How to Create a Culture of Inclusion at Your Workplace

By: Isabelle Vauclair, a Laurier Institution Blog Contributor

“Inclusion is not a matter of political correctness. It is the key to growth.” — Jesse Jackson.

While many organizations list diversity and inclusion as one of their top core values, few do enough to ensure their BIPOC employees are set up for long-term success. For example, women of colour are entering the workforce in greater numbers than ever before, yet they are rarely seen in leadership positions. Company-wide potlucks might sound like a great way to get everyone at the table, but they may not appeal to everyone. Creating a culture of inclusion is a much more effective way of ensuring all employees feel supported and heard. 

According to a Deloitte inclusion pulse survey, 72% of respondents have considered leaving their organization for a more inclusive one, not due to a lack of demographic diversity. On the contrary, a diverse workplace is not necessarily inclusive.

So, what does it truly mean to be “an equal opportunity employer?” 

Diverse recruitment is a good place to start, but it hardly accounts for the barriers minorities face within their organizations after being hired. Even the most ‘forward-thinking,’ progressive companies lack the framework to support their visions of inclusivity.

With greater purpose, action, and support, you can create a culture of inclusion and ensure that individuals from all backgrounds and identities succeed at your organization. 

Purpose –  Define ‘inclusion’ within your company

The first step in creating an inclusive work culture is actively listening to your current employees, especially people of colour. Listen to their immediate needs, goals for the future, and their ideas. Entrusting BIPOC employees with their own experiences and knowledge is essential to overcoming unconscious biases that prevent them from succeeding.

According to HBR, women of colour are more likely than white women to define “executive presence” at their companies as conforming to traditionally white male standards. Diversity offers organizations unique insights into the diverse needs of their customer bases. Without inclusion, however, diversity is just another box to check off. 

Next, define ‘inclusion’ within your company based on employee feedback instead of purely aspirational diversity goals. For example, a Fortune 100 company will have a very different definition of DEI than a local non-profit. Aligning your definition with your organization’s mission and scale will ensure your inclusion efforts are purpose-driven and have a lasting impact. 

Action – Promote inclusive behaviours over one-time programs

Once you’ve nailed down a strong definition of inclusion, it’s time to hone in on the day-to-day behaviours that will make your vision possible. Here are some actionable steps you can take to confront biases and barriers within your organization: 

  • Hold sensitivity training for managers to ensure your inclusion efforts are being consistently applied across all departments.
  • Organize sponsorship/mentorship programs for female-identifying employees, employees of colour, and employees with disabilities. 
  • Add private nursing rooms, gender-neutral bathrooms, prayer/reflection rooms, etc., to make your office space more inclusive. 
  • Offer mental health benefits for BIPOC employees to help alleviate race-based stress.
  • Introduce an employee recognition program that allows you to recognize all employees in real-time.
  • Look into virtual tools to promote inclusivity within your remote teams.
  • Schedule regular one-on-ones with your team members to connect with them on a personal level.

Most importantly: don’t shy away from having difficult conversations. When our beliefs are challenged, it is easy to react with fear or defensiveness. This creates unnecessary tension and prevents us from forming authentic connections with our peers. 

Make sure to reprimand those who use discriminatory language or display micro-aggression. By providing consistent repercussions and removing harmful individuals from your employ, you prove to your people that you do not support a narrative where only some succeed. 

Support – Re-imagine your “fit.” 

Creating a culture of inclusion requires looking critically at your ideal employee persona and seeing how that persona ‘fits’ into your organization. Does your definition of ‘fit’ include individuals of all backgrounds or just some? Who is excluded, and why?

Address the institutional barriers that minorities may face at your company. Are there enough opportunities for advancement? What values and skills do you look for from your leadership roles? Despite the diverse education, ambition, and qualifications that BIPOC employees bring to the table, their skills are often undervalued. If your leadership mainly consists of white and male individuals, consider why that is and the effect this inadvertently has on your employees of colour. 

Lastly, it’s time to revisit your recruiting process. 

 Do your interview questions make any assumptions based on race, gender, class, or religion? Pay close attention to how your language and messaging may show preference to certain individuals or experiences over others.

At the end of the day, every employer’s goal is to create a safe, positive environment where employees feel inspired to take risks and do their best work. A culture of inclusion provides opportunities for career development and advancement for all individuals. 

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