Page Updated on February 17, 2023
Making sure that your workplace is inclusive for all employees is something that is essential. Not only is inclusion vital both morally and legally, but happier staff also tend to be mean more productive staff and this also helps to reduce staff turnover. So let’s look at 7 useful tips for creating an inclusive workplace culture and for inclusion best practices.
What Is Inclusion in the Workplace? What Does It Mean?
Inclusion in the workplace is when everyone:
- Feels they have a voice
- Is fully themselves as they work together
- Has influence over decision-making processes
- Has access to information and resources
- Faces no obstacles to fully participating and contributing
You will also hear the term ‘diversity’ often spoken in connection with inclusion. Diversity and inclusion though are different:
“Diversity is making sure that every sector in society is represented and inclusion is making sure that everybody has a voice and is included.”Dr Valeria Lo Iacono
Diversity though is a key consideration in workplace inclusion, particularly because diversities make up our individual identity.
Introduction: Diversity and Identity
Before giving you tips on how to improve inclusion, let’s first look at the diversities that can exist in a workplace.
As individuals, we are a mix of various diversities and these, in essence, make up our identity.
Our identities are made up from diversities including via our:
- abilities or disabilities
- social-economic status
- cultural background
- sexual orientation
In order to make a workplace more inclusive and to give everyone a chance to be involved equally, it is worth looking and thinking about the diversities above.
It is these diversities that tend to be connected to the reason why inclusion can often fail in the workplace.
With disability, for example, the failure of a company to make a building accessible in all areas for those who need the use of a wheelchair can mean that the person involved does not have access to the same facilities and opportunities at work.
1. Consider Providing Diversity Training for All Managers and Staff
As we grow up during childhood, we develop certain preferences and ways of doing things based on the people we grow up with, the place, culture, etc. These influences help to shape who we are.
In the workplace though, we must work with and also sometimes manage other employees and colleagues from different backgrounds to our own.
Training in topics such as Unconscious Bias can be especially useful because we all have biases in that we naturally tend to mix with people who we feel we have things in common.
Diversity training though can be used to help us see how our own preferences can impact our decision-making at work.
As a manager who is interviewing people for a new role, you can learn, for example, to be more conscious of the need to put your own interests and preferences aside and to be fairer in who you choose.
2. Improving Accessibility in the Workplace
Even though the need to treat those with disabilities equally in the workplace has been embedded into law in many countries (including with the American Disabilities Act and the UK’s Equality Act 2010), far more needs to be done on a practical level.
The requirement (although it depends on your country) tends to be that ‘reasonable effort’ needs to be made to ensure that those with disabilities are catered for in the workforce.
What does ‘reasonable effort’ mean you might ask?
Reasonable effort means that you should make adjustments to help staff in a way that is realistic, based on the resources (such as time and money) that you can afford to allocate for such adjustments.
Whether or not your company has an equality and diversity officer (if you are a small company you probably will not have one), doing a disability compliance audit is recommended.
If you are a small business and just getting started, you can begin by creating a checklist (start by creating one on MS Word) and do regular monthly checks to make sure that you provide the basics.
If you are a small shop, can you put a very basic wooden ramp outside the entrance to make wheelchair access easier? For the sake of minimal cost, you can often achieve a lot.
Have you painted the nosings (the edges of steps, i.e. the nose) in yellow paint so that the poorly sighted can more easily and safely see the edges of the steps outside?
You can learn more about accessibility audits here:
3. Create an Environment Where People Feel Safe To Speak Openly
Emotional Intelligence and psychological safety are important concepts to understand when attempting to create an inclusive workplace environment.
It is common for a few employees to dominate team meetings and for others to feel afraid to speak up openly.
For staff who always feel excluded and not listened to, certain individuals might belittle them and fail to listen, even, for example, in a brainstorming session where all ideas should be welcomed.
The unlistened employees often have the very best ideas and often come up with innovative ways of doing things.
Likewise, it might be that some employees just do not listen to others’ ideas or they belittle certain people when they attempt to speak up.
I recommend providing employees (certainly managers at the very least) with ‘Emotional Intelligence’ and Psychological Safety’ training to give them the tools to create what feels like a safe environment for employees to speak up, share ideas, and where they can feel valued – and importantly – included.
4. Openly Embrace Diversity as a Manager or Team-Leader
If you manage other people at work, there are numerous ways in which you can become more inclusive, as a leader.
As a manager, you can become more aware and embrace diversity by reflecting and working on the following, for example:
- Reflect on your own identity and its advantages and disadvantages
- Ask employees from diverse backgrounds about their experiences of inclusion: good and bad
- Elicit feedback about your leadership
- Find out about other cultures
- Practice active listening
Active listening skills (see the free listening skills free activity) are an especially useful skill to try and develop, particularly so if you manage other people.
How often do we fail to listen to others because we are too busy thinking of the next things we want to say?
5. Ensure You have a Clear Inclusion & Diversity Policy, Guidelines, and Workplace Culture
One of the very best ways to create a workplace culture where inclusion is taken seriously is to have inclusive practices laid out in your company’s guidelines and policies.
If you manage such policies, then write out in clear language exactly what you aim to achieve as a company in terms of an inclusive workplace culture.
Create clear goals as a company and work to instill these inclusion guidelines into the everyday practice in your company.
This leads us nicely to point six below.
6. Provide Inclusion Training in New Hire Induction and Onboarding Training
The time to instill the company culture and inclusion policies into employees, if you can, is when they join the company.
Induction training (also known as onboarding) is a great time to make clear the standards you expect from new employees in terms of being part of an inclusive workplace culture.
Likewise, it can be a great time to make these same employees aware of the ways in which they can reach out to HR and for support, if the employee needs help in being fully included at work.
A questionnaire in the induction training can be used, for example, to understand any needs that the employee has, which can aid the inclusion process.
7. Consider Providing Generational Diversity Training to Managers
One area within inclusion that is becoming increasingly important is that of Generational Diversity.
Many of us are working now into our 70s and this is creating a bigger generational divide in many workplaces.
It is not unusual anymore to experience five different generations within the same team.
This mix of generations can sometimes work extremely well.
A great example is when younger staff guide much older staff in how to use and operate certain technologies.
Likewise, elder staff with their work and life experience can often be fantastic mentors for much younger staff.
The generational divide though can also sometimes be an issue because of very different ways of viewing the workplace and of doing things.
You can learn more about managing generational diversity here.
Dr Valeria (Lo Iacono) Symonds
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