5 Ways Leaders Can Promote An Inclusive Workplace

In the past two years, our idea of the workplace has been completely disrupted. From remote work, to automation, a lot has changed for employers and employees alike. In this disruption, however, we have a unique opportunity to reshape the workplace into something more positive and better for all. 

As we grow into the future, we can — and should — finally make diversity and inclusivity a top priority. Not only are inclusive workspaces long overdue, they are integral to success — for everyone. 

What Is An Inclusive Workplace? 

Inclusivity in the workplace is a complex topic, in part because it is difficult to measure. While diversity can be seen in numbers, inclusivity is more often felt by those experiencing it — or not experiencing it. For example, I think everyone has encountered an exclusive workplace. A workplace where your value, input, or even opinion is disregarded. No matter what you did, it was either never good enough, or never appreciated. Oftentimes, an exclusive culture can lead to a toxic one, and toxic cultures are the enemy of success. 

Therefore, an inclusive workplace accomplishes the opposite. It is an environment which values the opinions, hard work, and ideas of every employee. An inclusive culture fosters connection and community amongst the employees, and the organization itself. Every employee, regardless of age, race, gender, and sexuality are not only allowed to contribute, but feel encouraged to do so. 

How Can We Achieve An Inclusive Workplace? 

When it comes to implementing inclusivity, we often look to the excluded to educate us. However, those who are excluded are already at a disadvantage, and often have less power to act. Therefore, it’s not the job of the excluded to make a culture more inclusive. Rather, it’s the responsibility of those in the “in” crowd to make change. Leaders especially have the power to open the workplace up to be inviting for all. 

So, what does that look like? As leaders, what can we do?

1. Be Prepared To Feel Uncomfortable 

To properly implement inclusivity in the workplace, we first have to accept discomfort. Whether we want to admit it or not, we may be contributing to the problem. Even if we don’t intend to exclude others, we may be doing so through our inaction. 

Even when excluded individuals are in positions of authority, it’s still a complicated issue. According to research done by the Harvard Business Review, 41% of senior-level African Americans, 20% of senior-level Asians, and 18% of senior-level Hispanics hesitate to sponsor someone of the same gender or ethnicity, out of fear it would be viewed as giving special treatment.

Once we’re prepared to get uncomfortable, we’re ready to face any exclusion head on. So, the path towards diversity and inclusivity must start from within—within yourself as a leader, and as an organization. 

2. Listen, Listen, Listen 

If you’re someone who fits well into the culture at work, you may not be aware that others don’t feel the same. You may not be aware there’s a problem at all. Therefore, it’s important to give your employees a chance to tell you. As a leader, it’s imperative you offer that space and opportunity for your team to voice any concerns anonymously. This could look like an anonymous survey. In that survey, allow space for constructive criticism, solutions, or simply, the airing of grievances. 

By asking your employees about diversity and inclusivity anonymously, you can get a better understanding of any issues, and their scope. With this knowledge in mind, you can more effectively see the current situation and create solutions around it. You must be able to measure a problem of exclusivity before you can begin to address it.

3. Open Up Strategies And Solutions 

Similar to giving employees space to voice concerns, you also want to give them space to contribute to the company. When navigating change, pivoting strategies or other maneuvers for a company, allow your team to offer their ideas. 

On the Survive & Thrive podcast, we’ve talked extensively about how opening up strategy development to your employees increases their engagement and reduces anxiety about the change. In presenting your ideas to the broader team, you also allow all of your employees to share their input. They may point out concerns you haven’t thought of or offer a fresh perspective. You will receive helpful feedback, while also getting a chance to answer any questions or concerns. A study of 600 business decisions from 200 teams found that diverse teams made faster decisions than individuals and outperformed them 87% of the time.

Overall, employees and employers benefit from opening up those lines of communication, and in turn, so will the company. 

4. Equal Access To Opportunities 

One of the best ways to promote workplace inclusivity is by offering tools and opportunities for betterment to all. While this may seem obvious, sometimes we use education or career advancement as a reward for those who are already excelling. We might send our best to a conference, or lecture. But what happens if you open up these opportunities to everyone? 

This could look like hosting workshops that anyone can join—and that you actively encourage all to do so. You may be surprised who shows up, willing to learn and improve. 

5. Embrace Tools For Inclusivity 

When it comes to inclusivity, it’s imperative to remember that we all have different needs. While you don’t need to give out special treatment, you can offer accommodations that help your employees perform better. For example, having the option to work remotely allows employees flexibility that may be necessary for their lives. If they are caregivers of children or elders, live farther away, or may have a physical impairment, a hybrid or fully remote position makes it possible to better excel in their job. 

That flexibility matters more than you may think. In a FlexJobs survey of more than 2,000 mothers with children under 18, 71% said that they have left or considered leaving a job due to its inflexibility. 31% who took a break after having children wanted to keep working but could not because their job was too inflexible.  

Remote work is just one example of new technology that allows different people from different backgrounds to join and improve a company. So, why sacrifice a great employee when you can keep them? 

Why Should You Want An Inclusive Workplace? 

Despite the vagueness of inclusivity, its impact on people and organizations has been extensively measured. Research done by the Limeade Institute and Artemis found that employees who feel included are 43% more committed to their company. They were also 28% more engaged, and on average, intend to stay at their company 3-times longer. 

The benefit of workplace inclusivity doesn’t just extend to employees. It can be seen in the organizations as well. A Deloitte survey found that companies with inclusive cultures were 6-times more likely to be innovative and 6 times more likely to anticipate change and respond accordingly. Companies with inclusive workplace cultures were 2-times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets. The Limeade Institute and Artemis also discovered that inclusive workplaces are 8-times more likely to see better business outcomes overall.

While many of us want to promote diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, we may not realize when the culture isn’t accomplishing that. Sometimes, we may confuse homogeneity with collaboration. If we all come from similar backgrounds, it’s easy to relate to and work with one another.

However, a company can be both cohesive and diverse. Culture comes from shared values such as respect, honesty, and ambition. As leaders, it’s our job to encourage anyone and everyone with those shared values to join our team, so that the individual and the organization can thrive together.