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7 Proven Ways To Build A More Inclusive Workplace

7 Proven Ways to Build a More Inclusive Workplace

Previously, we discussed the benefits that diversity and inclusion can bring to an organization.  But while many leaders want to harness the energy that EDI creates, most don’t know how to do it.  Below are seven practices that can help any organization build a more inclusive workplace. 


1.    Determine Your Inclusion Needs


The first step in building a more inclusive workplace is figuring out where to begin.  Organizations may want to dive in immediately to prove their commitment to diversity.  Leaders must resist this temptation.  Any program created without paying attention to the unique needs of your organization is on the fast track to failure. 


Luckily, organizations can easily determine where they need to improve. Anonymous polls and surveys can provide insight into employees’ thoughts on the current approach to inclusion.  Leaders should have honest discussions about their actions and observations as well.  At the end of this process, leaders can use the responses to create a list of inclusion goals.


2.   Create Achievable, Measurable Inclusion Programs


After identifying inclusion goals, organizations must take steps toward those goals.  While inclusion can be achieved in an infinite number of ways, when developing an inclusion plan, organizations should keep two goals in mind.  Any inclusion plan should be attainable and measurable.  A lofty plan with goals that can never be achieved ruins employee morale and reinforces the idea that management is not willing to make meaningful changes.  Without measurable goals, leaders and organizations cannot be held accountable for implementing the plan.  Without accountability, any plan will be ineffective.  Good inclusion plans are measurable and achievable.


3.   Start at the Top – But Don’t Stop There


In an inclusive workplace, all employees must share responsibility for carrying out the inclusion plan.  Of course, specific leaders or departments must take the lead in developing and overseeing the development of inclusion plan.  Moreover, organizational leaders must be trained in the plan not only to implement its goals but also to set an example for employees.  But while leaders set policy, employees create the day-to-day experiences of customers and other employees.  Therefore, every person in an organization must be trained to be inclusive.


4.   Communicate to be Inclusive


To be truly inclusive, an organization must communicate with its employees.  Listening is the key to successful communication in an inclusive workplace.  Organizations must make time to listen to their employees – particularly their diverse employees – about their experiences.  Roundtable discussions, brown bag lunches, and other “listen and learn” events give leaders an opportunity to hear employees’ thoughts on inclusion.  Leaders must listen with open ears and open minds.  Rather than adopting a defensive posture, leaders must listen with humility.  When this happens, employees feel heard and included, while leaders gain knowledge that will propel the inclusion plan forward. 


5.   Review Your Policies and Practices for Bias


In an inclusive workplace, employees feel respected, welcomed, and supported.  Policies that discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or other characteristics do the exact opposite.  While few organizations today have policies that are explicitly biased, many organizations have policies that unintentionally harm employees.  For instance, an expectation that all employees be promoted within three years might create tension for employees who are new parents or who are contemplating parenthood.  Leaders should carefully evaluate all written policies for hidden bias.


In addition to written policies, organizations must take care to evaluate the unwritten policies of their workplace.  An organization may have an unwritten rule that all employees should be able to work late nights at a moment’s notice.  This tacit expectation places employees with child care, elder care, or other family responsibilities in a difficult position.  Similarly, the employees who “benefit” from the policy may feel that their lack of family responsibilities causes them to be unfairly burdened with extra work assignments.  Organizations must review the unwritten rules of the workplace culture to create a truly inclusive workplace.


6.   Plan for Bad Behavior


No organization is perfect.  As such, even organizations that commit to inclusion, create a plan, and provide adequate training will still have employees who miss the mark on inclusion.  While an inclusion plan cannot prevent bad behavior, it can certainly provide a framework for how it should be addressed.   An inclusion plan should clearly state the procedures that will be followed in the event of an incident.  It should also set a clear timeline for the resolution of the complaint.  While the initial goal should be re-training, the plan should state the consequences, if any, that will follow if the behavior is not corrected.   While no workplace is perfect, a workplace with a clearly-stated, swift, transparent, and fair conflict resolution process can still be an inclusive workplace. 


7.   Constantly Review and Update Your Plan


As workplaces grow and change, their inclusion challenges change as well.  Therefore, an inclusive workplace must regularly review its inclusion plan to determine if changes are needed.  Some changes – such as opening an overseas office or landing an international client – will clearly alert leaders to the need for a plan review.  Other changes – such as the changing demographics of the workplace or outdated aspects of original plan – are subtler.  So, while reviewing the plan during times of change is a good idea, the best inclusion plans will ask leaders to conduct a periodic review to evaluate and update the plan.

Today, an inclusive workplace is not merely a benefit, it is a business necessity.  To learn more about building an inclusive workplace, enroll in the Equity Toolkit e-courses. The Equity Toolkit is an interactive, four-course online series containing essential, research-based concepts on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.


DeEtta Jones

DeEtta Jones is an invited speaker, equity, diversity and inclusion strategy consultant and author with more than twenty years of experience working with people from around the world to on personal effectiveness and building workforce capacity.

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