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15 Ways to Establish an Inclusive Work Culture

inclusive work culture

There are plenty of benefits to a diverse workforce. There is higher employee engagement, lower employee turnover, and a more attractive employer brand. But the most significant value of diversity for organizations is diversity of thinking.

Demographic diversity is essential to ensure nondiscrimination. But it is not an end in itself. Research from the Australian Institute of Company Directors has shown that diversity of thinking enhances innovation by around 20%. Diverse teams leverage the different mental frameworks people use to solve problems.

However, there is a difference between inclusivity and diversity. Your workforce might be diverse, but do employees feel they belong? Deloitte defined workplace inclusion as when people feel they are:

  • Treated fairly and with respect
  • Valued and that they belong
  • Safe and open to speaking up
  • Empowered to grow and do their best work

Deloitte’s research shows that organizations with an inclusive culture are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, thrice as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.

American workplaces must change to reflect the changing demographics of the population, and they should make their diverse employees feel included regardless of race, gender, age, religion, physical ability, personality, or sexual orientation.

So, how can your organization build an inclusive work environment? Here is an action plan:

1. Get Buy-in from the C-Suite

If you want an inclusive workplace, you need the support of top management. The way to convince senior executives is to show the numbers. Present credible research on how diversity in thinking leads to superior business performance. Conduct internal surveys to demonstrate employee engagement.

2. Create a Task Force

Once you have buy-in from the top, set up a task force to establish the framework for workplace inclusivity. This includes policies, guidelines, and metrics. You need diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DE&I) champions with diverse backgrounds. They should represent various stakeholders who are passionate about diversity and inclusivity.

3. Establish a Non-Discrimination Policy

There should be a clear, formal policy against discrimination. Include rules or guidelines on how this policy works in recruitment, promotions, meetings, and other business activities. Communicate this policy to new hires and current employees, and back up this policy with consequences if it is violated.

4. Lead by Example

Senior executives and managers should set an example for an inclusive work culture. They should constantly be raising awareness, at least at the start. They must also change the language they use, consider inputs from various sources, and practice inclusive behaviors daily.

5. Conduct DE&I Training

Diversity training should go beyond understanding different cultures or addressing stereotypes. It should help employees learn how to embrace diverse backgrounds, listen to different perspectives, and positively engage with people different from them.

6. Make Inclusivity Part of Your Core Values

Do you want to incorporate inclusivity into your corporate culture? Start by making a bold statement. Make diversity, equity, and inclusivity part of your core values. Encourage employees to practice this value, and share stories of employees who demonstrate inclusivity.

7. Create Opportunities to Bond

People have built-in biases, sometimes even regardless if they say otherwise. The best way to understand people from different backgrounds is to know them on a personal, not just professional, level. So, foster camaraderie through team lunches, happy hours, and volunteer days.

8. Offer a Mentorship Program

Another way of building a better understanding of diversity and practicing inclusivity is through a mentorship program. You can assign mentors with proteges from different backgrounds, cultures, and identities. This creates opportunities to learn new perspectives and embrace differences.

9. Use Inclusive Language

Inclusive language means avoiding discriminatory and offensive terms, humor, and expressions. It also means using broad terms, such as parental leave instead of maternity or paternity leave. Be respectful of how you talk, and apologize if you make a mistake.

10. Expand Your Holiday Calendar

Your company holiday calendar most likely has religious and secular holidays, such as Christmas and Labor Day. But if you want minority groups to feel included, include holidays representing their religious traditions. They don’t have to be non-working holidays. But acknowledging them and raising awareness for their traditions will make a huge difference.

11. Make It a Daily Habit

Give managers and employees opportunities to practice inclusivity, even in small ways. For example, during meetings, make sure everyone is heard and respected. When providing and receiving feedback, clarify that it’s okay to call out non-exclusive or discriminatory behavior.

12. Create a Safe, Inclusive Environment

Do you have safe spaces in your office? Is the physical working environment inclusive? If not, consider creating private and safe spaces at work, such as prayer or meditation rooms. Designate quiet areas for those who want to avoid distractions or overstimulation. Add unisex and accessible toilets. Build ramps and modify work areas to make your office wheelchair-accessible.

13. Get Feedback

Transparency and open communication are crucial to foster trust. You must listen to your employees if they feel that their workplace is inclusive, and be open to suggestions and criticisms. Conduct anonymous employee surveys, one-on-one meetings, and focus groups to collect feedback.

14. Reward the Right Behavior

You need to nudge people to practice inclusive behavior and to encourage them, you should recognize and reward employees who get it right. This will boost their morale and set an example for other employees to follow. It also sets a signal that you are serious about diversity and inclusivity.

15. Measure and Change

Diversity is easier to measure, as you can use demographic data such as age, gender, and ethnicity. Inclusivity is a little more challenging. It is difficult to directly attribute an inclusive culture to business outcomes such as profitability. However, you can use metrics such as job satisfaction and employee engagement using tools and surveys to gauge if your inclusivity initiatives are working. Measure the results, extract insights, and make necessary changes.