You’re likely well aware of the importance of embracing diversity in your company.
Accordingly, you’ve hired team members from different ethnicities, age groups, backgrounds, and so on.
However, having a diverse team doesn’t necessarily mean your company’s culture is inclusive. In essence, inclusivity is the next step to empowering your diverse team to be successful in their jobs by creating an environment that welcomes and includes each employee.
And make no mistake, creating a more inclusive company culture is not just a feel-good thing, but it makes business sense. A company with an inclusive culture is twice as likely to exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high-performing, six times more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
What’s more, in a recent survey by Deloitte, 80% of respondents said that inclusion is an important factor in choosing an employer, and 72% would leave or may consider leaving a company for a more inclusive one.
Clearly, your business can’t achieve its true heights without creating a more inclusive workplace.
But what does workplace inclusivity actually mean?
Say you host a birthday dinner and invite people from different friend circles. And as you’d expect, every guest has their own preferences. Some are vegetarian, some are vegan, and some can’t tolerate seafood.
However, you have a fixed menu. Unwittingly, you have managed to alienate a huge chunk of your guests. Realizing this, you create a diverse menu for the next birthday that includes a little bit of everything, and eventually, every guest enjoys their food.
Diversity is sending an invitation to various sets of people. Inclusion is ensuring everyone relishes the food.
Likewise, a diverse culture means employing people from various gender, race, and sexual orientation, probably because it makes the company look good and forward-thinking.
Whereas, inclusive culture is one where there’s no unconscious bias in the company. Each and every employee feels included regardless of their background or demographics.
And the statistics cited earlier make it clear that creating an inclusive culture leads to increased productivity and business performance. So, how do you create a more inclusive workplace culture?
It requires active effort from everyone, not just the HR team. Let’s dive in.
Educate company leaders and eliminate unconscious bias
The first step to creating and promoting an inclusive workplace culture is to educate company leaders and managers about the significance of inclusivity. That’s because once you get buy-in from the top, integrating inclusivity across every team would become much easier.
It’s a good idea to create a diversity and inclusivity (D&I) training program at the C-suite level. It allows company leaders to ask somewhat awkward questions about inclusivity behind the scenes before leading inclusivity initiatives on an organization level.
Once the company leadership is on board, they’ll be pivotal in creating an inclusive culture at the workplace.
Plus, there are many types of unconscious bias (i.e. without the person realizing they’re being biased) that may be prevalent in the workplace.
For instance, ageism – younger team members may assume their older colleagues are “stuck in their ways” and won’t work as efficiently as them. Or, gender bias – an assertive woman in the workplace can be viewed as “bossy” while their male counterparts may be perceived as “confident.”
To eliminate these, it’s crucial to first acknowledge that some level of unconscious bias exists and then work to educate everyone, starting from the leadership team. Once the leadership is on board, hold a training program (or workshop) for everyone, with the objective being to ensure your team understands that everyone’s opinions are equally valued and respected.
Integrate inclusivity into your company’s core values
Next, make it a habit to periodically review your company’s core values and policies. If your core values don’t include statements on diversity and inclusivity, it’s about time you update it and promote it within the company.
Creating a truly inclusive culture may require you to draft new policies (ranging from recruitment to code of conduct and vacations) or let go of some previous ones completely.
Ask for suggestions and feedback from employees, particularly if your leadership and HR teams collectively aren’t diverse. The additional perspectives may help to create a more wholesome company culture that everyone buys into.
This could also mean expanding your company’s holiday calendar. In addition to the usual Christian holidays like Christmas, try to include holidays that represent everyone’s beliefs. For instance, Eid and Ramadan are important for Muslims. For Hindus, add Diwali to the holiday list.
If it’s not feasible to make these company-wide holidays, be sure to acknowledge them on the calendar to increase awareness and sense of recognition and belonging for practitioners.
But merely creating inclusive policies and adding holidays isn’t enough. It’s equally vital to communicate all expectations to your employees. Employees should feel that they are able to talk to their managers in case they face discrimination of any kind, which leads us to the next point…
Encourage open communication about inclusivity
Employees should feel they can openly talk to their superiors in case they face discrimination or stigma of any sort.
In turn, managers should keep an open mind by leaving any assumptions at the door and making employees feel comfortable to share.
Here are three ways that facilitate an open communication channel for inclusion:
- Frequently ask for feedback about the employee’s experience in your company.
- Create a dedicated diversity panel. These should be people who are passionate about inclusivity and will go the extra mile to realize inclusivity company-wide. See to it that the panel itself is diverse, representing not only varying demographics but also job function.
- Everyone may not be comfortable speaking up about inclusivity issues in the workplace. The diversity panel should work to make the environment free of any unconscious bias.
Encourage a culture of frequent check-ins and open dialogue that allows employees to candidly express their needs or discuss challenges they may be facing in the workplace (especially those that are a bit personal).
Besides, don’t delay in giving employee recognition and show public appreciation (say, on the company Slack group) anytime someone exceeds expectations. According to a recent report, “lack of recognition” is the third biggest reason people say they are or would consider leaving their jobs and 82% of employees wish they received more recognition for their work.
Reward with personalized gift cards instead of cash, as it shows a personal touch and fosters inclusivity. Not only does recognition drive employee engagement and boost morale, but rewarding specific behavior leads to more of the same from other team members too.
Celebrate differences to make everyone feel included
Host events and initiatives focused on inclusivity. Celebrating differences is one of the most effective ways to show that you respect your employees’ cultural differences.
There are a myriad of initiatives you can take to promote inclusion. Here are a few ways to make employees of all backgrounds feel more included:
- Potluck lunches wherein employees bring in food that showcases their culture.
- Celebrating days that are important to certain communities such as Pride Month and Black History Month.
- Employees of all ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations must have a say in the decision-making process at your company.
- For employees who are willing, make their individual stories known through an internal publication or Slack channel where they can share their opinions, ideas, beliefs, and any experience of bias in the past.
- Invite guest speakers from different backgrounds to talk about inclusivity and support charitable causes.
These events and initiatives don’t take much and go a long way in increasing the sense of community and belonging within your organization.
Ensure your company is accessible, both online and offline
To welcome all employees as well as guests, irrespective of their physical abilities, make sure your workplace is wheelchair-accessible. Even if your building is ADA compliant, older structures can have small steps or uneven surfaces that can become a major mobility hindrance.
Do a walkthrough of all areas, or better yet, rent/borrow a wheelchair and use it to navigate your building. This will help you identify potential accessibility roadblocks, and help make your workplace more accessible to everyone.
And if you’re working remotely, which is likely the case today, you can support remote employees by having them do an accessibility and ergonomics check of their home office. With their feedback, allocate some budget to supply them with the tools they need to work more efficiently and happily.
Furthermore, your company website should be accessible as well. That’s because ADA applies to online properties too, which means your website must be easily usable by people with disabilities (such as the visually impaired). If not, your site’s visitors (employee or not), can prosecute you for not having an accessible business.
Essentially, an accessible website is one that accommodates all visitors on all devices no matter the physical or mental ability of the visitor.
There’s a lot you can do yourself to improve your business website’s accessibility:
- Ensure sufficient color contrast on every page of your website.
- Write a descriptive alt text and caption for all images.
- Include closed captions for videos.
- Make your website keyboard-friendly.
- Write narrative anchor texts for hyperlinks.
- Create a logical content hierarchy (using subheadings H2, H3, and so on).
- Add descriptive labels to form elements.
- Publish an accessibility statement stating your business’s target level of accessibility.
To help you out, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has published a Web Accessibility Evaluation Tools List which lists out useful tools to check your website’s various accessibility concerns. It is also a good idea to use a web accessibility tool like accessiBe These tools help your website become accessible in several hours and cancel the need to hire a developer to work under the WCAG 2.1 guidelines.
Provide a platform for introverts to shine
Whether you agree or not, the typical corporate culture almost always rewards extroverted behavior. Employees who speak up in meetings, take charge of projects, and do a lot of chitchat with their managers usually climb the corporate ladder faster than their quieter (yet often more skilled) peers.
Having an introverted nature is not a bad thing, and it should not stand in the way of an employee’s progress at your workplace. Introverts may feel uncomfortable giving direct feedback or speaking out in a group setting. And managers often tend to take what they hear in team meetings as a full reflection of their team’s viewpoint.
As part of your inclusivity initiatives, train managers to make space in meetings to hear out introverted employees individually. Allow other channels of feedback such as survey forms, suggestion boxes, or an informal private chat on a messenger app so introverted employees can voice their opinions equally well.
Respect their silence and set up an office culture where there’s no obligation to speak if there’s nothing worthwhile to say. Also, have solitary spaces to work and eat so that these talented quiet achievers can recharge and stay at top levels of their productivity.
Over to you
Inclusivity isn’t limited to an HR initiative, it should be built into your company culture.
It’ll take some investment, but working together to create a culture where each and every individual is recognized and valued for who they are will go a long way towards increased retention, performance, and productivity.
“Creating an inclusive work culture is not a final point but an ongoing process. Once the organization undertakes its self-analysis, education, and training, it needs to assess progress internally and benchmark externally to see where it stands toward its goals. Then it needs to update its education and training to maximize its efforts in this incredibly important area,” explains Angelica Ogando, Founder and CEO of The Enriched Mind.
So, as your company grows, make sure to frequently review your processes around hiring and retaining employees, employee engagement levels, and always find new ways to make your culture more inclusive.
About The Author:
Gaurav Belani is a senior SEO and content marketing analyst at Growfusely, a content marketing agency that specialises in content and data-driven SEO. With more than seven years of experience in digital marketing, his articles have been featured on popular online publications related to EdTech, Business, Startups, and many more.