How to build an inclusive culture in the workplace

In discussions about diversity and inclusion in the workplace, the spotlight often falls on recruitment policies as the primary avenue for change within companies. While these policies are crucial, fostering an inclusive workplace extends far beyond them.

From top level training and allocating sufficient resources to the language that is used in day-to-day comms, creating an inclusive culture within a company requires a more holistic approach, adopting multi-level thinking to avoid taking a diversity ‘tick box’ approach.

What does inclusion in the workplace mean?

At its core, building inclusion in the workplace involves fostering a sense of belonging for all. It goes beyond diversity, which focuses on building a workforce that is representatively varied in its makeup taking into account protected characteristics like race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Inclusion concentrates on actively involving and engaging all employees within all aspects of company culture, including decision making and progressive opportunities. 

The progress of inclusion in the workplace

In recent years, businesses have slowly grown more inclusive, more women, people of colour and LGBTQ+ people are taking up leadership and executive positions, and organisations are increasingly focussed on establishing diversity and inclusion programmes to increase employee engagement. However, there is still a significant amount of progress to be made. In 2022, women made up only 32% of senior management roles globally, people with disabilities were 50% less likely to be hired compared to people without disabilities, and 24% of Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour in the US report feeling excluded or discriminated against within their organisation. Moreover, other forms of diversity such as social origin, neurodiversity and age are still overwhelmingly disregarded. 

What are the benefits of an inclusive workplace?

Increased innovation and better decision-making:  A workplace filled with diverse perspectives and opinions is one where creative problem solving and innovative ideas can thrive. Research shows that diverse teams in which every individual is included throughout the decision-making process are better at thinking outside the box and generating novel solutions. Embracing inclusivity, therefore, is a great way to bolster new and exciting thinking. In fact, inclusive workplaces are six times more likely to be innovative than non-inclusive workplaces, highlighting the importance of diversifying perspectives.

Enhanced employee engagement: In an inclusive environment, employees often feel more valued and connected, leading to greater job satisfaction and a sense of belonging. This can have a direct effect on absenteeism, with a study from the Harvard Business Review showing that improved perception of workplace inclusion can boost employee attendance by one day a year, per employee.

Talent attraction and retention: Organisations with strong DEI policies are more likely to attract and retain top talent, as employees are increasingly seeking workplaces that value inclusion and provide equal opportunities. Inclusive workplaces also have lower turnover rates; when employees feel valued and supported, they are less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Employee wellbeing: An inclusive workplace can positively influence employees’ mental and emotional well-being, reducing stress and creating a sense of community. With more and more companies turning their attention to workplace wellbeing, inclusivity initiatives can create a fairer, more equitable and healthier environment for all employees.

Improved performance: Companies that prioritise DEI have been shown to outperform their peers in terms of financial performance. In fact, a study found that inclusive workplaces have 2.3 times the cash flow per employee over non-inclusive workplaces over a 3-year period.

Top tips for cultivating an inclusive workplace:

  1. Secure support from top leadership To prioritise inclusivity throughout your company, those in leadership roles should be the ones to set the example. If the leadership is on board, it is far easier to establish an authentic, all-encompassing tone throughout the organisation. From embedding DEI training at the executive level, to ensuring that those in higher positions actively demonstrate a commitment to DEI through personal conduct and actions, company leaders can act as role models for the broader workforce who are then more likely to follow suit.
  2. Integrate inclusivity into core values An organisation’s values lay the groundwork upon which its behaviour, purpose and priorities are built; if inclusion is not a part of these values, efforts to cultivate it may appear unfounded. To avoid this, organisations should ensure that their values and commitments to diversity and inclusion are clearly defined and regularly communicated to employees, prospective employees, business partners and the public. However, if this commitment is made, it is vital to act on it. Additionally, a company can organise events that reflect the diversity commitments of an organisation, whether that be inviting guest speakers who cover an array of subjects or celebrating cultural and religious holidays with equal focus and respect. 
  3. Implement participatory decision making processes Fostering workplace inclusion requires organisations to involve employees not only in day-to-day processes, but also in the decision-making surrounding those processes. Collaborative and participatory decision-making processes allow employees to have a direct impact on their work environment. Whether in the form of general assemblies or companywide lunches, giving people the space to voice their opinions and express their needs in an open and transparent manner will allow them to feel that their voices are being valued and heard, whilst also allowing you to get feedback about your business from the people who know it best.
  4. Use inclusive communication One very simple but effective change that companies can make to bolster inclusivity in their workplace is to adopt inclusive language. This can include learning and employing the preferred pronouns of your employees and, when referring to someone’s spouse, using “partner” instead of gender-specific terms like “husband” or “wife,” especially if their gender is unknown. You should also be vigilant to avoid harmful language, and if a mistake is made, offer a proper apology, and commit to preventing recurrence.
  5. Foster a flexible and safe working environment Inclusivity in the workplace does not just include company culture; it includes the physical workplace itself. That is why you should consider meeting employees’ needs in terms of privacy and safe spaces. This could be through creating lactation rooms for new mothers, meditation or prayer areas, gender-neutral bathrooms or quiet workspaces for individuals who may find open floor plans overwhelming. Careful consideration should also be made regarding people’s personal needs when working out schedules. This can be achieved by organising meetings during reasonable hours of the day and avoiding times where employees are likely to be taken up by personal responsibilities, like care work or the school pick up.
  6. Provide diversity and inclusion training Diversity and inclusion training allows employees to understand what diversity in the workplace actually is. Training helps illustrate how diversity issues can arise, raising awareness about biases, and enabling employees to cultivate the interpersonal skills required to thrive in an inclusive environment. Organisations should train employees on recognising microaggressions and situations of exclusion and then addressing them to create a more respectful and welcoming environment for all. When doing this, it is key to stay up-to-date with research and best practices in the DEI realm to ensure your efforts are effective and evolving. Additionally, continuous training is key to building diverse and inclusive environments and again avoids the pitfall of one-off, ‘tick-box’ training.  
  7. Create anonymous feedback mechanisms and speak up channels Allowing employees to provide regular feedback on diversity and inclusion efforts is essential for businesses looking to cultivate a more inclusive workspace. Not only will doing so allow a business to improve upon any areas that aren’t working so well, it will allow employees’ voices to feel valued and heard. The creation of an anonymous feedback channel is one way to instigate this, ensuring that employees feel confident and comfortable to express their views.
  8. Establish employee resource groups An Employee Resource Group (ERG) is a voluntary, employee-led group of people who come together to foster diversity and inclusion within their organisation. When trying to foster an inclusive work environment, it can be beneficial to establish ERGs for different affinity groups within your organisation, such as LGBTQ+, women, people of colour, or simply establish a single working group focusing on inclusivity as a whole. The group(s), which should reflect various social demographics, office locations, and job functions, would be responsible for presenting new initiatives to leadership, raising up concerns and collaborating with different units to implement and communicate changes. 

With more than 20 years of experience, GoodCorporation is increasingly working with organisations to create ethical and inclusive business cultures and develop best practice in this complex area. From strategy development and gap analyses, to inclusivity policy drafting and roll-out, our range of bespoke DEI consultancy services help organisations design, embed and evaluate their approach to DEI, building inclusivity in a way that is right for the people making up a business organisation.