don’t force anything on your employees 

In the past, trainings were typically introduced as a mandated courses with a structured, check-list format. Approaching a complex topic like DEI in this way, will not work. Research has shown that people put in these situations only learn how to respond correctly. They don’t actively engage with the topic or make any meaningful change. People also tend to respond with anger, resistance and animosity towards those who they believe caused the training. This approach can also trigger psychological reactance, which is when a person reacts negatively, typically doing the opposite of what they’re feeling pressured to do.

Voluntary task forces and officers for change

To help create the first wave of buy-in, task-focused positions and groups can be created.  Establishing a role such as Chief Diversity Officer, Chief DEI Officer or a diversity task force, can help develop buy-in with the added benefits of increased social accountability and opportunities for employees to get involved. Expanding on these roles and task forces is the creation of DEI ambassadors. These individuals would volunteer to be trained so that they can advocate for the needs of a diverse and inclusive workforce.  Following their training, these ambassadors are quite effective at generating interest and engagement in change. Empowering employees, particularly minorities, to create resource groups within the organisation, is another way to drive change, creating awareness and psychological safety while earning buy-in. For these positions and groups to succeed, they must be given full support from leadership. Giving a clear statement of support, as well as offering sponsorship, is a great way to demonstrate commitment to DEI.

Mentoring programs

Beyond voluntary positions and groups, mentoring programs are another tool for strengthening a commitment to DEI. While these programs can be a tremendous resource for some, women and minorities often need help in finding mentors. By working with diversity officers, DEI ambassadors or a task force to set mentoring goals, parity of opportunity can be delivered. When effective the abilities of everyone involved can be fully leveraged.

Grievance systems aren’t enough

One-in-four people have left a job because of a coworker. As mentioned in our Feedback article, no complaintsno problems. Employees are not always willing to speak up. That could be because of social pressure, office politics, distrust in the grievance system, or even a natural disinclination towards confrontation. It has also been shown that managers who rely on grievance systems to identify and approach issues tend to lower their guard, becoming more susceptible to bias. The same research also indicates that some managers will retaliate against, or belittle those who lodge formal complaints. A system that engages both a formal hearing and an informal resolution process would reduce the publicity of the issue as well as the tension it creates. This also works towards reducing backlash and animosity. Enabling such a system has the added benefit of helping to find sustainable solutions for the problems that diverse teams can, and will, face.

Merit based policies

Performance reviews often have a positive intent but,  like mentoring programs, they have been shown to undervalue women and minorities. Instead, consider the use of merit based review processes. By including voluntary task forces in the processes, bias can be reduced through social accountability as well as through diversity of thought in evaluations. Furthermore, posting raises, pay-scales and performance ratings will help reduce disparities. Transparent merit-based policies are another way to demonstrate a commitment to building and maintaining diversity and an inclusive culture.

The hiring process

These previously mentioned structures are important for the hiring process too. By creating a diverse and equitably developed team, the organisation earns a diverse pool of role models for new-hires to connect with and learn from. This can increase employee retention while attracting new talent and perspectives. Engaging the task force in the hiring process will help reduce the risk of finding someone to fit the role instead of finding the right person for the job.

Breaking habits

Habitual behaviours are tough to break. Finding common situations where an intervention can create change without too much resistance is a good starting point. One such situation is in meetings. Building in unstructured time would allow and encourage colleagues to make small talk. This often enhances interpersonal relationships, creating a more cohesive and collaborative team and promoting more equitable opportunities to share ideas. In a company with people of varying fluency, the impact of the fluency gap must be considered. Teams that have a mix of native and non-native speakers often see that the native speakers tend to take over meetings. This can be frustrating and can lead to a build up of tension. This frustration can be further increased when team members struggle to feel understood. One solution can be to ask native speakers to choose their words carefully and to be mindful of how much they speak. On the other hand, non-native speakers would be encouraged to speak up and ask their colleagues to confirm that they have been understood.

While some structures can be taken as a template, every approach to DEI must be unique based on the needs of each team and organisation. These structures will help you stay fluid while you work to demonstrate your commitment to change and growth. Patience, perspective and a willingness to both give, and receive, critical feedback will go a long way in further preparing for the challenges that come with changing the status quo. If you would like to learn more about diversity, equity and inclusive cultures, or to see how your team can benefit from a change in approach, book a free 30-minute consultation with us at! If you or your team are facing issues due to a fluency gap, Language Partners can help with one of our 52 different language courses!


In our next article, we will wrap up this series with a discussion on how the climate within an organisation impacts its ability to stay competitive while maintaining a sustainable approach to growth and change.

Paul Van Zanten
Paul is an American intercultural communications professional living in the Netherlands and connecting with his Dutch roots. With a passion for travel, as well as gaining new perspectives and experiences, Paul aims to further his growth, as well as that of others at Language Partners.

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