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15 Tips for building inclusion into your workplace culture

Updated: Sep 25, 2022

It's a no-brainer that diversity makes for a stronger workforce. When companies embrace and value employees of different backgrounds into an inclusive workplace, they reap the rewards in creativity and innovation, a strong company culture, improved employee performance, and more.

But diversity isn't the same as inclusivity. Think of inclusivity as the next step to successfully supporting a diverse workforce: It's all about creating an inclusive environment that welcomes and includes each employee, anchoring your decision making to their experience and not their demographics.

While inclusivity makes us feel good, inclusive workplace cultures offer far greater benefits than a warm and fuzzy feeling. So they're plain good business sense. Deloitte reports that inclusive workplaces are 6X as likely to be innovative, and have 2.3X the cash flow per employee over non-inclusive workplaces in a 3-year period.

So, if you're ready to launch your inclusivity initiatives, we've put together 15 tips to help your employees flourish, regardless of sex, race, gender, age, religious background, physical ability, or sexual orientation.

1. Get buy-in from the top

When it comes to creating and promoting an inclusive workplace, your biggest allies will be your leadership team. Prioritising inclusivity at your organisation will be a challenge if the C-suite doesn't prioritise it, as well.

Educate your company's leaders about the importance of inclusivity. This includes offering diversity and inclusivity (D&I) training at the C-suite level. It also means creating a safe space for your leaders to ask awkward or embarrassing questions 'behind the curtain' before leading inclusivity initiatives company-wide. Once leadership is comfortable and onboard, they'll be fantastic resources for setting an authentic, inclusive tone for all.

2. Integrate inclusivity into your core values

You should already make it a habit to revisit your company's core values periodically, especially during moments of major change. If your core values don't already include a statement on inclusive culture, get the buy-in from leadership to draft an update and implement it.

To get the most bang for your buck, ask for suggestions and feedback from employees company-wide, especially if your leadership and HR teams collectively aren't very diverse. The additional perspectives may help fill in a blank you've missed, and help you earn crucial top-to-bottom buy-in.

3. Model inclusive language

As an HR professional, you can be a powerful agent of change by walking the walk ' and, well, talking the talk. In all professional communications, model inclusive language. Learn and use the preferred pronouns for employees in your company, and use 'spouse' or 'partner' rather than the gendered 'husband' or 'wife' to refer to someone's spouse (especially if you don't know their gender). Partner also works for non-married couples, too.

As always, be very careful to avoid using harmful language. If you do, apologise correctly and do the work to ensure you won't repeat the mistake.

4. Encourage a culture of frequent check-ins

1-on-1s aren't just for providing in-the-moment feedback. They're also opportunities to build trust. And trust is key for the open dialogue that allows employees to honestly express their needs ' or discuss challenges they may experience in your workplace (particularly those of a sensitive nature).

If your organisation doesn't already have a continuous feedback culture, read up! It can work wonders for the employee experience.

5. Create safe spaces

Many companies have already done a wonderful job promoting non-binary and genderqueer inclusion by providing gender-neutral restrooms.

If your organisation hasn't already created such a space, consider it. Think, too, about other needs for privacy and safe spaces at work, such as lactation rooms for new mothers, prayer or meditation spaces, and quiet workspaces for workers who may be distracted or overstimulated by open floor plans.

Full remote? This extends to the remote space as well. Create digital safe 'spaces' by encouraging employees to add pronouns to their email signatures and user names. Invite employees to reserve time for prayer and other personal needs by blocking it out on the calendar. Honour introverts by making digital culture events optional.

To fully understand the needs of everyone at your company, partner with managers to learn more about their teams. Employees may feel awkward advocating for themselves, and managers, who have a close eye on their reports' skills and needs, can communicate these to you.

6. Create an inclusive workplace task force

Now that you've got the C-suite's buy-in, think about the stakeholders and key players whose input could help bring your organisation's inclusivity culture to life. These should be people who are passionate about inclusivity and will put in the extra time and effort to realise the vision.

They'll also be responsible for bringing new initiatives back to leadership and working with you and other units within the company to implement and communicate change. Be sure the task force itself is diverse, representing not only varying social demographics, but also office location (if you're multi-office), and job function. But be respectful in how you solicit members. Never make anyone feel tokenised.

7. Expand your company holiday calendar

Little things mean a lot ' and for minority groups, even small instances of representation can make a world of difference.

Take a look at your company's holiday calendar. In addition to Christian and secular holidays like Christmas and New Year's, be sure to include holidays that represent the religious beliefs of your company at large.

For Jewish employees, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are considered the major high holy days. Chanukah is nice, but on the Jewish calendar, it's ' pardon the latkes joke ' small potatoes. For Muslims, include Eid-al-Fitr, Eid-al-Adha, Ramadan, and Muharram. For Hindus, add Diwali, and Navrati.

If it's not possible to make these company-wide holidays, at least acknowledge them on the calendar to raise awareness and increase the sense of recognition and belonging for practitioners.

8. Recognise and reward everyone's performance

At Kazoo, we can't say enough about the power of rewards and recognition. Not only does recognition drive employee engagement and boost morale, but singling out and rewarding specific behaviour also signals your company's values. Before the start of the next quarter, thoughtfully review the employees who have received public recognition in the past, and for what.

If you're rewarding the same behaviours consistently (i.e., top sales), consider the signal this sends to your employees about the specific skills and talents your company values. Think about other, less visible contributions, and how they help your company, workers, and culture flourish, and queue them up for recognition in the next quarter.

9. Create events and initiatives focused on inclusivity

When it comes to planning work events and initiatives that celebrate inclusion, the sky's the limit. So host Pride Month mixers, screen documentaries during lunch, or invite guest speakers who cover a diverse range of topics.

On top of that, make sure your organisation's activities promote and support diversity as well. Who are you inviting to public-facing events? Which charitable causes does your company support during volunteer days and fundraisers? All of these are great opportunities to foster team-building and morale as you actively celebrate your inclusive workplace culture.

10. Make sure your office is accessible

To welcome all employees as well as visitors, make sure your office is accessible, especially in common areas like the kitchen and staff toilets. Older offices can include small steps or uneven floors that present major mobility obstacles; even if your building is ADA-compliant, it can be easy to crowd corridors and corners.

Ask members of the varied disabled communities for suggestions and include them in the process of making your offices accessible. Do not assume and do not limit your thinking to just wheelchairs or visual impairments.

Not in the office? Support remote workers by encouraging them to do an accessibility and ergonomics check on their home office. Create a budget to supply them with the tools they need to succeed.

11. Emphasise inclusivity in diversity training

You know that diversity and inclusivity aren't the same thing ' but do your employees? It's possible to have a diverse workplace that isn't inclusive. Minority employees, though present, may feel excluded or like they aren't represented in the workplace culture. Raise awareness of that nuance explicitly in training so that employees can fully embrace the diversity around them, and develop the soft skills to thrive in a diverse environment.

12. Create opportunities for conversation

Let's face it: No matter how woke we think we are, we never stop learning new things about the people around us. Your employees likely have strong relationships with their immediate teammates, but how well do they know their other colleagues?

Encourage a workplace culture of inclusivity by making opportunities for employees to mix and chat. This could take a formal structure, like town hall meetings. But don't underestimate the authenticity of a casual setting like company-wide lunches, happy hours, volunteer days, or cross-team activities.

13. Put pronouns in your email signature

One way to model inclusive behaviour is to include your preferred pronouns in email signatures, org charts, and slack names, such as 'Candice Mitchell, she/her,' or 'Jameson Alex, he/they/them.'

This signals your awareness of and respect for preferred pronouns and is welcoming to genderqueer and nonbinary employees. So encourage your organisation to include gender pronouns in company email signature templates for widespread adoption.

14. Provide a forum for introverts to shine

It's no secret that traditional corporate culture rewards extroversion. Those who speak up in meetings, take charge of projects, and advocate for themselves climb the ladder in leaps and bounds over their skilled (but quieter) co-workers.

As part of your inclusivity initiatives, train managers to make space in meetings to hear employees who may be more inclined to hang back, or might feel anxious arguing a salient point. Offer to fund noise-cancelling headphones and opportunities to give non-verbal feedback, such as suggestion boxes.

Finally, designate solitary spaces to work and eat so that these thoughtful, talented workers can recharge and keep giving you their best.

15. Include multilingual signage

No matter what language you speak, installing multilingual signage can instantly signal that everyone is welcome here to employees and office visitors. It can also serve as a gentle reminder to employees that they're part of a greater, more diverse world, regardless of the language spoken in the office.

It's also worth considering in anyone in your office speaks the sign language of the region you're based in. This ensures all employees and visitors can have a welcoming and inclusive experience.


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