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A Culture of Inclusion: Promoting Workplace Diversity and Belonging

Nicole Fallon

Learn how to improve your organization by creating a diverse and inclusive workplace.

  • Cultural inclusion starts from the top down. It is imperative that business leaders display inclusive behavior.
  • Ask employees for feedback on how to improve your company's diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • Cultural inclusion can improve your company culture and ultimately help your bottom line.
  • This article is for employers, HR professionals, and business leaders who want to learn how to create an inclusive workplace culture.

Diversity is an important issue for any modern business. But it's not enough to hire people of different nationalities, races, genders and sexual orientations – everyone needs to feel like they are truly welcome, safe and free to be themselves in the workplace. 

How to develop an inclusive work culture

Although many businesses are moving towards more inclusive and diverse workforces, there is still much progress to be made. Here are some simple steps you can take as a leader to promote an inclusive company culture. [Communication and involvement matter when promoting diversity.]

1. Start from the top.

As with any facet of company culture, creating and encouraging a sense of belonging in your workplace begins at the leadership level. The company's founders and executive team need to have a desire to build a diverse culture and hire people who are open to working with people of all different nationalities, skin colors, genders and sexual orientations, said Eloise Bune, co-founder of Tentrr and former CEO of ScribbleChat.

"If diversity is not a company goal … it just won't happen," she said. "People tend to hire people like them so they are comfortable and rarely challenged. It is human nature."

Jason Beckerman, CEO of Unified, said a healthy business starts by having a healthy company culture.

"We strive to provide all of our employees with the tools and skills necessary to shine, and that starts with letting your employees know that yes, you can be exactly who you are here," Beckerman said.

2. Focus on inclusive recruitment strategies.

Once your company's leadership sets the tone, it's easy to extend that attitude throughout the organization.

"What is great about creating a culture of belonging is that it can be fostered peer-to-peer, bottom-up and top-down," said Ullmann.

Ullmann also recommends taking a close look at your company's recruiting tactics to make sure you're approaching hiring with the goal of fostering diversity and inclusion.

"Make inclusive recruitment an integral part of your company's DNA to amplify your company's future, cultivate your workforce and invest in the community as a whole," he said.

3. Provide safe spaces for employees.

Inclusive workplaces go the extra mile to consider the safety and comfortability of all employees, especially those from marginalized groups. For example, gendered bathrooms have the potential to make transgender and gender non-conforming employees uncomfortable, especially in light of controversial bathroom bills in multiple states that could or already do impact transgender rights. One easy way to signal a progressive, inclusive workplace is to offer unisex bathrooms in your office, said Bune.

On a broader level, inclusive spaces can be created simply by spending time with one another. Consider hosting team lunches and other informal events where employees can casually connect with each other. If your company is bigger, creating an in-office support group or network for diverse employees can help them connect with others who share their experiences.

"Employee networks can provide a safe, open environment to spark conversations and discuss the topics that are important to the community," said Castro.

4. Connect with employees (but be sensitive).

One of the best ways to signal to your employees that it's OK to be themselves is to connect with them on a personal level. Be transparent with them about your own life: "If you are real with them chances are you will get the same in return," said Bune.

Simple gestures like asking about "spouses" or "partners" (rather than assuming someone's sexual orientation and using gendered terms) can encourage LGBT employees to open up about their personal lives and feel included in non-work discussions. However, it's important not to be insensitive about their identity.

"Be sure to treat LGBTQ employees like everyone else in the office and do not ask inappropriate questions like, 'How did you come out?' unless you have a close relationship with the person," she said. "This is a very personal question."

5. Give employees multiple ways to provide feedback.

Ullmann advised giving employees an outlet for connecting with others and sharing their stories.

"Whether it's an employee survey, company all-hands discussions or campaigns, giving your employees multiple ways to share their feedback, their perspective and their stories will create an open dialogue that can lead to more positive outcomes," he said.

Key takeaway: To create an inclusive workplace, lead by example, use inclusive recruitment strategies and ask for employee feedback.

Importance of cultural inclusion at work

Cultural inclusion has moved to the forefront of many employers' HR agendas, and for good reason. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only the "right" thing to do, but it can also benefit businesses in many ways.

It fosters a healthy work environment.

"[A sense of] belonging … and inclusion should be a big focus for employers because it ensures that all employees, regardless of their background and experiences, can be connected with equal opportunity and create a healthier, more successful future together with their employers," Alexandre Ullmann, head of human resources at LinkedIn, LATAM, told Business News Daily.

It increases employee engagement and productivity.

"When people are comfortable and can express themselves in an authentic way, they are more likely to perform better, which increases engagement and contributes to the organization as a whole," said Miguel Castro, senior director and lead for the Diverse Ecosystem, Global Diversity & Inclusion Office at SAP.

This is especially true of workplaces with an LGBT-inclusive environment. Castro noted that inclusivity has a significant impact on an organization's bottom line. Similarly, a study by The Economist found that the majority of its survey respondents believe diversity and inclusion promote better talent management, employee satisfaction, collaboration and corporate reputation.

It leads to more creativity and innovation.

Having a diverse and inclusive workforce can help your company in terms of creativity and innovation. When each team member's distinctive background and experience is celebrated and encouraged, employees are more likely to voice their unique perspective. This can lead to new business ideas, improved operations, and innovative solutions.

Key takeaway: Workplace cultural inclusion can increase employee engagement, productivity, creativity and innovation.

Real-life examples of successful diversity programs

Our sources shared a few of the efforts their companies are making to make diverse groups of employees feel safe, supported and celebrated in the workplace:

LinkedIn: LinkedIn has a global employee resource group called "out@in," which offers executive sponsors and a strong ally community for LGBT employees, said Ullmann. The company's #ProudAtWork campaign encouraged employees, executives and LinkedIn Influencers to share their stories about belonging in the workplace. 

SAP: Inclusion is a top priority at SAP, which offers a companywide virtual training program called Focus on Insight, which educates employees about diversity and inclusion. According to Castro, the company also encourages participation in employee-driven events like SAP's "We Are One" initiatives (focused on sharing diverse life experiences), and it sponsors/participates in annual Pride parades across the globe. 

Unified: Unified aims to foster "great people from all walks of life with impactful, inclusive cultural programs including mentorship, executive town halls and peer awards," said Beckerman. For Pride Month, the company put together a few celebratory initiatives, including an employee viewing of HBO's documentary "The Trans List," an informational session hosted by the Ali Forney Center (a community center supporting LGBT homeless youth), and treats from NYC's famous Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Unified also offers its Leadership Empowerment And Development (LEAD) Program, an initiative to support and educate strong female leaders in the workplace. 

An inclusive culture is a work in progress, said Ullmann, and you should constantly be revisiting your policies and programs to create a more tolerant, diverse environment.

"There is always something that can be improved upon," he said. "Make it your company's priority to take action to close any gaps so that all employees feel like they belong and are supported to thrive."

Key takeaway: Learn about other organization's diversity and inclusion initiatives to spark some of your own D&I ideas.

Some sources were interviewed for a previous version of this article. Additional reporting by Skye Schooley.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
Nicole Fallon
business.com Member
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.