Inclusion is today’s differentiator

Inclusive and diverse teams are the key to unlocking potential.

Diversity in itself does not lead to stronger team performance, greater innovation or ideas. Inclusion is the critical differentiator. Organizations today, and certainly tomorrow, will be differentiated by their ability to create, foster and maintain an inclusive culture. So, how do you drive inclusion in a global organization in meaningful ways?

In order to drive a culture and way of working that creates inclusion across every aspect of the organization, three core elements need to be in place:

  • a business strategy that has inclusion and diversity at its core, rather than a good practice add-on;
  • leadership development that builds the capabilities to successfully manage diverse teams in an inclusive way. Diverse views, thoughts and input can often result in conflict and requires capable team leadership that can maximize diverse perspectives and enhance overall performance;
  • taking meaningful steps, involving everyone across the organization to build inclusive approaches together. Inclusion cannot be agreed or decreed from the board table, with plans decided in a single room.

Applying these core elements across a global organization with hundreds of locations presents a huge opportunity to leverage the inclusion differentiator. Although all three of the above core elements need attention, it is often the third, inclusive action that is the most challenging.

The Big Inclusion Project

Dentons, the world’s largest law firm with more than 18,000 people across more than 75 countries, is committed to including everyone to drive action. The Big Inclusion Project, Dentons’ brainchild, was created to make inclusive action a reality in an innovative and impactful way.

The concept was simple: through leveraging the talented people across the firm, work together in diverse teams over ten weeks, focused on actions to drive inclusion followed by building an implementation plan.

The Big Inclusion Project followed Dentons’ 2018 The Big Inclusion Conversation, a 72-hour, online collaboration jam for the whole firm. This online, facilitated conversation provided the opportunity for everyone to share their thoughts and ideas on inclusion over three days, non-stop. The output was a powerful set of themes capturing what was important to everyone at Dentons.

The Big Inclusion Project was the next step to take these themes and ideas and turn them into action. The approach included some key elements that helped to make it a powerful way to engage people:

Leadership involvement

With inclusion a business priority, members of the board were involved with the project from the start and all the way through. Commitment is demonstrated through participation and this was a powerful signal.

Support for each team

All teams benefited from the support of an external inclusion professional, as well as the HR team internally. Teams had tools to support virtual working and connection, as well as a member of the Global Board to provide guidance as needed.

Global Board discussion

One team was invited to join the Global Board meeting in Madrid in person to present and discuss their implementation plan, a high profile, visible display of inclusion and the business priority.

The resulting engagement, commitment, output and impact of The Big Inclusion Project was remarkable, making a tremendous difference across the organization. Dentons formed 22 teams from across the firm, with at least 10 members in each team including a representative from the Global Board.

After appointing a project lead from within each group, the teams worked together for 10 weeks. This was also an opportunity for the individuals to meet virtually and collaborate, in many cases for the first time, given the geographical spread of all the teams, as the participants were drawn from 68 offices around the globe.

Video was a critical tool. Each team was asked to create a two-minute video to bring their action plan to life, which was then shared with everyone firmwide. An internal web page housed all of the videos and received more than 15,000 page views with many offices also running viewing parties. Employees subsequently voted on the implementation plan that they determined should be advanced first.

The energy created by The Big Inclusion Project was palpable. It created a buzz across the Firm and was credited for ‘making our firm smaller’ by advancing inclusion and actions from all locations and engaging everyone.

Dentons is focused on scaling the Firm through combinations with elite law firms. The Big Inclusion Project has proved that scale and inclusion can be complementary. Inclusion and diversity must be a business priority. And engaging the talent in your company is a fundamental part of that.

Making inclusion a reality

This particular approach undertaken by one firm highlights some of the important elements to advance inclusion.

1. Totally inclusive approach

Defining actions that involve everyone, and having people across an organization design solutions ignites engagement. You have hugely talented people and leveraging the creativity, insight and diversity of teams, building ownership in the place that matters most, is powerful.

Regardless of whether your company is small or large, single site or global, involving all roles across the company, at all levels, regardless of seniority and at all locations, makes a difference.

2. Action is critical

Ideas are great, yet it is action that makes a difference. Actions that are defined and owned by the people in your organization and they are then part of delivering the result.

3. Measurement

To really know if there was impact, not only do you have to deliver action and deliver on the plans, as we have done, but measurement is essential. Track progress and measure delivery to ensure you are holding yourselves accountable.

Research continues to highlight that inclusion drives high performance in teams and organizations. To make it a reality, today’s leaders need to ensure the three core underlying elements are in place: 1) inclusion as a business priority; 2) leadership development; and 3) take action together.

The challenges today are more complex, across the world and in organizations. It takes teams bringing diverse perspectives, working together, with inclusion embedded in the organization, to be able to develop the solutions for today and tomorrow.

Jay Connolly is the Global Chief Talent Officer of global law firm, Dentons,, and is based in the UK.

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