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Creating an Inclusive Culture | Interview with Teresa Hopke, CEO at Talking Talent

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The words diversity and inclusion have now become so popular that it is an important part of any company’s talent strategy plan.  Attracting and retaining a diverse workforce requires companies to create a workplace in which everyone can thrive and do their best work.   

According to Harvard Business review, when an employee has a feeling of belonging, companies reap substantial bottom-line benefits. High belonging was linked to a 56% increase in job performance, a 50% drop in turnover risk, and a 75% reduction in sick days. For a 10,000-person company, this would result in annual savings of more than $52M.

Inclusion is much more than ensuring that your company has recruited a diverse workforce that includes a range of ages, ethnicities, religions and worldviews. Although this is a great practice, it doesn’t guarantee an inclusive culture.  You can hire a diverse workforce, but the key is to ensure every employee feels like they belong. 

This takes work and strong commitment.  That’s why companies such as Talking Talent are crucial to helping companies create a talent strategy aimed at developing an inclusive culture.

What Talking Talent does:

They work with individuals at every level of their organization, in whatever capacity they can be most useful, whether it’s consulting on their strategies for diversity and inclusion, or hands-on coaching support.

I recently interviewed Teresa Hopke, CEO at Talking Talent on a variety of topics including building an inclusive culture. 

Teresa Hopke Q&A

  1. In today’s environment, what have been organizations’ biggest challenges when it comes to maintaining sustainable performance and wellbeing?

Employees who are running on empty. The stress of the pandemic and social unrest is taking its toll on wellbeing, which is in turn taking a toll on performance. Stress, anxiety, uncertainty, and feelings of helplessness linger just below the surface for many. Time for self-care feels hard to come by for most and normal self-care and wellbeing routines have been disrupted. Keeping employees focused, productive, engaged, and mentally thriving should be at the forefront of every organization’s agenda moving forwards.

  1. Who are the three people who have been the most influential to you, and why?

My grandmother – she had such a zest for life. I spent a lot of time with her growing up and learned so much about living with abandon, curiosity and kindness. 

Coach Karen – as my coach throughout a significant portion of my career, she helped me discover who I am and what I’m made of. She helped me recover from perfectionism and believe in my potential. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her.

My husband – he has taught me so much about trying new things, taking risks, being tenacious, and being more than I thought I could ever be. He is my biggest supporter and always reminds me to smile and have fun doing the work that I do. And he reminds me to be patient with myself and others when I need it most. 

  1. What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?

I don’t have to have the answers to everything. I spent a lot of my life trying to plan out every next step, trying to carefully craft and execute a plan for how I wanted my life to unfold, and trying to control the outcome of most situations. What I’ve learned is that life is a lot less stressful when I just let it unfold and that most of the time the answers I thought I had didn’t turn out to be the right ones anyway. 

  1. You have won several impressive awards as well being featured in many books and media outlets.  Add your impressive career to being a mother of four, how do you maintain your work-life balance?  What advice would you give for our readers on doing the same?

I don’t believe in work-life balance. Striving for a balance between the two will only set me up for failure because rarely do they weigh out equally at any given time. Instead, I believe that there is an intersection of life and work that we have the choice to intentionally manage. The more intentional we are about curating that intersection or blend and aligning it to our values, the happier and more successful we will feel. Every day, I make choices and trade-offs based on what I need, what my family needs, and what my business needs. Some days I get the mix right. Other days I don’t. But over time, I feel good about the sum of my choices and the fact that I was intentional in making them.

  1. What steps must companies take today to create an inclusive culture?

Any inclusive culture change needs to be both top down and bottom up. Leaders have to do more than give lip service – they have to champion the change by role modeling the behaviors they expect to see, and they need to hold leaders across the organization accountable for creating an inclusive culture. And from the bottom up, we need to give employees opportunities to hear others’ stories to create shared understanding and empathy.

In the end, being inclusive is really about being more human and accepting people for who they are. Organizations spend loads of money teaching people how to improve their public speaking skills and enhance their technical expertise, but they are less willing to invest in teaching them how to be more empathetic, compassionate, and supportive of one another. In the end, those are the things that will most profoundly impact the productivity and engagement of their employees.

Finally, organizations need to commit for the long haul. Creating an inclusive culture isn’t a one-and-done check box exercise. It requires getting really clear about the vision and then committing the time, energy and resources to seeing that vision through. It requires both tenacity and grit. 

  1. What are companies’ biggest roadblocks in maintaining that culture?

There are so many roadblocks to maintaining any change, especially a cultural one. The main roadblock to avoid is trying to take shortcuts in getting to the end result. Unless you commit fully and plan long term, the advances you see can slide backwards. Lack of leadership accountability to creating the culture is one of the key stumbling blocks for most organizations. One or two rogue leaders can derail your efforts and erode any trust or forward progress made. 

  1. What are you most proud of?

Making it through 2011. My husband was in a ski accident that resulted in a traumatic brain injury; I quit my corporate job of 10 years to join a startup firm with no guaranteed salary; I found out I was pregnant – with twins; I managed through my new role as SVP of sales while on bed rest; and I maintained my career while managing 4 children under the age of 6 and a recovering husband. 

  1. You have gained recognition for your retention and engagement strategies.  What are 3 of the most important factors a company needs to focus on in order to create an engagement culture with high retention?

– Treat people with respect… which means trusting them and treating them like adults rather than micro-managing them

– Accept people for who they are and what they bring… allowing them to bring their whole selves to work and not have to cover any parts of their identity

– Recognize people for the contributions they make… everyone plays a key role in your company’s success – from the janitor to the C-suite – and everyone has a basic human desire to feel appreciated so thank people for the part they play in your success.

  1. A recent BBC News article asked the question, “Will women have to work harder after the pandemic?” What advice would you give leaders, so they don’t lose sight of equality in the workforce?

A pandemic isn’t an excuse for losing sight of equality in the workplace. Now is the time to double down on your commitment to supporting and advancing women. Ask what you can do to support them. Reiterate your commitment to their success. Invest in resources and support to help them through this challenging time. Don’t take your foot off of the accelerator for a second, because you can’t afford to slip backwards when it comes to workplace equality. Those who stay committed during times like these are the organizations who will come out on top when this is all over.

  1. What advice would you give working mothers in balancing their additional home pressures while maintaining a successful career?

Be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Breathe. Know that you are enough. Set boundaries. Take time for yourself. Practice self-care (whatever that looks like for you). Maintain a support network. Hire help for things that you don’t get energy doing (meals, cleaning, laundry). Let go of the need to control the outcome of things. Remember that you and everyone around you are doing the best that you can. Smile and have fun – even though life may feel hectic right now, it is important not to lose sight of the things that are most important and to find moments of joy in both work and life.

  1. How can readers learn more about you online?

Readers can visit our website (www.talking-talent.com) or follow us on LinkedIn (/teresahopke), (/talking-talent-us), (/talking-talent-ltd).