Visioning Is the First Step to Creating a Culture of Inclusion

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Visioning Is the First Step to Creating a Culture of Inclusion

Imagine it’s 2022 and your organization is thriving, surpassing your expectations:

  • You have won the war on talent, and people are knocking on your door wanting to work at your company.
  • All talent is fully engaged and all voices are heard; people feel valued and aligned with your company’s mission and purpose.
  • Your company has a rich diversity of talent where ideas are shared, different perspectives are welcomed, and there is a high degree of trust and respect among employees.
  • Women not only have a seat at the table, but there is true balance between men and women at every level of the organization, from the top down.
  • Your company has moved beyond having only a token number of women filling C-level and board seats; women now represent an equal part of the united voice of senior leadership.


How did you reach this equitable and inclusive work environment at long last? It started by intentionally developing a very clear vision, like the one above, of what success looks like. When I spoke at the Masie Learning 2018 Conference last week, I started the dialogue with this exact visioning exercise. My immediate observation was that the session attendees, while having previously engaged in a number of visioning exercises at their company around the business, had never applied this strategy to creating a culture of inclusion and gender equity. This exercise helped them realize that if they lack a vision of the type of culture they want, they will have difficulty actualizing it.

The intent of this session was not only to inspire people to develop a vision for gender inclusion. It was also to provide ways to break out of the same old narrative in thinking about how to achieve this—ways that in some cases may be disruptive. In expanding on my last post where I highlighted key points featured in my session on gender balance and inclusion, here are some additional areas related to visioning and next steps that may be helpful for you to consider:

Start with a vision. As noted above, being able to see where you want to go is critical to getting there. When it comes to creating a culture of gender balance and inclusion, use visioning as you would for any other operational part of the business, and incorporate that vision into the organization’s business strategy. When rolling out the vision, you can bring it to life with storytelling, sharing examples that illustrate the types of behaviors, relationships, and culture that are desired. Move this out of the realm of dream or conversation into reality by showing people specifically how they can work together to amplify ideas, outcomes, and overall performance.

Reaffirm organizational commitment. An inclusive environment can’t thrive without a top-down, very visible commitment from company leaders. Engage senior leadership in conversations with women about their career and experiences—and share this priority with women and men throughout the company—so that everyone sees visible support and intent from management regarding gender equity. Another way to show organizational support is to engage men as champions of inclusion and gender equity. SHAMBAUGH’s research shows that 20 percent of men understand the value proposition for gender inclusion and are ready now to do their part in creating culture change. Facilitate opportunities for sponsorship of women, and spotlight men as role models for demonstrating inclusive behaviors.

Cascade down the “why.” When it comes to explaining the business case for inclusion, it’s critical that this “why” gets cascaded down from senior leadership to line managers. The goal here is to have this communication come directly from the business rather than as an HR mandate, disrupting the fallback of requiring diversity quotas or promoting gender balance because “it’s a nice thing to do.” When approached as a business case, emphasize research that shows a culture of inclusion is critical for greater innovation, enhanced problem-solving, and better decision-making.

Hold leaders accountable. Accountability at the top is key to successful culture change. Leaders and managers alike should conduct listening tours and engage with their female talent. Every leader and manager in the company should be pushed to ask questions and learn:

  • Where are the women in the talent pipeline?
  • What skills are we helping them to build?
  • Are we providing sponsors as well as role models?
  • Are we identifying and addressing unconscious bias at the leadership level?
  • Are we providing leadership programs to identify opportunities to reinforce inclusive leadership?


When looking at the pipeline, be proactive in taking steps to build a robust pipeline by:

  • Examining key drivers and challenges that women experience throughout their career.
  • Conducting focus groups and interviews with women to identify important skills, experiences, and growth opportunities they need to grow and advance throughout the pipeline and stay in the organization.
  • Providing targeted development programs and experiences for women that address their Sticky Floors, especially early and mid-career women. Development areas should include topics such as:

    Work/life integration
    Gaining visibility
    Executive presence
    Asking for what you want

    When conducting an inventory of current leadership programs, be aware of micro-inequities in learning programs. Scan images and language to ensure they reinforce inclusion across all types of differences and cognitive approaches. This supports the goal of building a strong leadership development program that addresses gaps in gender management and inclusive behaviors.

    Provide early role models and information exchange. Opportunities for mentorship and role models should be offered to women starting early in their career to senior leadership. If women see “someone like them” in a role, there’s a better chance they will believe they can hold that role too. Be open to creating mentorship opportunities or role modeling outside of the organization as well. While managers may fear talent will be lured away, SHAMBAUGH’s research has found that women value the fact that the company is investing in a broad spectrum of mentoring relationships and are more likely to stay at the same company. Companies can also help facilitate opportunities for women and men to talk about their experiences at work and share stories, rather than talking in isolation with only one gender. By helping to create space for this, companies can co-create a new narrative for a more inclusive culture, providing opportunities for men and women to serve as allies to one another.

    The widening gender gap in our workforce starting at management level is not good for business—or for people. SHAMBAUGH offers a framework that helps organizations assess their pipeline from end to end, providing companies with programs and practices that advance more women into leadership and retain their talent long-term, so that organizations can compete and thrive. Are you ready to create your vision for a culture of inclusion? Contact us at to learn more.

    Rebecca Shambaugh is a leadership expert on building inclusive and high performance cultures. She speaks at major conferences and to executives on how to disrupt traditional mindsets and create an inspiring vision and roadmap for driving greater levels of innovation and performance through a unified voice for leadership. Rebeccais the Founder of Women in Leadership and Learning, a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review, and blogger for the Huffington Post. She is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results

    At SHAMBAUGH we’re on mission to develop high-performing and inclusive leaders who transform workplace cultures so everyone can thrive. Find out more about us at:

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