- Cultural inclusion starts at the top – business leaders must display inclusive behavior.
- Ask employees for feedback on how to improve your company’s diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
- DEI efforts can boost productivity and ultimately help your bottom line.
- This article is for business owners, managers and HR professionals who want to create an inclusive workplace culture.
Diversity is an important issue for any modern business, but it’s not enough to simply hire people of different nationalities, races, genders and sexual orientations. Everyone needs to feel welcome, safe and free to be themselves in the workplace. If you focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in your workplace, your business’s culture and bottom line will benefit.
How do you create an inclusive work culture?
Although many businesses are moving toward more inclusive and diverse workforces, there is much progress to be made. Here are some simple steps you can take as a business leader to promote an inclusive company culture. Proceed with the understanding that communication and involvement matter most 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 with leadership. The company’s founders and executive team need to have the 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 D’Agostino, founder of Tentrr.
“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 begins with a healthy company culture that is welcoming and demonstrated by leaders.
“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 critical 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 Alexandre Ullmann, head of human resources at LinkedIn.
Ullmann recommends taking a close look at your company’s recruiting tactics to make sure you’re approaching hiring with the goal of facilitating 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. [See tips for improving your hiring process.]
3. Provide safe spaces for employees.
Inclusive workplaces go the extra mile to consider the safety and comfortability of all employees, especially those in marginalized groups. For example, gendered bathrooms have the potential to make transgender and gender-nonconforming employees uncomfortable, especially in light of controversial “bathroom bills” in multiple states that could or already do impact transgender people’s rights. One easy way to signal a progressive, inclusive workplace is to offer unisex bathrooms in your office, said D’Agostino.
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 Miguel Castro, the global lead for diversity and inclusion at SAP.
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 D’Agostino.
Simple gestures like asking about “spouses” or “partners,” rather than assuming someone’s sexual orientation and using gendered terms, can encourage LGBTQ employees to open up about their personal lives and feel included in nonwork discussions. However, it’s crucial not to be insensitive about their identities.
“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,” D’Agostino 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.
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: To create an inclusive workplace, lead by example, use inclusive recruitment strategies, provide spaces to form connections, and ask for employee feedback.
What is the 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,” said Ullmann.
Did you know?: Equal Pay Day was created to address the gender gap in the workplace.
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 Castro.
This inclusive engagement can significantly impact an organization’s bottom line. Similarly, diversity and inclusion promote better talent management, employee satisfaction, collaboration and corporate reputation. Even co-workers eating together can have the dual benefit of fostering a sense of belonging while boosting productivity. [Get tips for successful teamwork and collaboration.]
It leads to more creativity and innovation.
A diverse and inclusive workforce can help your company in terms of creativity and innovation. When each team member’s distinctive background and experience are celebrated and encouraged, employees are more likely to voice their unique perspectives. This can lead to new ideas, improved operations and innovative solutions that drive business success.
What are real-life examples of successful diversity programs?
Our experts shared a few of the efforts their companies have made 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 LGBTQ 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 that 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. It sponsors and participates in annual Pride parades across the globe as well.
- 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,” Beckerman said. For Pride Month, the company has put together a few celebratory initiatives, including an employee viewing of the HBO documentary The Trans List, an informational session hosted by the Ali Forney Center (a community center supporting LGBTQ homeless youth), and treats from New York City’s famous Big Gay Ice Cream Truck. Unified also offers the Leadership Empowerment and Development (LEAD) Program to support and educate strong female leaders in the workplace.
Tip: Learn about other organizations’ initiatives to get ideas for bringing diversity, equity and inclusion to your company.
Should all companies hire a DEI leader?
Companies with large workforces should consider hiring a chief diversity officer (CDO) who ensures that diversity, equity and inclusion are taken seriously on a day-to-day basis. This person should report directly to the CEO or the head of human resources and be given the budgetary resources to implement diversity programs in the workplace. Keep in mind that a CDO isn’t able to change company culture overnight and should set milestone deadlines to meet goals over time.
If a company employs a chief people officer (CPO), that person can take the lead on DEI initiatives instead of hiring a CDO or working in tandem. Some workplaces, big and small, even form culture teams made up of employees at all levels to work on programming together and solicit feedback.
The bottom line on promoting workplace diversity and belonging
Fostering workplace diversity and inclusion doesn’t just happen. You need to have a specific plan and devote the right resources to implementing changes that impact hiring and day-to-day team interactions. Employers can start by surveying existing employees to get a sense of their feelings and what can be done to improve DEI. Putting more effort into cultural programs will not only make the workplace a better environment; it will also improve productivity and add to the bottom line of the company in a positive way.
Kimberlee Leonard and Skye Schooley contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.