Creating an Inclusive Workplace

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During my 15-plus years in the human resources sector, I’ve learned, along with my various employers, how important it is to foster an environment that truly welcomes a company’s greatest resource: diverse talent. Inclusion is the active embracing and engagement of that diversity.

When employees can bring their true selves to work without having to expel energy hiding or suppressing aspects of their identities, they can focus that energy on their jobs. Creating a workplace that encourages this type of inclusion will benefit your employees and positively impact your business’s performance.

Many organizations have good intentions—developing a diversity strategy that provides opportunities to underrepresented groups of people—but the execution often falls short. Whether it’s conflicting business needs, a lack of resources, or any other number of reasons, this flawed execution can result in a failure to retain the very talent businesses are working to attract and engage.

Does this sound familiar? Do you hire diverse talent only to have them leave? If so, you may understand the importance of diversity in your workplace, but your active inclusion leaves something to be desired, making you struggle to retain the talent you’ve attracted. After all, no one wants to stay in a work situation where they don’t feel valued or included.

Vernā Myers, VP of inclusion and strategy at Netflix, and the best-selling author of Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go from Well-Meaning to Well-Doing, perfectly captured the necessary role of inclusion in a diverse workplace: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

Inclusion = Productivity
Employees who feel supported, valued, and visible—in other words, included—are more engaged and productive. Bringing varied perspectives to the table offers valuable insights as an employer and a company, and helps you better serve current and potential customers from diverse communities and backgrounds.

Regardless of size, any organization can develop a strategy to foster a diverse and inclusive environment. Your strategy should solve for gaps in areas of opportunity for your business, both internally and externally. This can range from leadership staff training in unconscious bias to an audit of opportunities for diversity and inclusion in your entire business cycle, including employees, vendors, and customers. Each stakeholder should feel included and have buy-in to the success of the strategy that emerges. This strategy should include a scale that can easily track and assess progress, while remaining flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of your business and your employees.

Here are some steps to get you started:

  1. Review policies and procedures. A good place to start is a thorough review of your policies and procedures from hiring to antidiscrimination and anti-harassment policies, making sure you’re employing best practices and following through on them. If you’re not sure, or if they haven’t been updated recently, do some research online; LinkedIn is a great resource for published articles on these subjects, as well as forums where you can ask questions and get advice.
  2. Leverage your EAP. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are usually available through your healthcare/benefits provider and offer many off-the-shelf trainings. I always recommend that my clients explore what’s available within their EAP, as there is usually a range of activities and resources that are easy to implement, require minimal investments, and are inclusive by nature. You can ask about modules on topics such as: diversity in the workplace, generations in the workplace, LGBTQ inclusiveness, etc.
  3. Maintain an inclusive calendar. Make sure your office calendar acknowledges the many holidays observed by different cultures and/or religious communities. This serves as a visible reminder to your employees that your organization is inclusive and recognizes that staff members may need time off on certain days. It will be appreciated by employees and could facilitate conversations about and better understanding of different cultures and observances.
  4. Hold inclusion events. Host a series of brown bag lunches where you invite staff to watch an EAP training module and participate in a discussion around the topic; ask senior leaders to share insights into their career progression; form a professional development book club and meet once a quarter to discuss what you learned; provide volunteer opportunities that align with your organization’s values and mission. You can invite staff to nominate organizations that are meaningful to them and organize a group project or outing.

Everyone wins when you engage active inclusion in the workplace, and getting started is easy. There are many helpful resources and trainings available online, including the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and Vernā Myers’ website, which offers a range of video courses.

There’s no “right” way to create a diverse and inclusive workplace, and the shape your strategy takes will depend on the nature of your organization. What matters in the end is that you and other company leaders consider all the ways employees connect with each other and with the customers and community you serve.

We all benefit from feeling welcomed as our authentic selves, and the growth that comes from being encouraged to share our true insights is immeasurable. When we prioritize diversity and inclusion for all, we’re freer to make our best and most complete contributions at work.

Katie Donnelly, PHR, is a human resources professional with 15+ years of comprehensive HR experience. She lives in Philadelphia with her spouse, David, and enjoys travel and learning about different cultures.

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