Last updated October 13, 2023

How to build an inclusive workplace

What Is an Inclusive Workplace?

An inclusive workplace is one that promotes a sense of belonging, acceptance, and value for all employees regardless of their background.

It is a workplace where all employees at all levels feel safe and respected, and where they can work without fear of being judged unfairly or discriminated against.

Ultimately, inclusivity leads to a stronger organization that is better positioned to serve its customers and achieve its goals.

In order to create an inclusive workplace, as an organization, you must take steps to ensure that each and every employee feels that they are treated equally and with respect.

This involves creating policies and a system at work whereby you:

  • Take steps to prevent discrimination from taking place during the hiring process
  • Promote diversity in the workforce by actively recruiting from a variety of backgrounds
  • Provide equal pay for comparable work regardless of gender or race
  • Ensure equal access to opportunities and resources
  • Create an environment where everyone feels safe and valued.

Additionally, as an organization, you should ensure that employees have the right to express their views without fear of retribution or ridicule.

Why an Inclusive Workplace Is Important

First and foremost, creating an inclusive workplace is important because we have a duty of care to each and every employee and an inclusive workplace means treating every employee fairly and providing everyone with the same opportunities.

It can also benefit you as a company, by providing employees with the chance to bring their unique perspectives and experiences to the workplace.

Consider that, for example, a study found that there was a 17% improvement in performance in teams with inclusive leaders. Another also found that companies were 19% more innovative when led with an inclusive leadership style.

As an organization, you stand to reap the rewards of greater innovation, productivity, and success.

Indeed, an inclusive workplace encourages collaboration, communication, and creativity while fostering a sense of unity and understanding.

Creating and maintaining an inclusive workplace is essential for a strong, successful organization!

Tips and Strategies for Creating an Inclusive Workplace

In order to create a more inclusive workplace, try these 12 tips to get started.

1. Understand Whom You Need to Include

We talk of being inclusive but who are we looking to include? Who are the employees who tend to get left out or who might get discriminated against and need to be the focus of inclusive leadership?

Unconscious bias example types

Image taken from the types of bias post & from the Unconscious Bias training materials

As you can see from the graphic above, we can be discriminated against for a variety of reasons including because of our:

  • ethnicity and cultural background
  • skin color
  • gender
  • age

So, the first stage in understanding how we can create greater workplace inclusion is to be aware of the various biases that occur and then take steps to reduce these biases.

By reducing workplace bias, we move towards helping more employees to feel a part of the team and to feel more accepted and treated fairly. This is one of the first steps toward inclusivity.

All managers can benefit from unconscious and implicit bias training.

2. Create Workplace Where Staff Can Express Themselves

What we call Psychology Safety is very important in the workplace. You may or might not have heard the term, but to explain, it is as follows:

Psychological safety in the workplace refers to a team climate in which staff feels comfortable expressing their opinions, admitting mistakes, giving and receiving feedback, suggesting improvements, and pointing out problems without fear of embarrassment, punishment, or rejection by the rest of the team.

Dr Valeria Lo Iacono on Psychological Safety

So, as expressed in the definition above, for all staff to feel included, it is ESSENTIAL that we build a team, environment, and workplace that exhibits a high level of psychological safety.

This is really about training managers to ensure that they have the skills to create this sense of openness within their team.

3. Consider Disability Access to Your Physical Workplace

For staff who have accessibility issues, it is morally and also legally (in many countries) a requirement to ensure that the employee has fair access to all areas that their colleagues do.

Furthermore, facing accessibility issues that need not exist, can make the employee feel less included.

From research done by Dr Paul Symonds (an expert in Wayfinding) over 50% of issues regards accessibility in the workplace, such as for wheelchair users, can be quite easily solved within a few minutes.

Improving wheelchair access in the workplace

Wheelchair users are often faced with issues that are easily solvable such as when:

  • File boxes and other materials and objects are left blocking access in hallways.
  • The tables in a meeting room are laid out such that a wheelchair user cannot navigate around the room
  • A simple portable ramp has not been put in place that enables access to rooms with raised edges at the entrance
  • Shrubbery has not been cut down on key paths around the building

You might want to allocate a member of staff to check access and train someone in ADA or DDA checks.

Here’s a good post also on improving access in the workplace.

4. Have a Solid Induction and Onboarding Strategy

The easiest way to alienate staff is when they first join the company!

Have you ever joined a company and been left without a desk and computer login for the first week and not been introduced to hardly anyone else and left with no work to do?

It’s not a great way to start and certainly not ideal for creating the right impression.

Onboarding can include informing staff of the equality, diversity and inclusion standards and how to get help if needed at any time.

5. Provide Feeback and Keep Staff Informed

A great and yet very simple thing you can do to keep staff engaged and interested is to provide them an insight into how their own skills and experience can help the organization create meaningful change.

Make them feel that they have genuine worth in the future and are valued as an individual.

As a team leader or manager, it will be up to you to learn about those you manage and to understand their skills and real strengths.

Feedback should also be used to inform future decisions in order to ensure a workplace remains optimally inclusive.

Feedback Training Course Materials
>> Feedback Training Course Materials

6. Hold Team Building Days (Include Employees Virtually as Needed)

I cannot emphasize enough how useful team-building days can really be as team-building days are essential for a productive, healthy work environment.

They can help to:

  • Foster relationships between employees
  • Build trust and morale amongst the team
  • Create an overall sense of camaraderie at work

Team building activities also provide a great opportunity to practice a range of skills that are essential for any successful working environment, such as:

  • problem-solving
  • communication
  • and collaboration

Additionally, team building can help break down silos and broaden employees’ perspectives, allowing them to think more creatively about how to work together.

Ultimately, a successful team-building day will result in improved efficiency, increased morale, and strengthened relationships between colleagues.

If you are managing employees from around the world, organize an online virtual team-building day or session.

7. Provide Equal Pay for Equal Work

There are still many roles in many companies where employees are paid differently to do the same job.

If you are able to help ensure that this pay issue is resolved in your workplace for your teams, you will avoid alienating staff and this certainly aids the idea of an equal and inclusive workplace.

8. Encourage Mentorship Programs

Mentoring (and reverse mentoring) programs can be a wonderful idea when it comes to workplace inclusion.

In essence, mentoring, when well-designed and implemented, can help:

  • Build relationships between people from different backgrounds
  • Connect new staff to the culture of the organization
  • Create better opportunities for career growth.

Mentoring programs promote inclusion by providing an environment that is more welcoming to diverse talent.

When employees are exposed to different perspectives, they become more open-minded and better understand the needs of fellow colleagues from different backgrounds.

Additionally, mentoring programs can foster meaningful connections between remote workers by providing them with resources and support. It helps remote workers feel a greater sense of belonging and connection.

9. Create a Positive and happy Workplace

When the work environment is a positive, happy, and enjoyable one in which to work, staff tend to have a much greater sense of team unity.

In other words, the sense of feeling included tends to be much higher, largely because staff tend to make a greater effort in a more positive environment.

I recently wrote a post about how to create a positive work environment for your staff and this covers many ideas on creating a positive workplace.

10. Adopt Flexible Working Practices

Having flexible working practices is a wonderful way to aid inclusion because it provides a solution for many employees and provides them with a much fairer chance in the workplace.

Consider the following employees, for example, and how a flexible working practice might aid them:

  • a single mother with a young child, who needs to pick her child/ren up from school every afternoon
  • an employee with a health condition which means that they need to attend hospital appointments often

There are numerous examples of staff who could benefit from flexible working hours and what do you get if you provide flexibility for these staff?

You will tend to find the following:

  • More loyal staff because they greatly appreciate the flexible approach (and higher levels of staff retention)
  • Greater job satisfaction
  • Improved levels of productivity

11. Work to Build Trust

If you are a team leader or manager, working to build trust is essential for an inclusive work environment.

Engagement & satisfaction – If you can trust others and you feel trusted, you tend to feel more engaged and happier with your work situation.

Dr Valeria Lo Iacono

12. Have an Open Door Policy and Listen

As a manager, work towards having an open door policy, meaning that your staff feels comfortable to approach you at any time to talk to you.

Make it clear, such as through team meetings and one-to-one meetings, that you are there to help and that they should approach you with any issues they have.

Whilst managing employees can be time-consuming, this is still less time than it can take to deal with issues if they are otherwise allowed to fester and build. Likewise, lost productivity because of staff absence from stress and a feeling of exclusion, can be costly.

In order for the people you manage to feel included, they need to feel respected and listened to.

3 Examples of Successfully Implementing Inclusive Leadership

1. Case Study One: Exhibitions Company

Scenario: Sarah, the manager of an exhibitions company recognized a lack of gender diversity in the company’s technical roles. Women comprised only 10% of the technical workforce.

Inclusive Leadership Action: Sarah initiated a program to promote gender equality. The company actively sought qualified female candidates and implemented mentorship programs for women in technical roles. They also introduced flexible work options for better work-life balance.

Outcome: Over the course of two years, the percentage of women in technical roles increased to 28%. Employee satisfaction and collaboration improved, as diverse teams led to more innovative solutions.

2. Case Study Two: An Automobile Manufacturer

Scenario: An automobile manufacturer that operates in an area where there are people from diverse cultural backgrounds. The employees often faced challenges related to cultural understanding.

Inclusive Leadership Action: The CEO introduced a “Cultural Exchange Fridays” initiative, where employees shared their cultural experiences, traditions, and food. The company also offered cross-cultural training and encouraged cultural awareness.

Outcome: Employees became more culturally aware, leading to improved teamwork and communication. The initiative reduced misunderstandings and enhanced the company’s reputation as an inclusive workplace.

3. Case Study Three: A Large University

Scenario: A large university had an underrepresentation of employees with disabilities in roles.

Inclusive Leadership Action: The HR Director, John, initiated a disability inclusion program, actively hiring individuals with disabilities. They provided accessibility training and improved workplace infrastructure to accommodate diverse needs.

Outcome: The company’s diverse workforce has resulted in increased staff retention rates. Indeed, past surveys have shown that employees who are considered disabled tend to be more loyal to the company that provides them a chance at employment, with one survey showing a 90% increase in staff retention rates.

Final Thoughts

In order to create an inclusive workplace, as a company or department, you must be willing to commit resources, time, and energy towards this effort.

This includes implementing policies that prohibit discrimination in hiring, promoting diversity in the workforce by actively recruiting from a variety of backgrounds, and creating an environment free of harassment or retribution.

It also involves cultivating a culture of respect, where everyone is encouraged to share their perspectives in order to drive innovation and success.

Regularly engaging with staff to gain insights into their experiences can help to identify any gaps in the organization’s efforts and reveal ways that it can further its commitment to an inclusive workplace.

Such feedback should also be used to inform future decisions in order to ensure a workplace remains as inclusive as possible.

Inclusive Leadership teaching materials
Inclusive Leadership teaching materials
Dr Valeria Lo Iacono