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What Is Workplace Inclusion?
SHRM defines inclusion as, “The achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.“ Workplace inclusion initiatives help provide traditionally/historically/currently marginalized groups with opportunity, voice, and belonging in the workplace.
Workplace Inclusion vs. Workplace Diversity
Inclusion in the workplace is the foundation for diversity initiatives transforming workplaces into collaborative, innovative, winning teams. Diversity is about representation, but without inclusion, diversity is only a statistic.
Why is Workplace Inclusion Important?
Having an inclusive workplace is the foundation for building a successful and adaptable culture.
- Sense of belonging and engagement. Inclusive workplaces effectively communicate with people of different backgrounds, cultures, learning styles, work experience, levels of education, gender, sex, neurodiversity, and geographical locations. When effective communication happens, people are more likely to feel they belong and have a place within an organization which leads to more engagement.
- Effective communication. Inclusive communication is important for both east to west communication (communication between teams) as well as north to south communication (communication between different levels within an organization). Teams become more effective at communicating as they learn to communicate with different voices. Focusing on inclusion helps train employees to communicate with a broad array of people.
- Employee retention. A Gallop study reports that only 15% of employees are engaged at work and turnover is costly. Turnover negatively impacts employee morale and lowers the collective knowledge within an organization. Inclusive workplaces are more likely to retain employees because people there feel seen, heard, and understood, which leads to engagement.
Factors of an Inclusive Workplace
Having a diverse workforce is not enough to create an inclusive work environment. Here are some additional factors to help you build an inclusive workplace.
Factor 1: Support From Leadership
Like all culture initiatives, creating an inclusive workplace has to start at the top. Creating a workplace that values inclusivity is only attainable with support from leadership. Leadership support helps align teams to the same goal or mission and define expectations and outcomes so they are known broadly across the organization.
Factor 2: Front-Line Energy
While the foundation of an inclusive workplace starts at the top, it only takes root and transforms an organization when the people buy-in and get involved. You need to harness the collective efforts of everyone down to entry-level employees to create an inclusive workplace.
Factor 3: Ongoing Learning and Development
Creating an inclusive workplace is more nuanced than waving a magic wand or sending out a company email from the CEO. Even when employees have buy-in on creating an inclusive workplace, inclusivity requires ongoing training and development.
Factor 4: A Collaborative Environment
People with an inclusive mindset have the skillset to collaborate. While it’s much easier to collaborate with someone of a similar background and culture, it requires more experience and skill to collaborate with someone who thinks and approaches problems differently. Therefore inclusive workplaces are better environments for collaboration.
How To Build an Inclusive Workplace
History shows that inclusion doesn’t always happen organically. To build an inclusive workplace you will need to take intentional steps to create that environment.
Tip 1: Create Strategic Alignment
To start, create strategic alignment between leaders, departments, teams, and employees. This ensures that everyone is on the same page, understands goals, and knows the desired direction.
Tip 2: Integrate Inclusion into Decision Making
If inclusion becomes the measuring stick for decision-making, you will have a good start toward creating an inclusive workplace. Integrating inclusion into your company’s decision-making process can be as simple as asking, “Will this decision make us a more inclusive workplace?”
Tip 3: Foster a Culture of Inclusion
The Balance Careers defines company culture as “the attitudes and behaviors of a company and its employees. It is evident in the way an organization’s people interact with each other, the values they hold, and the decisions they make.” When inclusion becomes a shared behavior and value, creating an inclusive workplace environment is easier. This will not happen overnight and will require intentional work, but an inclusive culture will be the biggest factor on the inclusivity of your workplace.
Tip 4: Introduce Educational Opportunities
Depending on the resources of your organization, you will have to be strategic in who receives inclusivity education. If you have more limited resources, start at the top. Once your leaders are trained to be more inclusive, they can share that knowledge with their teams and direct reports.
Tip 5: Teach Leaders to Listen
One of the core tenets of inclusion is listening to understand. Teach your leaders how to listen to understand with empathy. When leaders listen with empathy to understand, they learn and grow as leaders. They gain greater skills to lead different types of people.
Tip 6: Encourage Dialogue
People have questions about inclusion and not everyone holds the same opinion. As you create an inclusive workplace, it is important to provide frequent opportunities for safe and open dialogue where people can voice their opinions and ask sincere questions. When these opportunities become commonplace, you have a stronger base on which to build inclusivity.
How To Address Lack of Inclusivity Among Employees
Inclusion is a learning process, so expect to address lack of inclusivity as a regular part of inclusion initiatives., Your people are learning and will need upskilling.
Step 1: Start a Dialogue
When addressing employees who are not being inclusive, first determine the root cause of the behavior. It is possible that the employee is not acting intentionally. Through starting a dialogue, you can help your employee understand their behavior. Sometimes bringing awareness to a situation can be the catalyst to fix it.
Step 2: Understand Perspectives
Part of building an inclusive workplace is learning to listen. This applies even to people who are not being inclusive. They have a voice and also need to feel included. When you take the time to understand their perspective, you will be better equipped to help them become more inclusive.
Step 3: Set Clear Expectations
When you have buy-in from leadership, you will be able to set clear expectations. Setting clear expectations empowers your people to perform. Be very clear in outlining expectations, how they will be measured and why. It is difficult and frustrating for employees to have ambiguous expectations or expectations they do not understand.
Step 4: Define Outcomes of Success
Defining outcomes of success goes one step further than setting clear expectations. Help paint a picture for employees of what success looks like. They are more likely to buy in if they know how they will be measured and what it takes to be successful.
Step 5: Follow Up
Check-in frequently with your employee to see how they are doing. Spoiler alert: success will not happen overnight and it will not happen linearly. As you work with employees to become more inclusive, there will be wins and losses. For conversations to bring effective change, you need to follow up so employees know it isn’t just a “metric of the month” type of initiative they can ignore until it goes away. Help them understand that creating an inclusive workplace is a fundamental cultural change and will be a topic in ongoing conversations.
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Tyler empowers Talent Acquisition professionals, HR business leaders, and key stake holders to develop and execute talent management strategies. He is igniting the talent acquisition process through: team building, accurate time to fill forecasting, driving creative talent sourcing, and fine-tuning recruiting team effectiveness.
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