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7 Ways to Create an Inclusive Workplace

Without an inclusion culture, businesses are unable to reap the benefits that diverse teams provide. Put simply - diversity is like having a band with multiple instruments, and inclusion is allowing all those instruments to be heard.
Published 26 Aug 2020
Updated 7 Feb 2024
8min read
7 Ways to Create an Inclusive Workplace

Your business has recently recruited a rich and diverse workforce with a mix of genders, ethnicities, ages, religions and backgrounds. This fills that diversity quota you’ve been struggling to hit. Luckily now you can simply tick off the diversity and inclusion (D&I) box and be on your merry way… right? Unfortunately, diversity is only one part of the D&I puzzle.

Without inclusive work practices, businesses are unable to reap the benefits that diverse teams provide. Put simply – diversity is like having a band with multiple instruments, and inclusion is allowing all those instruments to be heard.

Why are inclusive work practices important?

Research has shown inclusive workplaces are 1.7 times more innovative when compared to those with fewer D&I initiatives. This is because diverse teams who have their voices heard are better attuned to the values and needs of a broader range of customers.

Insights from various backgrounds, genders, cultures and ethnicities are critical in identifying unmet market opportunities.

When looking at the bigger D&I picture, inclusive cultures contribute to your business’ overall success. Creating a culture where each employee feels valued and respected requires additional investment beyond recruiting diverse talent.

If your employees have to mask their authentic selves at work because they feel unseen or unsafe, this can create a flow-on effect that impacts retention, engagement and overall productivity levels.

How do you create an inclusive workplace?

If you want to leverage your team’s differences and make the most out of their unique backgrounds, ideas and opinions, it’s time to learn how to foster an inclusive culture.

To help you get started, here are seven ways to foster an inclusive workplace culture:

1. Practice diverse and inclusive leadership

Inclusive leaders are those who consistently create a safe and welcoming environment for their teams. Here employees feel capable of expressing themselves freely without judgement.

Inclusive leadership celebrates differences and acknowledges how each person’s unique background has its strengths within a team setting.

By fostering collaboration amongst team members, leaders can facilitate open discussions where positive conflict and constructive feedback can flourish.

People are naturally inclined to react with fear, embarrassment and defensiveness when their ideas are challenged. This can further exacerbate any divides between employees and can lead to further exclusion within the workplace.

By creating a safe space for teams to challenge existing assumptions, inclusive leaders allow for innovative thinking to flourish.

How your executive team is structured speaks volumes about your company culture. Having heterogenous senior management who are actively involved across the business allows your employees and customers to feel as though their differences are equally represented.

Businesses need diversity within leadership to reflect the heterogeneous nature of employees and consumers. Research suggests teams who can reflect the needs of their target customers are twice as likely to innovate effectively for end users.

It’s important for leaders from minority backgrounds to also feel heard and acknowledged by their team members. Leaders should never have to comprise their authenticity to lead effectively.

2. Invest in diversity and inclusion training

D&I training can help drive home the importance of inclusive leadership. D&I training provides leaders with the necessary tools to leverage different skill sets across their team.

You want your employees to put their best foot forward, to feel like they’re actively engaged in their work and comfortable in their working environment. Investing in D&I training means overcoming stereotypes and breaking down behaviour that is counterproductive towards building an inclusive workplace culture.

D&I training focuses on respecting every person’s unique experience and understanding the value of diverse ways of thinking.

Encouraging all employees to undergo D&I training will send out a clear message regarding your business’s ongoing commitment to inclusivity in the workplace. Specifically, a course like ‘managing unconscious bias‘ could be useful in creating a more inclusive workplace culture.

Every one of us holds our own internal biases we’re most likely not even aware of. These unspoken thoughts can greatly impact how we act and perceive the world around us. These training modules help employees recognise behaviour that is damaging to inclusiveness.

The goal is to aid leaders and employees in understanding how their actions can help others feel included.

Fostering an inclusive workplace is an evolving process requiring consistent investment across all levels of an organisation. Your business’ D&I training, goals and strategies must continue to develop to reflect the ever-changing needs of your workforce and customer base.

3. Use inclusive language

Language is a powerful tool. Forge new relationships and connections with words. However, language also has the potential to form barriers and obstacles that can greatly hinder a person’s sense of belonging.

For example, your colleague might show up to work gushing about their new haircut. Without giving it a second thought, you say, “Wow that looks amazing! She did such a good job.” After thinking that through for a moment you realise – Hang on… did I just presume the hairdresser is a woman?

Now you might shake your head at this, roll your eyes, who cares what you think? What does it matter if I thought the hairdresser was a woman? Inclusive language focuses on words which avoid biases, expressions or slang that discriminates against certain groups or persons based on their individual qualities.

By encouraging the use of inclusive language and implementing it into workplace policies, you can resonate with each employee and prevent feelings of exclusion.

This also includes rewriting job descriptions, so the language is gender-neutral. Leaders and managers must ensure any offensive language used by a group or individual towards another is unacceptable and will be dealt with accordingly.

Inclusive language is a surefire way to make people feel more comfortable at work. Let’s not forget, when employees feel like they belong, it has been proven to increase retention rates and customer satisfaction.

Not to mention you can bank on creating a more psychologically safe work environment, facilitating higher levels of innovation and employee engagement.

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4. Extend the invite to team meetings

The best way to show your employees respect and appreciation is to invite them to share their ideas in team meetings or brainstorming sessions. Contributing to group discussions allows your team members to feel as though they are seen and heard by their co-workers.

Meetings or brainstorming sessions will have reduced effectiveness if all members present are contributing to the same feedback or ideas. For this reason, it’s important to engage in active listening and be open to different ideas or opinions in meetings, 1:1s or any other workplace interaction.

To make the most of your meetings, establish norms which allow members to contribute openly and freely to discussions. Set standards for all to use and follow.

For example, don’t interrupt those that are speaking or argue with someone for having a different opinion.

Encourage active listening and provide each person with a particular role, so they feel important to the meeting function. This could mean electing a certain member to change the slides, take notes or host a Zoom meeting for remote employees.

It’s a good idea to provide agendas in advance so those with language barriers or introverted personalities can prepare ideas and questions beforehand.

With the rise of flexible working arrangements, you’ve probably found yourself working alongside both remote and on-site teams. Remote workers are still highly valuable resources and should be included in all meetings where possible. Luckily video conferencing tools like Zoom help facilitate these meetings.

Allocate a set time during your meeting for remote employees to make meaningful contributions to group discussions. Make sure they feel welcome and comfortable to reach out at any point in the discussion.

5. Implement anti-discrimination and D&I policies

Under Australian law, businesses are required to uphold and protect the rights of staff by providing a safe space free of discrimination based on gender, race, age religion, disability or sexual orientation. If you want to instigate real change within your business, strengthening your anti-discrimination policies is essential.

Your focus should be on communicating any behaviour of a discriminatory nature will not be tolerated. Anti-discrimination policies outline what your company constitutes as acceptable behaviour by employees and stakeholders (like customers or suppliers).

Policies and procedures also signify your level of commitment to addressing any pertinent issues and upholding a diverse and inclusive workplace culture.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of disproportionately focusing D&I initiatives on employee acquisition. However, the employee experience is what matters to your business long-term. To nurture and retain talent, you want to promote inclusion and initiate changes that are relevant to each person’s needs.

Depending on the size of your business, try introducing workplace policies which acknowledge a variety of cultural or religious practices. One way to do this is to include popular holidays and celebrations of multiple religions and cultures in your festive calendar.

It’s equally as important to Support working parents through maternal and parental leave or offer volunteer leave for employees wishing to support a charitable cause.

6. Support Employee Resource Groups

Traditionally, Employee Resource Groups (ERG) are employee-led initiatives designed to connect employees who share the concerns of a common gender, race, ethnicity, disability background, experience or sexual orientation. Today ERGs have taken a step further to include interest-based groups in search of a sense of community and inclusiveness.

ERGs foster connectedness within the workplace, promote D&I education, provide development opportunities and help to support business goals. Although ERGs are employee-led programs, it is critical for leadership teams to regularly check-in with each group.

This means providing ongoing support to ensure their goals align with the company’s overarching mission.

ERGs also offer valuable insights into employee ideas, concerns and interests. Such information can be used to continuously improve and enhance D&I initiatives across the entire organisation. Ideally, you want to create a sense of community between teams so members can reach out to other people outside of their immediate department.

ERGs are an effective way for employees to mingle and learn from another.

7. Establish a Diversity Council

Fostering an inclusive workplace culture involves more than simply building a diverse team of individuals. It requires ongoing commitment towards policy implementation and behaviour management that allow employees to be their authentic selves at work.

This can be quite a tough job for HR departments alone, especially when they are responsible for juggling other demanding tasks.

Diversity councils are an excellent resource to help monitor and accelerate a business’ D&I efforts. Having an established diversity council also ensures the onus for inclusivity does not fall on the shoulders of underrepresented groups within the workplace. Instead, they recognise it takes a collective approach to enact change within an organisation.

The role of diversity councils is to periodically evaluate a business’ level of inclusivity and professional development to ensure all members have equal opportunity to flourish. Diversity councils are encouraged to get involved in the hiring, retaining and goal-setting processes to ensure underrepresented voices are heard.

Diversity councils can also recommend any area in need of improvement and ensure ongoing commitment towards equality within the workplace.

Councils should be diverse themselves to represent the various genders, ethnicities and business functions. If this step is considered difficult due to a lack of diversity within the executive levels of your business, ensure all managers are well versed in inclusive leadership, behaviour, language and strategies.

Create inclusivity in the workplace

It’s safe to say we all recognise and understand the plethora of benefits a diverse workforce provides from higher levels of innovation, greater brand recognition, reduced turnover and increased employee performance.

Understanding how to ensure different backgrounds and perspectives feel valued within the workplace will help your company sustain a strong competitive advantage and prevent top talent from walking out the door.

For businesses wishing to foster an inclusive workplace culture, the change can be challenging – yet highly rewarding. There’s no denying the fact that D&I initiatives are not a one-size-fits-all approach.

Regardless, it’s still important to acknowledge and share best practices to see what works for you and your business.

For more inclusive workplace resources, have a read on:

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Diversity and inclusion handbook

Jacqui Mikulasev
People Specialist - Employment Hero
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Diversity and inclusion handbook
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