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Building an Inclusive Workplace: 6 Steps to Help Employees Thrive

Shockingly, recent studies reveal that 25 percent of employees feel they don’t belong at their workplaces, and 40 percent feel isolated. 

These statistics underscore the impact on performance and retention rates when individuals feel disconnected. When employees can’t bring their whole selves to work, it can lead to declining performance and employee turnover.  

You may already have diversity, equality, inclusion, and belonging (DEI&B) policies and procedures at your organization, but do you actually take proactive steps to make sure every employee feels welcomed and valued?

Studies show that 72 percent of American employees value working with people different from themselves. But it’s not just a preference; a workplace where all employees are treated fairly improves retention, productivity, and job satisfaction.

Discover ways your business can create an inclusive environment and help your members thrive. 

What is an inclusive workplace?

The most inclusive organizations shine a light on best practices across all strands of diversity— disability, gender, age, LGBTQ+, faith, race, religion, and more.

An inclusive workplace is built on a culture of genuine acceptance, trust, and inclusion based on these four principles:

  1. Diversity. Appreciate differences between individuals. Have workplace practices where individual characteristics are valued—such as lifestyle diversity, which help teams from different backgrounds work together.
  2. Equality. One in four American adults lives with a disability. Equality means giving employees the support they need to complete their jobs.
  3. Inclusion. Ask for input from your workforce, hear what they say, and leverage employee differences at the right time. If one of your employees has a particular talent for public speaking, use that talent to your advantage by encouraging them to lead a disability focus group.
  4. Belonging. With 40% of people feeling isolated at work, creating a sense of belonging is critical to feeling valued and connected. Encourage employees to be themselves at work and recognize them when they succeed or fail. Make space for quieter members of the team to speak up.

An inclusive workplace is not just about underrepresented groups; it’s about everyone. 

Encourage all employees to be confident in their differences to boost morale and engagement.

Why is it important to have an inclusive workplace?

Some 55 percent of managers believe their company has a diverse workforce, but three-quarters of employees think their company is falling behind. 

Although there’s no legal requirement for a written inclusion and diversity policy, making an inclusive workplace shouldn’t just be a tick-box exercise. 

Organizations with a diverse workforce:

  • Improve decision-making across teams. Using various perspectives can help ensure you are making the right decisions. Teams that are inclusive make better decisions up to 87% of the time.
  • Increase profits. Businesses that value diversity are more profitable than those that don’t, earning 30% higher revenues per employee with inclusive procedures.
  • Bolster creativity. Employees who share a positive connection to their organization and colleagues feel safe to express thoughts, suggestions, and concerns about work. A diverse workforce inspires creativity by listening to others and thinking outside the box. 
  • Attract better talent. Replacing employees is inevitable. An inclusive workplace attracts more talent—some 76% of employees said a diverse workforce was important when evaluating companies and job offers.

Employees are happiest and perform best when they can be themselves because they want to be valued for what they are. Ultimately, that means employees enjoy and take pride in their work.

Read more: What Employees Want From Employers

How to promote diversity and inclusion

Now we know why an inclusive workplace is a business advantage, let’s look at six ways to build one for your business.

  1. Embrace multigenerational workforces
  2. Tackle discriminatory practices
  3. Match employees with skills
  4. Conduct a pay equity analysis
  5. Tackle unconscious bias
  6. Hold business leaders accountable

1. Embrace multigenerational workforces

Changes to the age demographic give rise to many workplace challenges. By 2030, 25 percent of U.S. workers will be 55 or older, forcing businesses to think about their processes. 

Some 56 percent of companies have updated their policies recently to appeal to a multigenerational workforce. 

Despite the need for additional planning, 74 percent of HR professionals believe having a multigenerational workforce is key to hiring and retaining talent. 

Embrace the unique experiences and cultures of each employee. Try to understand the values of differences and continuously raise awareness across the workforce—like asking team members to share how their age has affected previous work prospects. 

Most importantly, involve everyone—not just your oldest or youngest team members. Whether that’s developing a new procedure or setting new company goals, inclusivity means singling nobody out. 

2. Tackle discriminatory practices

Harassment, unfair pay, and racial discrimination are examples of prejudice in the workplace. Unfortunately, it’s more common than we’d like to think. 

Of the 43 percent of women in the C-Suite, only 6 percent are women of color—making it the most underrepresented population in the workforce. Perhaps more worrying, 99 percent of Fortune 500 businesses have paid settlements in at least one discrimination or sexual harassment lawsuit this century. 

Make sure your organization is tackling discriminatory practices by:

  • Taking action swiftly. Prevent inappropriate behavior by responding as soon as it happens. Workplace bullying must be dealt with immediately to safeguard the employee and take action against the person behaving inappropriately. 
  • Educating all employees about discrimination. There is no one-day training remedy for building an inclusive workplace. Educating employees is an ongoing priority. Evaluate your current training to make sure it’s meeting its intended goals. Carry out regular observations of practice and discuss DEI&B in one-to-one meetings.
  • Dealing with complaints of discrimination confidentially. Since 67 percent of LGBT employees report having heard negative comments, slurs, or jokes about LGBTQ people at work, all derogatory remarks about a person’s gender identity, expression, or sexuality need tackling sensitively. 
  • Being proactive, not reactive. Anticipate any problems before they happen through internal meetings or lunch-and-learn sessions. How willing are employees to talk about discrimination in the workplace? Create an action plan based on their feedback and measure the progress. It shows employees their feedback is valued and taken seriously.

“Solicit input from the workforce on revising the company’s guiding principles. Where do they see inclusivity at your firm in the future, and how will they know whether you’re getting there? In what colloquial expressions do they find the most comfort? Encourage them to offer input and critique, and then use that to refine your newly-minted corporate tenets.”

— Adam Fard, Founder, Adam Fard UX

3. Match employees with skills

Did you know that almost three-quarters of employees said their sense of purpose is defined by their work? Defining that purpose is almost impossible if job roles are unclear, potentially causing team members to struggle at work. 

Companies that don’t match job roles with employee skills and discriminate based on gender, race, or disability face serious consequences. They also lose out on unrecognized potential. 

Take neurodivergent employees, for example. An estimated 15 to 20 percent of the population is neurodivergent. People with autism disproportionately struggle to find work, but research studies show that employees hired through neurodiversity programs into certain tech roles are up to 140 percent more productive.

Take action that promotes equality in your workplace by matching skills with the right people, regardless of background, status, or age. Support career progression for all groups by having a mentoring program for marginalized individuals, and evaluate how inclusive your organization is.

4. Conduct a pay equity analysis

A pay equity analysis shows any wage disparity for people performing similar roles and responsibilities and working under similar conditions. 

Yet, in 2021, only 38 percent of organizations planned to conduct a pay equity analysis. This contributes to bigger societal problems, like the fact women who work full-time, year-round, are paid an average of 83.7 percent as much as men. (This can limit future prospecting: Glassdoor found that 67 percent of U.S. employees would not apply for a job at a company where they believe a gender pay gap occurs.)

To make your workplace more inclusive, analyze pay for all employees and the procedure for pay raises. Are compensation and benefits packages fair and equitable? Check for differences in pay between younger employees and those nearing retirement with the same role and experience level.

Read more: Why Transparency is a Form of Currency with Lexi Clarke, CPO, Payscale

Next, identify your company’s definition of “similar work” and be consistent across all roles. Previous job evaluations are great to analyze as they give information about pay and duties. What was the conclusion? Are there any other roles that may have the same outcome?

Then, gather demographic information about each employee. Pay scale, age, gender, ethnicity, paid bonuses, additional benefits, or work location will help uncover any discrepancies in pay. 

Anonymously share your findings and how you intend to correct discrepancies with team members. Set a review date so conducting a pay equity analysis becomes standard practice within your organization.

5. Tackle unconscious bias

Unconscious biases are learned assumptions, beliefs, or attitudes we aren’t consciously aware of. These biases can lead to unfair judgments about someone and reinforce stereotypes–doing more harm than good for companies when it comes to recruitment, managing staff, and decision-making. 

Ultimately, employees are allowed to disagree with each other. That doesn’t mean that respect needs to go out the window, too.

“If you’re an HR manager, it’s crucial that you check your own biases and make sure that you’re not inadvertently excluding anyone.”

Linda Shaffer, Chief People and Operations Officer, Checkr

For example, an employee heavier or lighter than the average weight may feel capable of carrying out physical tasks. But a manager unconsciously allocates that task to someone younger. This unconscious bias can be avoided by looking at the person’s workability and fit for the role rather than just their physical appearance.

Kathryn McDavid, CEO of Editor’s Pick adds, “Unconscious bias training may be necessary for employees before certain compliance training content sticks with them.

“For instance, many employees may not be aware of their unconscious bias toward people from other racial or cultural backgrounds, and some men may not be aware of times when they are harassing or treating women unfairly. Employees will be more open to holding themselves accountable after taking unconscious bias training because they will be more aware of how compliance training applies to them and everyone else.”

6. Hold business leaders accountable

Accountability is an essential part of leadership. However, some leaders hesitate to be accountable. They become more focused on how their team thinks of them than the outcome itself.

“It’s important to be liked, and it’s important to have people be engaged or demonstrate things that would show up well on an engagement survey, but it needs to be for the right reasons,” Jack Altman, CEO, Lattice, says. “My three-year-old should like me. Not because I give him candy every time he asks, but because I provide a safe and reliable space, I spend lots of quality time, and we have fun together. There’s a set of reasons I should be liked, and then there’s a set of things where he would like me for them, but they would not be good reasons for him to like me. And so I think it’s really important to tease through one more layer there, to understand the why behind the engagement scores.” 

Set goals that need a change in direction from usual preventive measures, such as increasing the number of employees from underrepresented groups. Have your business leaders—account managers, HR staff, or the CEO—regularly monitor the results and devise a plan of action to improve.

Remember: leaders act as role models; employees will follow the lead. Ensure your organization has leaders who are committed to building an inclusive workplace.

Read more: Why Great Managers Are Chameleons for Their Teams with Jack Altman, CEO, Lattice 

Create an inclusive workplace where employees thrive

An inclusive workplace isn’t just nice to have. Discrimination has no place in any working environment. 

Use these steps to make your organization a great place to work. Above all, commit to making positive changes, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Learn from them and make sure creating an inclusive workplace remains your focus.

Want to learn more about using the Learning Cloud to create employee training to foster a more inclusive workplace? Contact us to schedule a free, personalized demo.

Complete the form for a custom demo.

Elise Dopson

WorkRamp Contributor

Elise Dopson is a freelance writer for B2B SaaS companies. She’s also the co-founder of Peak Freelance and mom to an adorable Spaniel pup.

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