When it comes to the one of the biggest sources of strength in any work environment, discover how to build an inclusive workplace.
More than 157 million people make up the American workforce and each employee will have different skills and needs. As an employer, it is your responsibility to meet the needs of and support all your employees.
Unfortunately, more than 50% of American workers feel discriminated against at work, which can seriously impact company morale and damage your reputation.
Creating an inclusive workplace helps you prevent discrimination and keep your employees happy. Where should you start with this?
What Is Inclusion in the Workplace?
An inclusive workplace is an environment and ethos that meets all your employees’ needs. If you have a large workforce, then these needs can be very varied. A workplace that only addresses some employees’ needs is not an inclusive one.
Creating an inclusive environment might involve:
- Making your company accessible for employees with disabilities
- Tackling ableism, racism, ageism, sexism, transphobia, or homophobia in your company
- Creating an environment in which everyone feels welcomed and represented
- Looking at how your HR department handles discrimination
The aim is to make people feel comfortable applying to and working in your company.
What Is the Difference Between Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion?
More than 70% of people around the world experience inequality at some point in their lives. This might be due to their:
- Economic position
- Race or ethnicity
- Gender identity or sexuality
- Additional needs
A diverse workplace is one that includes people from all backgrounds. This means you try to employ people with a range of experiences and identities.
However, a diverse workplace is not always an inclusive one. In fact, minority workers in a diverse workplace could still be at risk of discrimination. If their workplace is not inclusive, their needs could be ignored completely.
This is where equity comes in. Equity involves recognizing that some people will need more support than others. This support levels the playing field among your employees and helps to create an inclusive working environment.
Why Is Having an Inclusive Workplace Important?
There are plenty of amazing benefits to creating an inclusive workplace.
First and foremost, it will ensure that your employees are happy at work. This improves employee retention and productivity.
Good news like this also travels fast. So you will find that more people want to work at your company because of your inclusive work environment.
As an employer, you also have a legal responsibility to tackle workplace discrimination.
This applies to the application process, hiring and promotion decisions, and decisions about pay or benefits. It also extends to the treatment of employees in their place of work. If you fail to meet this responsibility, your employees could report you to a labor union or take legal action against the company.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the things you can do to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace.
Follow the “You Cannot Be What You Cannot See” Philosophy
“You cannot be what you cannot see” addresses the importance of representation with a company. This involves looking at the diversity of your current staff.
If you have a diverse workforce then new employees will be able to recognize someone with shared experiences quickly.
It can also help to actively recognize the different needs and experiences of your employees. For example, sharing information about LGBTQIA+ events shows people that you are engaged with them. You can do this even if you are not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community.
This immediately makes people feel more welcome in your workplace. It can also help to tackle isolation within the workforce, which can seriously damage employee morale.
Promote Inclusion from the Top Down
Diversity and inclusion aren’t just about hiring a load of new, diverse employees. In fact, if inclusion doesn’t reach the top levels of management, you won’t enact a lot of change.
Because of this, you need to provide inclusion training to the highest positions in your company. You should also encourage them to get involved with the push for an inclusive workplace.
The more involved people feel in this process, the more they will invest in it. And this benefits everyone in your workplace.
Make It Part of Your Business’s Core Values
Actions speak louder than words when it comes to inclusivity. However, incorporating this into your company’s core values ensures that it is always at the forefront of people’s minds.
In fact, you can use this core value to dictate changes to company policies and introduce new initiatives.
For example, inclusivity awareness should be a part of every employee’s staff training. You can also host refresher training courses to ensure that everyone stays up to date on the company’s values.
Think Practically About People’s Needs
There are a lot of things that you can do to address people’s practical needs as well. For example, you should ensure that:
- Your buildings and offices are accessible by wheelchair and for people with visual impairments
- Using multi-language (including braille) signage throughout your offices
- Creating flexible working environments and sensory rooms for neurodiverse people
- Install gender-neutral bathrooms in your offices
- Ensure that communal kitchen spaces are accessible for everyone
- Make sure that your health and safety plans work for every employee
It is a good idea to plan this in advance and address as many needs as possible. Think beyond the needs of your current workforce.
For example, let’s say a new employee with a visual impairment starts at your company. Working in a non-inclusive environment might make them feel isolated and uncomfortable. They will feel much more included in an environment that already caters to their needs.
Use Inclusive Language Throughout Your Workplace
The language that you use within your workplace can have a huge impact on inclusivity. It’s important to keep this in mind and include guidelines for language in your employee training.
Of course, you should never tolerate abusive or discriminatory language in your place of work. It is important to outline disciplinary procedures for people using discriminatory language clearly. And to follow through on these if necessary.
However, you also need to incorporate inclusive language in your everyday conversations.
Gender-neutral wording and pronouns are a great example of this. Within documents and presentations, opt for gender-neutral language (they/them).
It is also a good idea to encourage everyone in your company to identify their pronouns. This gives everyone space to acknowledge and understand one another’s gender identities. You can feature pronouns on office doors, desk signs, and email signatures.
Support Your Staff and Encourage People to Check In
Showing your staff that you really care about them can help them feel included, even in a huge workforce. Because of this, it is important to factor in time for pastoral support.
Mentoring or buddy schemes can be very useful for this. They give your employees someone to speak to outside of their team. This can help them to open up and seek support in the company if they need it.
It is also important to schedule regular check-ins with your employees. This creates time and space for them to discuss any concerns they have. It can also help improve employee satisfaction with their work.
During these sessions, you should try to respond to and ask about current events that might impact your employees. For example, let’s say something happens that affects a specific community in America. You should make sure to check in with members of that community in your workplace.
This shows them that you are aware of and committed to empathizing with their experiences.
Create a Safe Space and Reporting Procedures
Accountability is very important in an inclusive environment. This ensures that people take inclusivity seriously and helps marginalized employees feel safe.
Creating effective reporting procedures is a great way to do this. This allows people to call out non-inclusive behavior or raise concerns discreetly. So they don’t feel targeted by office politics.
You should have several safeguarding staff available to speak to within your company. They should be given a fairly senior position within the company. This ensures that employees won’t feel intimidated by people in managerial roles, for example.
It is important that you record every report you receive properly. This helps you to build a picture of issues within the company. So you can deal with them effectively.
Expand Your Holiday Calendars
Your company work calendar can tell you a lot about how inclusive the business is.
Throughout the year there may be events that are important for certain employees. Including these in your diary shows them that you are aware of their experiences. It also makes other staff members more aware of ways to support marginalized communities.
For example, some dates to add to your company calendar include:
- Religious holidays, such as Eid, Ramadan, Hanukkah, Yom Kippur, and Diwali
- LGBTQIA+ pride month
- Black history month
- Learning disability week
Where possible, try to make all religious holidays company holidays. If you cannot do this for the whole company, then allow it for members of that religious community. At the very least, hold events or themes on those days to increase the knowledge and acceptance of those groups by honoring their special days.
It is also worth noting that April is Diversity Month in America. This would be the perfect time to host training sessions and forums to discuss inclusivity in your workplace!
Promote Inclusive Events
Speaking of your work calendar, inclusive events are a great way to welcome people into the company and make them feel seen. This also gives your other employees time to learn more about inclusion and diversity. And work events can be a lot of fun to attend!
There are plenty of different routes that you can take with your inclusive events. For example, you could participate in your town or city’s local Pride Parade in June. Or you could provide sponsorship to support the event itself.
Public speakers from different communities can also be really engaging. If you do have a speaker in, try to organize a Q&A after their talk. This will give your employees an opportunity to join in the discussion and find out more.
Of course, when you are organizing events for your work it is important to make them accessible. So keep in mind our practical tips for making creating an inclusive workplace. The last thing you want to do is exclude someone from an event about inclusivity!
Continue to Address Your Inclusive Work Culture
In the last five years, the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion has significantly increased. Or rather, companies are now doing a lot more to address these issues.
However, inclusion is not just one quick fix for your company. In fact, this is something we are continuing to learn about and improve on. So you should continuously review your inclusion policies and procedures.
Getting feedback on your workplace from your employees can tell you how effective these procedures are. It can also give you new ideas on how to improve or develop your current policies.
It is important to look outwards for ideas as well. Seeing what other companies do (or don’t do) effectively can help you develop your business workplace.
Get Help Developing Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
As you can see, there are plenty of things that you can do to create a fun and inclusive workplace. This ensures that all of your employees will feel safe and happy coming to work every day. So be sure to make inclusion one of your company’s top priorities!