Creating an inclusive work environment is crucial for fostering a thriving and innovative organization. For HR professionals and people managers, understanding why inclusion is important in the workplace goes beyond ethical considerations—it directly impacts employee engagement, productivity, and retention. 

This guide delves into an 11-step approach designed to help you build a more inclusive workplace culture, providing practical strategies to ensure that every team member feels valued and empowered to contribute their best.

What is an inclusive workplace?

According to the United Nations Global Compact Organization, an inclusive workplace is a dynamic environment where all employees, regardless of their diverse backgrounds, feel valued, respected, and have equal access to opportunities. It is a culture that goes beyond mere tolerance, actively fostering a sense of belonging and engagement among all team members. 

Key characteristics of an inclusive work environment include:

  • Diversity
  • Equity
  • A sense of belonging

Diversity refers to the presence of differences within a given setting, encompassing various attributes such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, and cognitive diversity. While equity ensures that all employees have access to the same opportunities and resources, tailored to meet their unique needs. 

Think of a sports team. Diversity is having players with different skills and positions—some are great at offense, others excel in defense, and some are fantastic goalkeepers. Equity is ensuring each player has the right equipment and training to perform their best. Just as the goalkeeper needs special gloves and specific drills, employees need tailored resources and opportunities to succeed. 

How does an inclusive workplace benefit the overall company culture?

An inclusive workplace culture profoundly impacts a company's overall environment, driving numerous positive outcomes such as enhanced employee engagement, improved retention rates, increased innovation, and better overall performance. Let’s take a deeper look at it.

  • An inclusive culture at work leads to higher levels of employee engagement. When employees feel valued and respected, they are more likely to be motivated and committed to their work. According to a Deloitte study, the relationship between inclusion, engagement, and trust is strong, especially among millennials and Gen-Zs.
  • A report from McKinsey & Company found that companies with higher gender diversity are 27% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Moreover, inclusive workplace cultures reduce turnover by 22%, as employees appreciate fair hiring practices, equal opportunity, and a supportive environment. 
  • Diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative. A study by Harvard Business Review revealed that companies with inclusive cultures are 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. 
  • Research by the Boston Consulting Group shows that organizations with above-average diversity scores reported 19% higher innovation revenues. Additionally, diverse teams are more effective at problem-solving and decision-making, leading to improved performance metrics across the board.

11 Steps for Building Inclusive Workplace Culture

steps to build a more inclusive workplace

Now that the benefits of building an inclusive work environment are clear, it’s time to discover how to make these changes in your organization. Here’s our step-by-step guide to help you build an inclusive work environment that supports all employees and leverages the benefits of diversity.

1. Conduct Diversity Training

why is inclusion important in the workplace

Unconscious bias refers to the automatic and unintentional judgments and stereotypes that people hold about others based on their background, appearance, or identity. Start by addressing unconscious bias through comprehensive bias training programs.

These sessions should educate employees on recognizing and mitigating their inherent biases. Meditopia for Work’s webinars, personalized workshops and training can help you train your team on this and other topics regarding diversity and inclusion.

meditopia's employee wellness program

2. Establish Clear Policies

inclusive work environment

Implement inclusive policies that promote equity and diversity. These should cover areas such as anti-discrimination, fair hiring practices, equal opportunity, accessibility, and gender equality. 

Clear policies set the foundation for an inclusive organizational culture and provide guidelines for expected behaviors and practices. You can find examples of how to build an efficient and diverse-focused policy for work in our blog.

3. Promote Open Communication

creating an inclusive culture

Encourage open and honest communication across all levels of the organization. Create channels for employees to voice their concerns, suggestions, and feedback without fear of retaliation. 

Promoting open communication helps build a supportive environment where everyone feels heard and valued.

4. Regularly Assess Progress

To ensure the effectiveness of your inclusion efforts, regularly assess progress using inclusion metrics. Conduct surveys, hold focus groups, and analyze retention and employee engagement data to measure the impact of your initiatives. You can use this data to identify areas for improvement and celebrate successes.

5. Leadership Involvement

Inclusive leadership is crucial for fostering an inclusive workplace culture. Leaders should model inclusive behaviors, such as active listening, empathy, and fairness. They should also participate in diversity training and mentor employees from diverse backgrounds. 

Remember that leadership involvement signals a top-down commitment to creating an inclusive culture at work.

6. Establish Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Support the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to provide networks for underrepresented groups within the organization. ERGs can enhance cultural competence, offer support, and advocate for inclusive policies and practices. 

7. Implement Fair Hiring Practices

inclusive company culture

Ensure your hiring processes are free from bias and promote diversity. Use structured interviews, diverse hiring panels, and blind resume reviews to reduce the impact of unconscious bias. Fair hiring practices are essential for building a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

8. Foster Mentorship Programs

mentorship programs for an inclusive work culture

Develop mentorship programs to support career development for all employees, especially those from underrepresented groups. Mentorship fosters inclusive company culture by providing guidance, support, and opportunities for professional growth.

9. Encourage Cognitive Diversity

cognitive diversity

Value and promote cognitive diversity by encouraging different ways of thinking and problem-solving. You can create teams with varied perspectives to enhance creativity and innovation, always respecting everyone’s background and experience. Don’t forget that cognitive diversity contributes to a more dynamic and effective inclusive organizational culture.

11. Ensure Accessibility

Making sure that the workplace is accessible to all employees, including those with physical and cognitive disabilities, is one of the core steps on building an inclusive culture. This includes physical accessibility, such as ramps and elevators, as well as digital accessibility, such as screen readers and other assistive technologies. 

Real-World Examples of Successful Inclusion Initiatives in the Workplace

Real-World Examples of Successful Inclusion Initiatives in the Workplace

Now that we understand what is an inclusive work environment and the steps to develop one, let’s take some inspiration from successful companies that already see the benefits of an inclusive culture at work.

Ernst & Young’s (EY) Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence

Ernst & Young (EY) has established Neurodiversity Centers of Excellence to tap into the unique talents of neurodiverse individuals, such as those with autism and ADHD. These centers focus on roles that require strong analytical and technical skills. By providing tailored support and creating an inclusive work environment, EY has improved employee performance and innovation in these specialized areas.

Accenture’s Inclusion Starts with I Campaign

Accenture's "Inclusion Starts with I" campaign is an internal and external initiative aimed at promoting inclusion and diversity. The campaign includes video series, workshops, and open forums where employees can share their experiences and learn from one another. This initiative has led to a greater understanding of the importance of inclusion in the workplace and has fostered a more supportive environment for all employees.

Google’s Unconscious Bias Training

Google has implemented comprehensive unconscious bias training for all employees to address and mitigate implicit biases in the workplace. This training is part of Google’s broader diversity and inclusion strategy, which includes fair hiring practices, mentorship programs, and support for diverse backgrounds. The training has helped raise awareness and foster a more inclusive workplace culture, leading to a more diverse workforce and improved collaboration.

Salesforce’s Equality Groups

Salesforce has established Equality Groups, which are Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) aimed at fostering a culture of inclusion and belonging. These groups focus on various dimensions of diversity, such as gender, ethnicity, LGBTQ+, and veterans. The groups provide support, advocacy, and networking opportunities, significantly contributing to employee engagement and retention. Salesforce's inclusive culture has led to higher employee satisfaction and a stronger sense of community within the company.

Common challenges to creating an inclusive workplace?

As expected, the steps to creating an inclusive work environment are simple and efficient, however, some challenges can arise before, during, and after its implementation. Let’s take a look at the most common challenges, and discuss effective solutions.

  • Resistance to Change: Employees and leaders may be accustomed to existing norms and may view changes as unnecessary or disruptive. To overcome resistance, engage in open communication about the importance of inclusion and the benefits it brings to the organization. Discover strategies to introduce change in the workplace and minimize its negative emotional impact in our blog.
  • Lack of Resources or Support: Make a business case for inclusion by highlighting its positive impact on productivity, innovation, and employee retention. Secure leadership buy-in and allocate necessary resources to support inclusive initiatives. Seek external partnerships and grants if internal resources are insufficient.
  • Limited Accessibility: Ensure that the workplace is accessible to all employees by making necessary modifications, such as installing ramps, elevators, and accessible restrooms. Provide digital accessibility tools, such as screen readers and captioning services. Regularly review and update accessibility measures to keep pace with technological advancements.
  • Inadequate Cultural Competence: Employees may lack the cultural competence needed to interact effectively with colleagues from diverse backgrounds. This can lead to misunderstandings and conflict. To change it, provide ongoing cultural competence training that includes practical skills for communication and collaboration across cultures. Encourage the formation of Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to support cultural exchange and understanding.

Key Takeaways

  • An inclusive workplace culture leads to enhanced employee engagement, improved retention rates, and increased innovation.
  • Implementing practical steps such as conducting diversity training, establishing clear policies, promoting open communication, and ensuring leadership involvement are essential for creating an inclusive work environment.
  • By leveraging bias training, cultural competence, and inclusive policies, HR and managers can overcome these obstacles and build a thriving, inclusive organizational culture.

Building A More Inclusive Workplace Culture: FAQs

inclusive organizational culture

How can leadership promote an inclusive work environment?

Leadership can promote an inclusive work environment by modeling inclusive behaviors, such as active listening, empathy, and fairness. Inclusive leadership involves participating in diversity training, advocating for equitable practices, and supporting Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). 

How can companies measure the effectiveness of their inclusion strategies?

Companies can measure the effectiveness of their inclusion strategies using inclusion metrics, such as employee engagement surveys, retention rates, and diversity demographics. Conducting regular assessments through focus groups and feedback sessions can provide valuable insights into employee experiences. 

What role does diversity training play in creating inclusivity?

Diversity training plays a crucial role in creating inclusivity by raising awareness of unconscious bias and teaching employees how to recognize and mitigate their biases. Bias training enhances cultural competence, promoting understanding and respect for diverse backgrounds. This training helps create an inclusive workplace culture where all employees feel valued and included. 

How can businesses support employees from diverse backgrounds?

Businesses can support employees from diverse backgrounds by implementing fair hiring practices, providing mentorship programs, and establishing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). Creating an inclusive company culture involves ensuring accessibility, promoting gender equality, and supporting LGBTQ+ inclusion. 

How can feedback from employees improve workplace inclusivity?

Feedback from employees can improve workplace inclusivity by highlighting areas where the organization excels and identifying opportunities for growth. Open communication channels, such as surveys, suggestion boxes, and focus groups, allow employees to share their experiences and perspectives.