Creating an Inclusive Work Environment
There’s much to unpack with Inclusion in the workplace. You don’t just “include” people in conversations or invite them to a social event. An inclusive workplace is one where all employees are respected and valued, where they feel like they belong, and they are given equal opportunities.
While society has improved, we’re far from where we need to be. Employees everywhere still report incidents of racism, ageism, sexism, and more. This occurs during the entire employee lifecycle – from hiring through retirement.
You may think your workplace is inclusive, but it’s more than being “nice” to everyone and thinking everyone feels safe to bring their whole selves to the office. Building a culture that is truly inclusive requires deliberate and intentional action to make demonstrable change.
It’s true that everyone contributes to inclusion, regardless of role or title, but it’s crucial that those in leadership dedicate themselves to the cause. This starts with education. To begin, solidify company-wide values and instill them in all leaders. Next, create training programs that bring existing bias to light and teach people how to correct and improve their behavior. Once expectations are clear, there are no reasonable excuses.
So how do you apply this, practically? For starters, leaders should practice active listening in all conversations, and ensure they hear every idea. Then after listening, act. Consider feedback, suggestions, and perspectives from everyone and implement what’s right, regardless of where it came from.
Leaders must also provide a safe space where all employees feel comfortable and have a voice. Try as you might, it’s near impossible to eradicate all instances of toxic, exclusive behavior in the workplace. When incidents occur, it’s easy for employees to harbor resentment if they fear speaking up. Make sure everyone understands that non-inclusive or otherwise inappropriate behavior can be reported without repercussion.
Management must also empower their employees. Not only should they model inclusive behavior, but they should also encourage it. Provide everyone access to resources and allow equal opportunity for growth, development, and advancement. In addition, you must foster a collaborative environment. Create a strong connection within teams and they will thrive on each other’s skills, strengths and experience. During meetings, open the subject to input and opinions and always give credit where it’s due.
Create a Culture of Inclusivity
Leaders are a driving force behind workplace inclusivity, but they aren’t the only one. If the company as a whole institute values-based policies and procedures, inclusivity will permeate their culture. For instance, leaders must be held accountable at all levels. If leaders aren’t doing their part, those above them mustn’t grow complacent. It’s better to shed these people early rather than hope they get better. This only risks a more toxic workplace in the future.
Beyond leaders, however, action must be taken against any non-inclusive behavior both willingly and immediately. It’s important that the rules and standards apply to everyone.
Mentorship and sponsorship programs are also of greater focus these days. This involves pairing women and underrepresented employees with one or more colleagues with experience and skills who can help coach, guide and direct their mentees. That said, this pairing should be collaborative and seen as a reciprocal opportunity for learning and growth.
When implemented effectively, having a more inclusive workplace will see lucrative results. An inclusive work environment has employees six times more likely to innovate, anticipate change, and adapt well. When employees know they can be themselves and bring their best – whatever that looks like – they’re 42% less likely to leave within their first year.
You’ll also notice an increase in performance. When people feel like the belong, they’re driven to work harder and get better. Why? Because they feel valued and understand their potential within the company. If an employee assumes that they’ll never get a promotion because of discrimination, motivation eludes them. When it’s within reach, however, they work harder towards advancement.
Ultimately, the company benefits from a variety of experiences and perspectives. Who knows where the next million-dollar idea will originate, so why stifle such innovation?