Cultivating KIND Cultures to Unlock Innovation and Inclusivity in Workplaces

Cultivating KIND Cultures to Unlock Innovation and Inclusivity in Workplaces

Apr 11, 2024

This Q&A is a preview of an April 25, 2024 KOAN Conversation on Cultivating KIND Cultures with Integrated Work CEO Jennifer Lyn Simpson and guest Dr. Mark McBride-Wright MBE, a chartered chemical engineer.

By Jennifer Lyn Simpson

There’s a reason Kindness comes first in the KOAN method principles. In my work with organizations and partners through the years, I’ve seen how current structures and systems prioritize efficiency and cultivate fear. These legacy frameworks often prevent us from moving beyond divisions and discourage creativity. 

When we instead lead with Kindness, we create conditions for creative problem-solving and nurture loyal, engaged, and innovative teams. Embracing the KOAN method principle to be kind allows us to center humanity and treat others with empathy and compassion.

It’s a familiar approach for my next KOAN Conversation guest, Dr. Mark McBride-Wright. Mark is a chartered chemical engineer who has personal and professional insight into the importance of creating more inclusive and equitable workplaces that spark innovation and shape a better future for industry and society. He’ll share some of those insights as we discuss bridging health and safety with diversity and inclusion for positive change. He received an MBE for services to diversity, equity and inclusion in engineering from King Charles III’s Birthday Honours in 2023. 

To prepare for our upcoming conversation, I reached out to Mark for more information about his background, his work, and his hopes for the future. Find excerpts in the Q&A below, then register for our conversation at 12 p.m. MT/2 p.m. ET on April 25, when we’ll explore concepts from the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World.

Jen: Why did you decide to expand your scope of work into diversity and inclusion in the engineering and construction industry? 

Mark: My journey into expanding the scope of work into diversity and inclusion in the engineering and construction industry stemmed from recognizing a critical gap between the potential of our industry and the current reality of its workforce composition and culture. Witnessing firsthand the challenges related to mental health, high suicide rates, and the perpetuation of outdated masculine norms, it became evident that addressing these issues was not just about improving numbers or meeting quotas. It was about fundamentally changing the fabric of our industry to reflect the diverse society we serve. As a gay engineer, I’ve experienced some of these challenges firsthand, driving my commitment to integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) principles as a cornerstone of industry reform. This move was motivated by the belief that a diverse workforce is not only a moral imperative but also a catalyst for innovation, creativity, and resilience in solving the complex problems of our time.

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Jen: How do you help leaders better understand the connection between increased workplace inclusion and enhanced employee safety and well-being? How can that also enhance team performance and innovation? 

Mark: I help leaders understand the connection between increased workplace inclusion and enhanced employee safety and well-being by presenting evidence-based research and real-world examples that illustrate the direct benefits of a diverse and inclusive environment. I commissioned our flagship EqualEngineers Masculinity in Engineering Research theme in 2019. In two of our cross-sector surveys, we discovered that one in five engineers had lost a work colleague to suicide, and one in four had had suicidal ideation or self-harmed personally. This was a wake-up call to focus on this to rapidly overhaul our culture.

When employees feel valued and included, their sense of safety — both physical and psychological — improves, leading to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and workplace accidents. This environment fosters open communication and trust, crucial elements for innovative thinking and problem-solving. By emphasizing how DEI practices lead to a safer, more collaborative workplace, leaders can see the tangible impact on team performance, where diverse perspectives fuel creativity and drive innovation. 

It is about creating a culture where any person can be open about what may be going on beneath their waterline. The message is clear: Inclusivity is not just a policy or a strategy; it’s a competitive advantage that enhances the well-being of every employee and the overall success of the organization.

Jen: Can you share a bit about the conference, organization, and awards you have established to help encourage organizational culture change? 

Mark: In response to the urgent need for cultural change within the engineering sector, I founded EqualEngineers to engineer inclusive cultures to attract, develop, and retain people. I have created a suite of events from careers fairs to conferences, and also set up the Engineering Talent Awards which is a national platform to showcase success in engineering and progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion. These initiatives serve as platforms for sharing best practices, recognizing leadership in DEI, and fostering a community of professionals committed to creating a more inclusive industry. 

The conference brings together thought leaders, practitioners, and allies to discuss challenges, share success stories, and explore new strategies for cultural transformation. EqualEngineers provides resources, training, and support to companies seeking to implement effective DEI programs. We have a family of cross-sector network groups covering LGBTQ+; Race, Ethnicity, and Cultural Heritage; Neurodiversity; Disability; and Menopause.

Together, these initiatives create momentum for organizational culture change, spotlighting the critical role of leadership in driving the industry forward.

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Jen: Can you share some of the key points from your book regarding how organizations can learn what resonates with team members as part of transforming their workforce culture? 

Mark: In The SAFE Leader, I emphasize several key points on how organizations can resonate with their team members to transform workforce culture. First, it’s crucial to actively listen to employees, understand their experiences, and value their perspectives. This approach fosters a sense of belonging and respect, making it easier to engage with and motivate the workforce. 

Second, embedding DEI principles into the core business strategy demonstrates a genuine commitment to change, moving beyond token gestures to meaningful action. Organizations must also provide continuous education and training on DEI, equipping everyone with the knowledge and skills to contribute to a more inclusive environment. 

Additionally, transparent communication about goals, progress, and challenges in DEI efforts builds trust and accountability. What makes The SAFE Leader a bit different from other DEI business books is how I have used the concepts and tools we already have at our disposal in engineering, and repurposed them for our workplace culture practices. By using the language that engineers are already familiar with, it is my hope we can expedite the uptake of positivity towards DEI workstreams. We need to engage the male majority in order for us to properly shift the culture towards progress.

Finally, celebrating diversity and inclusion successes, no matter how small reinforces the importance of these efforts and motivates continued progress. These strategies are fundamental for creating a culture that embraces diversity as a strength and drives organizational excellence.

Jen: As you know, my book, the KOAN method: Breakthrough Leadership for a Divided World, emphasizes the importance of creating Kind, Open, Adaptive, Networks as we search for the breakthroughs our world needs now. How do these ideas intersect with your work?

Mark: The principles of Kindness, Openness, Adaptiveness, and Networking (KOAN) deeply resonate with my work in the engineering and construction industry. 

Kindness relates to fostering a culture of empathy and understanding, which is crucial for creating safe and inclusive workplaces. Openness is about encouraging diverse perspectives and ideas, and acknowledging that innovation thrives in environments where all voices are heard and valued. Being adaptive is essential in the fast-evolving field of engineering, where flexibility and willingness to embrace change are key to addressing complex challenges. Lastly, networking emphasizes the importance of building connections and collaborations across different backgrounds and disciplines, enhancing the collective ability to solve problems and innovate. 

These KOAN principles align with the core objectives of my work — transforming the engineering sector into a more inclusive, equitable, and dynamic field. Together, these approaches underscore the interconnectedness of leadership, culture, and innovation in creating a better future for our industry and society at large.

Register now to join Jen and Mark for their free KOAN Conversation at 12 p.m. MT/2 p.m. ET on April 25.