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What does it mean to have an inclusive workplace?

 There’s a lot of focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the workforce today. And with good reason! DEI can help companies recruit top-tier talent, increase revenues and provide a richer employee experience.

While many companies have diversity and equity well in hand, inclusion in the workplace may still be a work in progress.

Why is an inclusive workplace important?

When a workplace is inclusive, employees of all types can come together and feel like they can be themselves. They don’t have to fear being different, disabled or LGBTQ+. Workers feel comfortable and confident, able to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. Inclusion fosters a true sense of belonging in an environment where everyone fits in.

When a company is inclusive, there is greater productivity, better customer service, a flow of new ideas, better collaboration and better decision-making. An inclusive culture embraces everyone’s unique ideas and experiences. Workers are accepting and accepted, leading to greater company growth and profits.

What does inclusion in the workplace look like?

Inclusive workplaces cultivate and nurture a number of traits that promote a sense of belonging. In inclusive environments, employers:

  • Value employees, which makes employees feel appreciated for the work they do and the contributions they’re making to the organization.
  • Encourage leaders to be empathetic to ensure that their team members are listened to and feel heard. One-on-one meetings should be employee-driven with team members given the opportunity to speak about whatever is on their minds, whether it is work-related or personal.
  • Offer employees opportunities for learning and development, which demonstrates the company’s commitment to employee growth and advancement. Ongoing training and outside learning, such as conferences and workshops, show workers that the company cares about their career advancement and enhancing their skills.
  • Give employees a voice so they feel encouraged to share ideas without fear of being judged or ridiculed. This can occur in regular town hall, team or one-on-one meetings. It’s also helpful to survey employees to understand what inclusion in the workplace looks like for them.
  • Nurture a sense of belonging so that everyone feels connected to something bigger than themselves. Employees who feel that they belong are engaged and are more likely to stay with your company, improving retention and saving your company money.
  • Encourage transparency to gain trust. Open communication is vital to inclusivity. Hiding high-level decisions or working in a vacuum breeds ill will and does nothing to promote a sense of belonging. Whenever possible, allow employees to weigh in on things like the benefits and perks they’re interested in, how often they’d like to have all-hands meetings and what types of company outings appeal to them.
  • Allow access to activities and resources that promote inclusivity. Employee resource groups and their allies ensure that everyone has their team or tribe. They also let employees know that the company cares about them, and that diversity is something to celebrate. Company resources that address employees’ physical, mental and social health are another way to show employees that the company has their backs. Having an Employee Assistance Program with outside resources gives every employee equal access to many kinds of help when they need it
  • Make sure remote workers are included too. Ideas to demonstrate inclusivity for remote workers include providing a similar onboarding experience to in-house employees. Encouraging all participants to have their cameras on in Zoom meetings. Setting up weekly coffee chats with coworkers. Planning virtual lunches or happy hours. Creating team or company challenges. These are just a few ways to include remote workers in the company culture.

Inclusivity is just one piece of a company’s DEI strategy. Diversity ensures that employees will have different backgrounds, sexual orientations, skills and nationalities. Inclusion ensures that they can all work together to accomplish the company’s mission and goals.

How can companies promote inclusivity?

There are a number of things that companies can do to promote inclusion in the workplace. But one thing is for sure – it starts at the top with executive leadership where exclusivity is often the norm. In many organizations, executives segregate themselves in “ivory towers,” away from the rest of the workforce. This is the opposite of inclusivity and this needs to change to promote inclusivity company-wide,

Other things that a company can do to promote inclusivity include:

  • Making everyone accountable for inclusivity, from the CEO to the lowest-level employee.
  • Allowing employees to voice any concerns to HR or an outside ethics hotline when they are facing an inclusion issue.
  • Eliminating unconscious bias through training helps employees to understand what unconscious bias is and how to recognize it.
  • Encouraging one-on-one meetings to discuss communication or behavior issues that an employee might be experiencing.
  • Making meetings matter with clear agendas and providing all participants with an opportunity to speak, without judgment. Disagreement and debate are healthy, and employees learn tolerance and patience when they remain open-minded to diverse opinions.
  • Celebrate cultural diversity with lunch and learns, holiday celebrations and pot-luck lunches geared around specific holidays.

What are the benefits of having an inclusive workplace?

Companies with an inclusive workplace reap plenty of benefits – including benefits to their bottom line. Limeade Institute conducted research on the benefits of inclusivity, which were reported in a study titled, “Inclusion Research POV.”

When employees feel included, Limeade found that they:

  • Are 28% more engaged at work
  • Feel 19% greater well-being in their lives
  • Are 43% more committed to the company
  • Are 51% more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work
  • Intend to stay 3 times longer with their company

For companies, the benefits are equally as impressive.

  • Employees are:
    • More productive and engaged
    • More creative, generating ideas to increase revenue and brand awareness
  • Companies are:
    • 8 times more likely to achieve overall better business outcomes
    • 6 times more likely to be innovative
    • Twice as likely to meet financial targets
    • 3 times more likely to be high performing

Inclusion fosters employee well-being, engagement, commitment and a desire to stay with their company. When employees feel like they belong, they stay, reducing turnover and the high costs of recruiting and replacing employees. There is reduced absenteeism. Client-facing employees empathize with and interact more positively with customers – increasing their satisfaction. This in turn increases customer loyalty, trust and, ultimately, company revenue because customers will stay with you longer and refer you to others.


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