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How to Create a More Inclusive Work Environment

Research shows that diverse workplaces are more successful than homogenous workplaces. At the same time, diversity in the workplace can also cause more conflict. Why? Diversity isn’t a magic bullet for a productive, successful organization. There needs to be inclusion. Inclusive work cultures celebrate differences and commit to making the environment safe and welcoming to everyone. Here are seven tips on creating that kind of workplace:

#1. Make your vision clear

Employees (and potential employees) should understand the importance of inclusiveness right away. Websites, social media channels, workshops, and meetings should promote inclusion as a company value. Policies and practices need to back that up, too. Clarity and intentionality will draw new talent, strengthen trust, and guide an organization’s path to specific, effective steps to inclusion.

#2. Establish a D&I committee

Diversity and inclusion committees have four main responsibilities: advise on D&I efforts, integrate the initiatives through the whole organization, assess how effective the initiatives are, and ensure accountability. Membership should represent diversity in race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, and age. All stakeholders – including employees at each level and senior managers – should have a place on the committee. Without a committee, it would be very difficult to develop inclusive practices that work and monitor how well practices are working. Successful D&I committees have full support from leadership, clear expectations, and the resources they need to track progress.

#3. Set goals and monitor progress

It’s one thing to say a workplace is inclusive, but without specific goals and a way to measure progress, inclusiveness will remain a pipe dream. Goals can include improved pay equity, a target number of attendants at internal trainings, or rewritten job descriptions with inclusive language. Collecting information is very important when monitoring progress, so companies should commit to high-quality data. Not all progress can be tracked or reported in the same way, but steps like regular employee surveys and other ongoing feedback help a workplace stay on track. The D&I committee plays an essential role in this process.

#4. Provide training to managers

Managers implement the policies and practices that turn a vision of inclusiveness into a reality. They demonstrate values, identify priorities, mentor other employees, and bring concerns to executive staff. If a company wants a more inclusive workplace, they need to make sure their managers are on the same page. This goes beyond simple discussions about inclusion; managers need diversity workshops, training on unconscious bias, cultural training, and more. Managers should receive consistent support, tools, and resources to help them build inclusiveness into their daily work routines. The role of a manager is difficult and while the benefits are clear, leading a diverse workforce comes with challenges. Providing high-quality, ongoing training to managers helps them – and the workplace as a whole – successfully create an inclusive culture.

#5. Promote inclusive language

When shaping a work culture, don’t underestimate the importance of language. Language – both spoken and written – drives communication. Certain words and phrases can confuse or clarify values and priorities. Promote gender-inclusive language, normalize pronouns in email signatures, and take harmful language seriously. Inclusive language can also mean avoiding company acronyms or clichés, which often aren’t accessible to new employees and employees from other cultures. Adjusting to more inclusive language can be tricky at first, but with practice, it gets easier.

#6. Ensure physical and digital accessibility

Navigating a workplace with physical barriers is challenging or even impossible for people with disabilities. Organizations should prioritize safety and comfort for everyone, which means having elevators, wheelchair ramps, wide hallways, and more. Many places require compliance to certain standards – like the Americans with Disabilities Act – but organizations can go further to ensure accessibility. That can mean having a home office budget, so remote workers can buy comfortable chairs, standing desks, or whatever else they need. Digital accessibility is another way to become more inclusive. Websites and other digital materials should support text and screen-readers and video captions.

#7. Encourage open communication and accountability

Organizations won’t hear about inclusion problems if people feel uncomfortable speaking up. The first step is making sure that expectations are clear. This is an ongoing process as new employees come in, policies are updated, and new practices are embraced. When problems arise – and there will always be problems – employees need to feel confident going to their managers. That trust is only gained when managers consistently respond with respect and accountability. A lot of organizations fail at this stage. They spend a lot of time creating practices and talking about inclusion, but when it comes to employee feedback and responding to issues, there’s a lack of understanding and action. Open, ongoing communication that’s rewarded with concrete accountability is a must.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.