Cohesion Collective – Analysing Inclusivity
Inclusivity and diversity are increasingly becoming watchwords throughout the business sector, but putting those ideas into practice is where Cohesion Collective comes in. We are living in complicated times. Minority groups that have been forced to stay quiet are finally able to advocate for themselves. Some reactionary groups have pushed back against this, but even well-meaning people can find themselves worried about what kind of terminology and behaviour they should use to avoid further marginalising previously disenfranchised groups.
“Cohesion Collective is a diversity and inclusion consulting and training firm. We go into schools, businesses and corporations and discuss inclusion in spaces that are not seen as inclusive,” explains Roy Gluckman, the founder of the company. “We are shaping leaders and leadership behaviours, and as well as addressing the organisational culture element. We are creating cultures that are diverse, inclusive and sustainable.”
It is an issue that has become increasingly relevant in recent years.
“Over the last two to three years there has been a growing swell in interest around our work, locally, regionally and globally,” Gluckman says. “There is almost an urgency about thinking about inclusion. At the end of the day I think given the general current of increased globalisation, making the world smaller and communication easier, minorities are becoming more visible. With the Fourth Industrial Revolution, automation, these issues are becoming more visible. Inclusion is a counterbalancing force to the 4IR. Inclusion says how do we make our organisations more human because it is people skills and humanity that will be the counterbalancing factor for that.”
A lot of the time when the conversation moves onto issues of inclusion and diversity the impression is that it is a very touchy-feely subject, and so the Cohesion Collective’s approach can seem surprisingly pragmatic and rooted in data.
“We are looking at inclusion analytically. A lot of people see inclusion as touchy-feely, but we think it is the core foundation of a talent strategy, and of any leadership development programme. It is the core of leadership culture and ambitions. It touches all aspect of the employer experience,” Gluckman points out.
Cohesion Collective is particularly qualified to navigate this space thanks to its origins in South Africa.
“South Africa is a highly complex environment with many intersections of race, gender, class, and sexuality,” Gluckman explains. “The conversations and the depth of conversations we have around diversity and inclusion in South Africa is unparalleled. The urgency of the conversation really gives us an edge with organisations globally.”
The analytical approach that has become the company’s trademark has also led to the company looking at more extensive and structural solutions to issues of inclusion.
“We started off as a training firm primarily. I think the conversation around diversity and inclusion is neatly based around inclusion training,” Gluckman says. “Consultants come in and run one-day or half-day sessions. That is an important part of organisational change because it focuses on behaviour change. We have a bouquet of inclusion programmes that speak to that.”
But over the last 18 months, the Cohesion Collective has been developing more structural tools. They want to leave behind the model where they will come into an organisation, do a day of training and then leave without knowing what kind of impact they have had.
“So we have developed an inclusion assessment that includes a range of qualitative and quantitative measurements. We are looking at recruitment, promotion, and asking how do we start understanding what the challenges are within your business and build you a solution?” Gluckman explains. “Addressing behavioural and structural change is essential, so we designed the assessment to look at structural barriers to inclusion. We have started designing interventions and inclusions based on the data we have, measuring impact because a lot of inclusion work seems to be hearts and minds but it is hard to measure. We want to take a more measurable approach to our work.”
Getting Over the Anxiety
While Cohesion Collective’s approach aims to be analytic and measurable, there is no denying that they are working in a deeply emotive sector.
“I think there is a lot of anxiety around conversations that relate to our differences,” Gluckman acknowledges. “In a world that is increasingly polarised, where we are desperately trying to create meaning and unity, discussing our differences is frightening because we think it perpetuates the divisions that we see, so there is a fear around having those conversations.”
Even where people are able to get over that fear, a lot of organisations simply do not have the skill necessary to carry out these conversations, especially where some organisations are simply out of practice observing the humanity of their own members.
“They are scary conversations to have but also we as a culture don’t know how to have tough conversations,” Gluckman says. “We don’t know how to redesign organisational culture so everyone feels included. It is about organisations not seeing the true importance of inclusion work. They love to say ‘we must be “professional” but what that means is leave all your personal baggage in the car. They want employees to arrive without history or baggage, but people don’t work like that. You ought to engage fully, so we need to work with organisations to create spaces where we can have these conversations about our history and who we are. Engagement, innovation, participation, safety, it is all at the heart of the work that we do to unlock talent.”
Despite the challenges though, Gluckman sees the fact that his conversation exists as a sign of progress.
“We can see this push towards greater social inclusion. We are living in an age when people are speaking out. We are seeing #metoo, LGBT inclusion, historically excluded people are now speaking up and organisations are saying ‘We know we need to do this but we don’t know-how,’” Gluckman says. “So, we come in and say ‘We know you don’t know how to do this, but we are going to help you. We know it is scary but this is where we are going.’ We are showing people how to own the change narrative rather than being overwhelmed by it. Speaking to the anxiety rather than around the anxiety.”
Indeed, Gluckman is the first to admit that the conversation is a learning process for his company as well.
“We always say it is like we have been called into this work to learn ourselves and we don’t approach it from a place where we have all the answers,” he says. “We come in and say look, we are figuring it out as well, and inspiring other people to do it for themselves. But it is hard work. Really what we are trying to do is humanise spaces to create greater cohesion inside our teams. We are excited because we have been doing this work for years but now it is really becoming a thing.”