Best Practices for Creating an Inclusive Workplace

Inclusivity is a hot topic right now in the HR space.  But what is inclusivity, and what does it look like in the workplace?

According to Forbes, an inclusive workplace is one in which employees feel like they have a voice, have access to company resources and career development opportunities, and are accepted and valued for who they are.  

While most companies agree that these are noble goals, they can be more difficult to achieve than one might imagine. More than half of employees currently feel that their company has no interest in their opinions.  Furthermore, three in five individuals polled attested that they had experienced or witnessed discrimination based on age, race, gender, or sexual identity at work.  

Considering the fact that our nation is becoming ever more diverse, lack of inclusivity can be extremely detrimental not only for moral reasons, but for business ones.  McKinsey research found that employees who feel acknowledged at work are more likely to cooperate and outperform other teams by about 35%, and BetterUp found that employees who feel their opinions don’t matter at work were 50% more likely to quit their jobs.

So how can you ensure that your workplace is truly inclusive?  Here are 7 things we’d recommend:

1. Be an Empathetic Leader

Forbes has called empathy the key to promoting inclusivity in the workplace.  Empathetic leaders are able to put themselves in the position of their staff, making them more likely to acknowledge their concerns and make employees feel heard.  Taking time to listen to others, being curious about their concerns, and volunteering have all been shown to improve empathy.

2. Take a Bottom-Up & Top-Down Approach

While a top-down approach is necessary to ensure compliance with diversity and inclusion initiatives, a bottom-up approach to the issue is also important.  CIO magazine asserts that top-down approaches to inclusivity “drive compliance, not commitment.”  If employees do not understand or agree with your inclusivity measures, they are more likely to resist them, which is where the bottom-up approach can help.  In the bottom-up style, a company encourages its employees to voice concerns or confusion about inclusion efforts to their superiors.  By blending both approaches, a company can ensure that their inclusivity program is accepted and understood by a greater number of employees.

3. Make Sure Your Program is Ongoing

While most companies today mandate that their employees take a diversity and inclusion course, few of them follow up on this training.  Without a refresher course, it’s easy for employees to quickly forget what they learned in their original training.  Make sure to have periodic seminars or group meetings on the subject of inclusion to ensure that it’s always at the forefront of your employees’ minds.

4. Use Evidence-Based Diversity & Inclusion Training Courses

One large problem with company D&I training today is that very few of the programs available are actually validated.  While companies spend over $8 billion a year on diversity training, studies show that it does little to actually create an inclusive workplace.  BetterUp researchers assert that this can likely be attributed to the fact that most of these courses are not validated and there is no research to prove that they are actually effective.

5. Give All Employees a Voice

Giving employees a say in decisions and including a diverse array of individuals at meetings goes a long way in improving inclusivity.  Be sure to acknowledge the opinion of all meeting attendees, not just managers, to make lower- or middle-level employees feel valued and heard.

6. Try Sponsorship Programs

Sponsorship programs are an excellent way to pair individuals from historically underrepresented backgrounds with executive mentors.  This helps provide them with visibility and growth opportunities they may otherwise have lacked.  Sponsors can also help advocate on these individuals’ behalf to make sure that their voices are acknowledged.

7. Maintain Accountability

Manager check-ins and inclusivity incentives are two great ways to maintain accountability with regards to inclusivity programs.  Accountability is critical in ensuring that employees participate in inclusivity programs, according to Harvard Business Review and SHRM.  If your company’s inclusivity program has no reward or no teeth, executives are likely to turn their attention to other company priorities.  Tying manager’s inclusivity results into their bonuses, for instance, can help to hold them accountable.

As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, inclusion becomes an ever more vital issue for employers.  Companies in the top 25% for racial and gender diversity are more likely to have better financial returns than other companies, while companies with at least 30% female leadership make more in profits.  Furthermore, over half of companies surveyed by Forbes agreed that diversity and inclusivity are key drivers of innovation.  To ensure that your company is an inclusive one, practice empathetic leadership, offer equal access to company resources, make sure all voices are heard, and invest in inclusivity training programs that are validated and ongoing.