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How to create a more inclusive workplace

Last updated

14 February 2024


Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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Workplace inclusivity is foundational to creating an effective and inviting working culture. Is your company doing enough to ensure every team member feels included?

An inclusive workplace goes beyond inviting people to participate in conversations or offer their perspectives during meetings. It involves cultivating shared values and beliefs that shape day-to-day behaviors and integrating them into your organization's mission and vision.

Use our helpful guide to explore workplace inclusivity and learn how to create a happier, healthier, more inviting working culture for every staff member.

What is an inclusive workplace?

An inclusive workplace is a physical or virtual working environment that supports, welcomes, and invites people from all different backgrounds to do their best work.  It’s an environment where employees feel valued and respected and have equal opportunities to succeed.

Inclusive work environments focus on:

  • Diversity

  • Equity

  • Acceptance

  • Respect

  • Integration

  • Open communications

  • Inclusive leadership

  • A supportive work environment

  • Accountability

  • Belongingness

  • Continuous improvement

As a result, companies that ensure an inclusive environment experience higher levels of employee satisfaction and engagement, innovation, better and more diverse decision-making, and overall better performance in the marketplace.

5 essential traits of an inclusive workplace

As your company strives to increase inclusivity and improve workplace culture, here are a few examples of essential traits exemplified by inclusive organizations:

1. Compassionate leadership

For inclusion practices to stick, they need to start from the top of your organization—originating from upper management and trickling down to all team members below. To achieve this goal, you must build a team of C-suite executives, managers, and team leads that exemplify compassionate and caring leadership. When done correctly, this approach will help focus on supporting and empowering all team members within your organization.

People with higher emotional intelligence (the ability to read people and their needs) are great candidates for these roles. Consider offering additional leadership training to support these skills and improve workplace culture.

Here are some ways in which leaders can demonstrate compassion and inclusivity toward their teams:

Conducting regular one-on-ones:

  • Discussing concerns, assessing workloads, and identifying sources of stress

Engaging in reflective listening:

  • Listening actively and with empathy fosters a supportive environment, ensuring team members feel heard and valued. Reflecting on what you hear gives room to clarify misperceptions. For example: “It sounds like you're feeling overwhelmed by the project deadlines and may need additional support. Is that right? How can I help?” 

Preventing burnout

  • Encouraging team members to use wellness days, PTO, and having a clear overtime policy

Setting clear expectations

  • Reducing stress and uncertainty by having realistic expectations regarding deadlines and responsibilities

Promoting work-life balance:

  • Offering flexible hours, compressed weeks, or remote options can help employees balance their work and personal responsibilities

2. Encouragement and support

Regardless of an employee’s background and experiences, they need to feel empowered and able to reach out for help and support—and one of the best ways to achieve this goal is to create a working environment that celebrates and uplifts your team members.

Some ways you can demonstrate commitment to employee encouragement and support include:

Onboarding support:

  • Creating in-house resources to guide and support new hires through the day-to-day expectations of their role

Feedback culture:

  • Encouraging managers to provide daily or weekly feedback to their team, including constructive comments about people’s work and performance

Communication accessibility:

  • Regularly discussing the existing communication channels and steps required for an employee to reach out for assistance

Normalizing help-seeking:

  • Reduce the stigma of asking for help by normalizing question-asking and peer mentorship as part of your company culture

Sharing life experiences openly:

  • By tying personal anecdotes to valuable insights, senior leaders can show their humanness and maintain professional boundaries—for example, sharing a story about a challenging experience in their career and discussing what they learned from it

3. Breaking down participation barriers

A big part of improved workplace inclusion is ensuring all current and potential employees can fully participate in work events and tasks.

This initiative is about more than bringing an extra seat to the table for meetings. True inclusion and participation are about fundamentally changing how your company approaches hosting events, communicating information, and listening to and utilizing employees’ opinions and experiences.

Examples of ways to remove participation barriers within your organization include:

Accessible team bonding

  • Host all employee bonding events in accessible locations (physical or virtual) to ensure all people who want to attend can access the venue.

Transparent job descriptions

  • Include a list of employee accommodations within your company's job descriptions when hiring new staff.

Inclusivity and accessibility committee (aka, culture committee)

  • Create a workplace accessibility committee within your organization to facilitate improved inclusivity

4. Willingness to have critical conversations

A big part of improving workplace inclusion is being willing to assess and discuss existing practices.

No company is perfect—acknowledging your flaws and showing a willingness to improve is essential.

Companies with leadership willing to evaluate, learn, and discuss existing weak points within the workplace culture are more likely to achieve improved workplace inclusion.

Examples of questions that can kickstart meaningful inclusion conversations include:

  • Do we often hire people of the same background? If so, why?

  • What are the most common pain points within our existing workplace culture?

  • Are there any business protocols or practices that are actively exclusionary?

5. Embracing flexibility and adaptability

Workplace flexibility is a huge factor in ensuring all team members can participate in work and work events to their full ability.

While it may seem like many of your company's existing regulations and protocols are set in stone, take a step back and reconsider if they could evolve. Does your company have existing workplace culture practices that can be updated to accommodate and include all team members? Reviewing them regularly is a crucial starting point for creating a more inclusive workplace.

Examples of ways your company can become more flexible and accommodating include

Hybrid and remote work arrangements:

  • Offering hybrid or work-from-home options

Catering to diverse learning styles:

  • Considering different learning styles when creating educational resources

Flexible start times:

  • Allowing team members to adjust their start times based on personal schedules

10 best practices for creating an inclusive workplace

Here are some best practices to make your working environment more inclusive and inviting for everyone as your team improves upon its existing DEI practices:

  1. Equitable hiring and retention practices: Prioritize diversity when hiring and retaining employees to ensure an inclusive workforce.

  2. Policy review for equity: Systematically review company policies and practices to ensure they are fair and address potential biases.

  3. Open and transparent communication: Encourage open and transparent communication to foster inclusivity in the workplace, valuing and hearing the opinions of all team members.

  4. Celebration of diversity: Celebrate diverse viewpoints and creativity within the workplace to promote an inclusive and innovative culture.

  5. Support for employee resource groups (ERGs): Encourage forming employee resource groups that cater to various backgrounds to create a sense of community and support.

  6. Flexible, accessible work environments: Offer flexible and accessible work environments to accommodate diverse needs and promote work-life balance.

  7. Continuous improvement programs: Implement continuous improvement programs that regularly evaluate company practices, fostering a commitment to ongoing diversity, equity, and inclusion improvements.

  8. Mentorship and sponsorship programs: Establish programs to support the professional development of underrepresented employees, providing guidance and opportunities for career advancement.

  9. Leadership development: Provide training focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion to equip leaders with the skills and knowledge necessary to champion inclusive practices.

  10. Regular education opportunities: Implement ongoing diversity training and education programs teamwide to increase awareness, foster understanding, and promote a culture of respect and inclusion within the organization.

Creating a lasting impact

While cultivating a genuinely inclusive workplace demands dedication and continuous effort, the profound benefits, both for individual employees and the organization as a whole, make this endeavor invaluable. It’s a journey requiring unwavering commitment, adaptability, and a collective willingness to learn and improve. As an ongoing work program, fostering an inclusive workplace necessitates constant monitoring, reflection, and adjustment. As societal norms and individual needs evolve, so must our strategies and approaches to inclusivity, ensuring that efforts remain relevant, effective, and genuinely beneficial to all organization members.

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