In the world of DEI, we talk a lot about inclusion in the workplace, but what exactly does inclusion mean, and how does a workplace become more inclusive? Let’s take a look at the term itself, and some concrete ways to build a workplace where everyone feels welcome, supported, and seen.
What is Inclusion?
Inclusion is the act of making an environment welcoming to people of many different backgrounds. Unlike diversity, which is a trait, inclusion is an action, and an ongoing one at that. In a workplace that practices inclusion, all employees—whatever their background—feel like they belong. They know that they have a “voice” and that they are valued—crucial components for retaining talent.
Because this sense of inclusion is so crucial to any workplace environment, this is one of the elements we evaluate when we conduct in-depth analysis of a company’s culture. Often this is when organizations discover that their women employees feel they are being talked over or overlooked, and their employees of color are experiencing exhausting microaggressions that are negatively impacting their health and productivity. This kind of information is essential for constructing a plan to shift an organization’s culture toward being more inclusive.
Understand the Power of Inclusive Language
Here’s one tactic to build inclusivity that’s a play on a commonly used phrase: walk the walk by talking the talk. As our collective approach to and embrace of diversity continues to grow, our common terminology will ideally grow as well. The use of preferred pronouns is an example of this; in the professional realm, we’re seeing an increase in individuals using their preferred pronouns on LinkedIn profiles and in email signatures. When company leaders learn and use their employees’ preferred pronouns, it sends a strong message; when employees do the same, that message becomes a positive facet of the work culture.
Build Spaces that Reflect Inclusivity
Remember that diversity is a big canvas. When we talk about literally building inclusion into the workplace—by creating physical spaces that meet the needs of a diverse workforce —we sometimes overlook actions that have become common. On-premise child care centers and lactation and nursing rooms are one of the earliest examples of practical inclusion. So too are the meditation and relaxation rooms offered by many companies. Many companies have moved towards providing gender-neutral restrooms. These “safe spaces” don’t need to be relegated to physical locations. With the large shift towards remote work, there are opportunities for remote workers. Allowing employees to be off-camera for some video meetings may be a boon to nursing mothers working from home, or to neurodiverse employees who may not feel comfortable being on-camera. And flexibility itself—giving remote employees the opportunity to simply block out their calendar for brief periods during the day, to attend to any of their personal needs, from picking up kids from school to saying their daily prayers—is an act of inclusion.
Strive for Equity
To create a truly inclusive workplace, equity must come into play. To achieve inclusion, employees must be given access to the tools and resources they need to succeed, whatever their starting point or background. For some employees, this may mean access to extra training. Others may require disability accommodations. Still, others may need a flexible schedule so that they can attend to caregiving duties. Whatever it looks like in your organization and for your workforce, the ultimate goal of inclusion is to make it clear to employees that they are a part of your team and you will support them in the ways that they need to succeed.
In a nutshell: inclusion begets diversity. Inclusive policies and practices will enable your company to attract and retain a diverse workforce, because candidates and employees will feel welcomed and valued in your organization—and will bring their talent to a place where they feel like they belong. The suggestions I give above are just a few of the ways to build an inclusive workplace. If you’d like to know more, schedule a conversation with me today to start that conversation.