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  • Writer's pictureGeorgia Nielsen

Is your culture undermining your inclusion strategy?

Updated: Mar 9

Focus on what's what's right with people

I’m white. I’m straight. And, I have a degree. 

Completely aware of my privilege, I sit here and tell you: throughout my career, I have felt unheard, unappreciated, and underestimated in the workplace. 

Any exclusion I have felt though is but a drop in the ocean compared to what others experience every day. 

Even with senior leaders rolling out inclusion policies and strategies across corporate Australia, exclusion and bias are still embedded in most workplaces. 

The state of inclusion

In 2021, Diversity Council of Australia’s Inclusion@Work Index found that despite three out of every four Australian workers supporting or strongly supporting their organisation taking action to create a workplace that is diverse and inclusive, over a quarter of them “still report personally witnessing and/or experiencing discrimination and/or harassment, and everyday exclusionary behaviours in the workplace.” 

Why? Because, as the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. 

It’s one thing to say you’re committed to inclusion and diversity but another thing entirely to build a culture that embraces and celebrates diversity. And, if your internal programs are still built on the conventional ‘deficit model,’ then all you’re doing is paying lip service. 

The deficit model is probably what you’ve experienced in job interviews, team meetings, performance reviews, or even your own internal dialogue: 

  • "What are your weaknesses?"

  • "How have your weaknesses impacted the quality of your work?"

  • "What strategies have you used to overcome your weaknesses?"

  • "What do I lack that others ahead of me have?"

Here’s the thing: channeling energy into your deficits is limiting you. 

It’s also limiting your workplace’s ability to achieve true inclusivity, as it encourages (and often rewards) your employees to strive to be and act the same. And, the pursuit of this sameness leaves no room for those who are different. 

When internal programs reward people for focusing on their weaknesses and limit people based upon what they are lacking, it breeds a culture where it’s safest to blend in and be the same as everyone else. In this type of culture those who are different are by nature excluded. 

The deficit model is predicated on an incorrect assumption: that our differences are problems to be solved. When in reality, they're resources that give us and our teams unique advantages. 

 So, what’s the remedy to the deficit model? 

A few years ago, I sat in an HR training room and saw this quote up on the projector screen: 

"What would happen if we studied what is right with people instead of focusing on what is wrong with them?" 

The question was originally posed by Don Clifton, the Father of strengths-based psychology. And, it captured my imagination. 

What proceeded was my first taste of strengths-based development and an introduction to the CliftonStrengths assessment (a tool that helps people understand and embrace one another's unique and natural talents). It also set me on a path to becoming a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach. 

The beauty of the strengths-based model and the CliftonStrengths assessment, which is based on decades of research, is that it acknowledges: 

Every. Single. Person. Has. Talent.

Celebrating strengths leads to inclusion

The Diversity Council of Australia explains 

“Inclusion occurs when a diversity of people feel valued and respected, have access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute their perspectives and talents to improve their organisation”. 

 Or, as cultural change author Vernā Myers put it: 

 “Diversity is being invited to the party; inclusion is being asked to dance.” 

Strengths-based development flips the deficit discourse on its head and celebrates the unique value that everyone brings to a team. 

When organisations and their leaders embrace a strengths-based approach they are saying, “You belong. You matter. You’re invaluable – just as you are.” 

In this way, a strengths-based approach and the CliftonStrengths assessment builds a solid foundation to achieving true inclusion. 

Here’s how it does it ...

A strengths-based approach to development:

  • helps you value your authentic self and increases your self-awareness – knowing what does and what doesn’t come easily to you helps you behave more intentionally and promotes mutual acceptance

  • helps you identify and celebrate the unique value your colleagues bring – creating a culture where everyone feels included and respected for who they are

  • provides your team with a shared language – being able to articulate your uniqueness can help you to advocate for yourself and navigate tricky conversations and cultural differences within your team

  • provides a structure for recognising and rewarding people for the unique value they bring – leading to a more equitable approach to progression

Inclusion starts with valuing what is unique about each individual. By appreciating the unique value other’s bring, you can start to form an inclusive environment for your team to thrive. 


So, when's the last time you thought about what's right with the people around you?

Invest in your team's strengths and promote an inclusive culture.

Using the CliftonStrengths® assessment as a guide, we’ll help your team uncover their natural talents and learn strategies to apply them to achieve future success and better collaboration.


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