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How to design inclusion into everyday work life

Foster a culture of inclusion at your organization with these actionable steps. It’s better for your people – and your business.

Looking for ways to design inclusion into your everyday work life, but not sure how to get started?

We’ve taken a closer look at what it means for a workplace to be inclusive (and diverse), the benefits of fostering inclusion at work, as well as shared some practical tips for designing an inclusive workplace – advice you can take action on today.

What is inclusion in the workplace?

An inclusive culture is one where employees from all backgrounds are valued, respected, and have equal access to opportunity. Inclusion is observable when different perspectives are valued, and actions are taken to attract, hire, grow, and retain diverse talent.

What is diversity in the workplace?

The individual differences that people in your organization identify with, as they relate to their social and professional identity. Each company varies in the diversity data they collect and have access to.

  • Social identity: Demographic factors such as gender identity, ability, race, nationality, age, sexual orientation, veteran status, and caring responsibilities. These are usually self-declared and not connected to employee records.
  • Professional identity: Role-related factors such as job type, tenure, worksite/office, work location (remote/onsite), employment status (PT/FT), current employment situation (permanent/contract), management responsibilities, role level, education, and training. These identifiers often come from the company HRIS, but could also be self-identified in an anonymous survey.

Read more: HR Leader’s Guide: How to apply DEI to your employee experience program

What are the benefits of inclusion in the workplace?

A diverse and inclusive organization ensures all voices are heard. Through representation, organizations foster a socially- and morally-adept workplace. These are wins in and of themselves. A diverse workforce can also benefit an organization’s bottom line by creating a competitive advantage in many ways.

Here are some of the benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace:

  • Financial performance. A study conducted by McKinsey & Company found that ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians. Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their respective national industry medians.
  • Employer of choice. According to Glassdoor, 67% of job seekers view a diverse workforce as an important factor when evaluating companies and considering job offers.
  • Innovation and growth. Harvard Business Review found that diverse companies are 70% likelier to capture a new market. They’re also 45% more likely to report increased market share year over year.
  • Increased employee engagement. 83% of millennials report being actively engaged when they believe their organization fosters an inclusive workplace culture. That percentage drops to 60% when their organization does not foster an inclusive culture. (A Gallup study has assessed the cost of disengaged employees at up to $350 billion per year in lost productivity.)
  • Powerful decision-making. Teams that are inclusive make better decisions up to 87% of the time, according to a study conducted by Forbes.

How do we design inclusion into everyday work life?

Now that you know the benefits of fostering inclusion in the workplace, it’s important to take action to reap those benefits – and start making your workplace a place where every employee feels like they belong.

Here are some ways to get started:

1. Use inclusive language

Inclusive language is defined as “language that avoids the use of certain expressions or words that might be considered to exclude particular groups of people.” Any person or group can be excluded with language, but typically, this term is used for traditionally underrepresented or underprivileged groups.

Inclusive language is language that makes others feel safe and is not harmful to underrepresented groups. Sometimes non-inclusive words are used in conversation, but other times they can be subtly built into processes. Non-inclusive words, whether intended or not, can have a harmful effect on underrepresented groups.

2. Encourage inclusive decision making

When making business decisions have you ever stopped to think about who is in the room and whether the decision makers represent the true diversity of your team – including diversity of thought?

Diversity includes the full spectrum of human differences including diversity of thought. By leveraging our diversity, you can harness the full intellectual power across your organization by hearing many different viewpoints.

Inclusive decision-making is about managing and improving who is involved and how business decisions are made, in a way that improves innovation, engagement, and results.

Here are five steps for making more inclusive decisions:

  • Step 1: Get more diverse voices involved. Set guiding practices that allow for divergent thinking and include preferred methodologies for different personality types, e.g. introverts and extroverts. Actively seek ideas and input from everyone on the team. Actively ask yourself: Am I including people who might agree and disagree in this decision? Am I hearing every voice?
  • Step 2: Create the space for psychological safety. Create the space for team members to have differing points of view even if different from your own. Communicate that it is safe to have a different point of view. This does not mean they all have to agree.
  • Step 3: Be clear on the criteria. This will help set the guidelines for how ideas are filtered. It’s important that teammates understand three important questions: who, how, and why. By adding a clarity lens to each decision, teammates are able to better understand decisions and buy into the outcome.
  • Step 4: Increase transparency in the decision-making process. Actively show that you are capturing all perspectives with no judgment even if you need additional time to consider their suggestions and the outcome.
  • Step 5: Communicate the outcome. Funnel out ideas that don’t meet the criteria and communicate the outcome, while explaining how it was arrived at. Once this is done you must own the result.

Inclusive decision-making leverages diversity in a way that provides different perspectives. But this doesn’t just happen by itself. We need to be intentional about including diversity.

3. Hold inclusive meetings

An inclusive meeting gives everyone a chance to contribute and all voices are valued and have equal weight. Whether participants are in the room or online, across the table or the ocean, everyone should feel welcome to participate.

Supplemental reading: How to host more inclusive meetings

Here are some ways to make your meetings more inclusive:

  • Review your list of attendees. Ensure that you’re not missing people who represent diverse or dissenting points of view.
  • When the meeting starts, introduce yourself with your pronouns. Encourage others to do the same.
  • Provide momentary breaks in the conversation so others can stay apace and not be left behind.
  • Ensure the physical meeting space is accessible for those who may have mobility, ambulatory, visual, hearing, and/or sensory disabilities. This includes checking that any lifts or elevators to space are functioning properly.
  • Ask attendees beforehand if they require any visual or audio accommodations (note: this does not mean to ask for conditions). This can include subtitles/speech-to-text, text-to-speech, accessible fonts, and colors, or pacing discussion to allow for breaks in the conversations.

Not only does an inclusive workplace help foster a sense of belonging, but it also drives better business results. By using inclusive language, encouraging inclusive decision-making, and holding more inclusive meetings, you can get started building inclusion into your workplace right away.

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