How to create an inclusive workplace

Organisations have had some success in attracting a more diverse work force but many report retaining people is proving a challenge. How do you as an organisation create a work environment where everyone feels valued and can give their best?

Creating Inclusive Cultures work with a wide range of organisations in different sectors – what we find is there is no ‘one size that fits all’ when it comes to creating an inclusive culture but there are some activities that can help!

Why is an inclusive culture important?

There is well documented research which shows that if an employee feels totally comfortable in the workplace they will give their absolute best everyday – if for any reason the employee feels he or she has to keep some aspect of their personality, their circumstances hidden or if they are prevented from giving their best by unfair processes or poor management – then they will not work to their full potential. This can result in high rates of sickness absence, high turnover or a workforce which is disengaged. A fully inclusive workplace is one where all employees feel fully included in the team, are trusted and empowered to do the job, where employees receive regular feedback, are supported to develop and thanked and recognised for their achievements. Co-incidentally all of these activities feature in organisations where employees are fully engaged such as those featured in the’ Best Places to Work’ annual surveys.

An inclusive workplace is one where difference is recognised and acknowledged as a strength. Research from well-respected organisations such as McKinsey and Deloitte have shown that a diverse workforce brings creativity and innovation to the organisation – avoiding group think which may result in poor decision making.

How can you create an inclusive environment?

This does not require expensive training or a huge investment of time – rather a combination of thoughtfulness and behaviour change.

Take meetings – still one of the most common ways of sharing information and ideas in an organisation. Most of us would say that we would offer everyone round the table an opportunity to share their views – but do we?

How many of us take a lack of input to mean agreement? How often have you dismissed someone’s idea as ‘not practical’ because it is not your idea?

If someone regularly offers ideas which are equally regularly dismissed, then over time that individual will withdraw.

Alfred P Sloan, CEO, Chairman and President of General Motors, is quoted as saying after meetings:

‘We seem to be all in agreement here so I suggest we adjourn and reconvene in a week when people have had time to think about other ideas and what might be wrong with this ‘

 By taking more time to allow people to think and perhaps offer their ideas in a less formal way than in a meeting, you allow people to really feel included. You also might end up with a better decision. Welcome challenge and different ideas – alternative views can avoid costly business mistakes.

Don’t forget the obvious!

It is easy to accidentally ‘exclude’ an employee – but it is the small things that make a difference to an individual. Common mistakes include:

  • Assuming because someone identifies as being from a particular group or culture that they will align themselves to all aspects of that culture – people are unique and different
  • Scheduling meetings for a time/date/place that excludes people working from home
  • Focussing on the most common religious festivals such as Christmas or Easter and not openly celebrating others such as Diwali
  • Asking someone about their husband or wife rather than a partner
  • Organising social events around alcohol
  • Mind your language – e.g. avoid describing people who work flexibly as ‘part timers’.

Creating a truly inclusive workplace is not easy but can be achieved by focusing on the small details of work life which make the biggest impacts on your individual employees.

For more information on Creating Inclusive Culture email Fiona Triller, Programme Director Creating Inclusive Cultures –