6 Steps to Building a More Inclusive Workplace

Many business leaders understand the importance of inclusivity as a philosophy, but are unaware of the business case to be made for inclusion. So let’s start by defining it: Inclusion is the proactive recruitment and engagement of those with differing perspectives, value systems, backgrounds, ages, and demographic identities.

According to a Catalyst report, an inclusive workplace drives innovation and leads to better organization-wide performance: “Employees who feel included are more likely to go above and beyond the call of duty, suggest new product ideas, innovate new ways of getting work done and be supportive of one another.”

A workplace with a diverse mix of people who all feel valued within a unified, positive culture can be the key to unlocking your organization’s full potential. Here’s how to do it.

1. Collect data on the state of your workplace culture

Before conducting a culture shift, it’s important to get a real-time pulse on inclusion within your current company culture.

Leaders who deploy a culture assessment — especially one that includes a focus on diversity and inclusion — can gain quantifiable insights into how employees think and behave, and gain a more comprehensive picture of inclusion rates within their teams.

2. Be accountable for prioritizing inclusion

“See It.” This is the first step in the proven See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It model for achieving positive accountability. Above all else, leaders must truly see and understand the problem at hand — in this case, low inclusivity in the workplace — and then envision the solution. “Seeing It” prepares leaders to take accountability by making the “personal choice to rise above their circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results.”

After you “See It,” taking accountability requires clearly articulating your goals. These can vary based on your company’s needs — they may entail promoting more female managers, establishing recruiting programs for underserved demographic groups, or ensuring that employees of all ages feel that their contributions are integral to achieving Key Results.

Articulating inclusion goals provides a unified narrative and measurable benchmarks toward which all employees can strive. These benchmarks act as measurements for achievement, too — if they are not being met, leaders know they must take accountability for adjusting their priorities in order to reach these goals.

3. Integrate your culture

Your employees’ beliefs are the foundational values underlying your workplace culture. In order to make inclusivity a central part of your culture, it must be integrated into your company’s belief system.

Companies like New York Life demonstrate a commitment to inclusion that runs through everything they do. In fact, the organization has made inclusion central to its cultural beliefs: As stated on their careers page, “Everyone is expected to bring his or her own cultural and intellectual perspectives to the table. Yes, this gives us a broader perspective. But more importantly, it makes us a more responsive organization, able to innovate and adapt to changing needs.”

4. Model the change

Leaders must actively model their commitment to inclusion in order to inspire the rest of the organization to commit to the change. This can start with something as simple as assembling an executive team composed of members with a diversity of beliefs.

However, it’s important that leaders actively live their commitment through action. In 2017, 175 executives of major companies like PepsiCo and Walmart did just that by signing the Action for Diversity and Inclusion initiative. According to Business Insider, these leaders agreed to three objectives: creating organization-wide trust by facilitating “complex and sometimes difficult conversations about diversity and inclusion”; implementing unconscious bias training for all employees; and sharing past failures and best practices with the other participants.

By making a tangible commitment to inclusion and launching an initiative focused on results, leaders of these companies are modeling the change they want to see — all while inspiring employees to engage in the initiative.

5. Tell meaningful stories 

Purposeful storytelling is a powerful tool to ensure that employees understand the real benefits of inclusion initiatives. Sharing unique stories about the professional opportunities that result from a diversity mentorship program, or statistics about how engagement directly affects innovation, can help to align employees around the common objective of higher inclusivity.

Meaningful stories also help employees contextualize what’s in it for them. Change initiatives may trigger opposition from some who are resistant to diverging from “the way things have always been done.” To sell the entire organization on inclusion initiatives, leaders have to address the issues that matter most to employees. They can do this through storytelling, framing the change initiative in terms of measurable ways it will benefit individual employees while equally contributing to the organization’s Key Results.

6. Welcome dialogue

Inclusivity requires continuous nurturing and can’t be expected to ‘stick’ on its own. Internal engagement surveys are a great way to assess areas for improvement and measure whether employees are feeling valued and engaged at work. These indicators can then inform future inclusivity efforts.

Leaders don’t have to rely solely on anonymous input, though — collecting feedbackthrough one-on-one conversations with employees is another method of assessing progress toward important goals. Leaders must actively seek out feedback that is focused on the cultural belief of inclusion. Focused feedback provides a diplomatic process for open dialogue and mobilizes employees to work toward larger objectives.

Driving Results 

If leaders articulate a clear vision, mobilize change by modeling behavior and kickstarting new initiatives, and inspire employee commitment with purposeful storytelling and proactive feedback, the vision of a more inclusive culture can be realized. While the specific initiatives introduced may vary from leader to leader, the most important thing is that every employee is mobilized to work towards a more inclusive culture.

The potential rewards of committing to inclusion are significant: an inclusive workplace encourages new ideas and fresh perspectives, helps your employees perform at a higher level, and supports progress towards Key Results on an organizational level.

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