Most leaders agree an inclusive workplace is important. But what being inclusive means and how it comes to life varies widely from one company to the next. For some, it involves hiring and retaining a diverse cross-section of employees. For others, it means hosting unconscious bias training or launching employee resource groups. Some companies even dedicate an entire leadership role to D&I. In fact, 60% of Fortune 500 companies have a Chief Diversity Officer or similar.
While these efforts are great starting points, an organization looking to truly emphasize inclusion should create a culture that embraces unique ideas, perspectives, experiences and people. Surveying people and hiring a diverse workforce is only part of the equation. The key to an inclusive work environment is making sure each employee feels included, and this is exactly where many companies lose momentum. You need true commitment from everyone, every day and throughout an organization, to create a culture of inclusion. Leaders also need to show they authentically value the people behind their ideas and experiences.
The truth is, being inclusive is easier said than done. It takes focus and action at every level, not just a mandate from the C-suite.
How Limeade defines inclusion
Inclusion is a sense of belonging, connection and community at work. Inclusive organizations help people feel welcomed, known, valued and encouraged to bring their whole, unique selves to work. Building an inclusive culture helps employees feel more comfortable being themselves, leading to increased confidence and engagement. When employees feel valued, they’re more likely to make valuable contributions in the workplace. Inclusion also helps employees feel empowered, increasing independence and productivity.
Why won’t a top-down approach work?
Inclusion revolves around the day-to-day interactions between employees, managers, leaders, teams and peers. In other words, a genuinely inclusive workplace culture relies on leadership support and grassroots energy.
To make a real impact and display an ongoing commitment to your people and an inclusive work environment, it’s important to understand the dynamics at work in your organization. If top-level employees don’t enforce inclusive practices, the top-down approach comes across as disingenuous. To create a truly inclusive culture, you must encourage employees at all levels to embrace inclusivity and incorporate inclusive actions into their routines.
Your commitment creates commitment. According to research by the Limeade Institute and Artemis Connection, employees who feel included are 43% more committed to their organizations.
The 11 components of an inclusive workplace
Inclusion is a concept. Your people bring it to life.
Before you can build inclusion in the workplace, you need to understand the basics — how people experience inclusion and the traits of an inclusive workplace. These 11 building blocks are the foundation of inclusion at both the individual and company levels:
1. Employees have a voice
When employees feel like they “have a voice,” they’re more likely to share their opinions with others. At the management level, you can give employees a voice by doing surveys, setting up weekly check-ins with department heads and having regular staff meetings. Make sure diversity and inclusion don’t become taboo topics. Managers at all levels of the organization should be willing to listen to inclusion-related concerns without passing judgment or trying to sweep those concerns under the proverbial rug. When possible, reward employees for sharing their honest feedback and working to make the organization more inclusive.
2. Employees feel a sense of uniqueness and belonging
An employee’s sense of connection to their company is built on belonging — the feeling that you’re a part of an environment that knows and values you. Just like an employee needs belonging and connection, they also need to feel unique among their peers and that their company cares about their individual strengths and experiences. Employees who feel like they don’t belong will be less likely to remain engaged, and they may even leave the organization entirely, hurting your retention rate. To promote a sense of uniqueness and belonging, employers should identify how individual employees create value in unique ways. Celebrate those unique contributions as often as possible.
3. Employees feel valued
When an employee feels that their voice and unique self are appreciated, there’s a greater sense of value and satisfaction. Employees who don’t feel valued may start to wonder why they’re working so hard if no one notices their contributions. To avoid this, treat every employee with respect and call attention to their wins. Identify what makes each employee unique, and celebrate it as often as possible.
4. Employees have access to learning and development opportunities
Employees who have access to learning and development opportunities know that their company cares — about their ideas, aspirations and growth. Provide opportunities for development by starting a mentoring program, offering ongoing training or allowing employees to attend professional conferences related to their jobs. If your company doesn’t have a full-time training and development professional, consider using e-learning tools or hiring an outside trainer to deliver workshops and seminars. As your employees become more specialized and engaged, your company will grow, making this a win-win approach to inclusivity.
5. Fosters a collaborative environment
Regardless of your role or department, a collaborative environment can help break down silos and promote organization-wide inclusion. In a collaborative environment, team members have the opportunity to leverage their unique strengths and lean on each other for support. You can create a collaborative environment by soliciting opinions from employees during meetings, scheduling cross-departmental meetings and using team messaging tools. Build trust by eliminating conflicts of interest and encouraging employees to address conflict right away, instead of allowing it to fester into mistrust and resentment.
6. Employees have access to resources
Support from managers or diversity and affinity groups help employees know their organization is committed to their well-being and growth. Offering comprehensive health and wellness benefits to full-time employees demonstrates a strong commitment to employee well-being. Employees should also have access to comprehensive training, company policies and support from external groups. With the right resources, employees can focus on using their unique strengths to benefit your organization.
7. Strategically aligns with inclusive practices
Strategic alignment requires companies to explain why an inclusive workplace model is important so that leaders, managers and employees can put the strategy into action. Every process your company follows should have inclusive practices built into it. When inclusivity is the norm, employees are more likely to embrace inclusivity and celebrate their differences. If inclusive practices are deeply ingrained in your culture, it’s also easier to demonstrate that you have a genuine commitment to inclusivity. Making top-down recommendations doesn’t have the same effect.
8. Places value on equity, not just equality
Equity requires you to see employees as individuals and recognize their unique needs. No two employees are exactly alike, so you shouldn’t treat them exactly the same way if you want to promote equity and inclusion. If one of your employees has trouble hearing in an open office environment, for example, you may want to allow them to work from home or move to an office in a less noisy area of the building. If one of your younger employees seems a little rough around the edges, maybe they need extra opportunities for professional development.
9. Motivates employees to act inclusively
As mentioned above, the top-down method isn’t as effective as company executives would like it to be. Inclusive practices need to come from all levels of the workforce, from part-time clerical employees to salaried department heads. It’s also important to give employees a way to report non-inclusive behavior when they see it. If you don’t already have an ethics hotline, consider instituting one for this purpose. Motivate employees to act inclusively by sponsoring cultural events or delivering training designed to promote diversity, inclusion and equity.
10. Provides transparency into workforce decisions
In a transparent organization, employees don’t have to guess what’s expected of them and what’s frowned upon. Instead of having “secret rules,” be clear about how you evaluate employees. This promotes ethical decision-making practices and helps employees feel comfortable about speaking up when they’re not included.
11. Embraces and supports change
If you want your inclusion program to be successful, you must make adjustments from time to time. Use your experiences with employees and other stakeholders to determine when it’s necessary to change a policy or procedure. Company resources should always promote your current approach to inclusivity.
The results: What an inclusive work environment can do for your company
Inclusion means creating an amazing and fulfilling employee experience at work (and beyond). Fulfilling experiences have a positive effect on team members and empower them to do their jobs more effectively. According to research by the Limeade Institute and Artemis, employees who feel included:
Are 28%more engaged at work
Have 19% greater well-being in their lives
Are 43% more committed to their company
Are 51%more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work
Typically intend to stay with their company 3 timeslonger
And for companies, inclusion can mean a lot. When employees feel included, they’re more productive and engaged. They also tend to have more innovative ideas, creating more opportunities to generate revenue or increase brand recognition. Inclusive workplaces:
Limeade is on a mission to help companies of all sizes create inclusive cultures. If you want your company to become a great place to work, contact Limeade for more information on starting a corporate well-being program that emphasizes inclusivity.
In honor of Black History Month, we’ve put together a list of actions that your organization can take to make celebrating Black history part of life at work year-round. These practices are sure to enhance diversity and inclusion in your workplace.