Promoting a culture of inclusion

Learn how to improve your organisation by creating a diverse and inclusive workplace

CREDIT: This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Organisation News Daily

Diversity is an important issue for any modern organisation, but it’s not enough to hire people of different nationalities, races, genders and sexual orientation – everyone needs to feel like they are truly welcome, safe and free to be themselves in the workplace. 

Although many organisations are moving towards more inclusive and diverse workforces, there is still much progress to be made. Here are some simple steps you can take as a leader to promote an inclusive culture.

Start at the top

As with any facet of organisational culture, creating and encouraging a sense of belonging in your workplace begins at the leadership level. Leaders need to have a desire to build a diverse culture and to hire staff who are open to working with people of all different nationalities, skin colours, genders and sexual orientation, says Eloise Bune, co-founder of Tentrr, and former CEO of ScribbleChat.

“If diversity is not an organisation goal…it just won’t happen,” she explains. “People tend to hire people like them, so they are comfortable and rarely challenged. It is human nature.”

Jason Beckerman, CEO of Unified, believes a healthy organisation starts by having a healthy organisation culture. “We strive to provide all of our employees with the tools and skills necessary to shine, and that starts with letting your employees know that yes, you can be exactly who you are here,” he says.

Focus on inclusive recruitment strategies

Once your organisation’s leadership has set the tone it’s easy to extend that attitude throughout the organisation. “What is great about creating a culture of belonging is that it can be fostered peer-to-peer, bottom-up and top-down,” says Alexandre Ullmann, head of human resources at LinkedIn, LATAM.

Alexandre also recommends taking a close look at your organisation’s recruiting tactics to make sure you’re approaching appointments with the overt goal of fostering diversity and inclusion. “Make inclusive recruitment an integral part of your organisation’s DNA in oder to amplify your organisation’s future, cultivate your workforce and invest in the community as a whole,” he advises.

Provide safe spaces for employees

Inclusive workplaces go the extra mile to consider the safety and comfort of all employees, especially those from marginalised groups. For example, gendered bathrooms have the potential to make transgender and gender non-conforming employees uncomfortable. One easy way to signal a progressive, inclusive, workplace is to offer unisex washrooms in your office, suggests Eloise.

On a broader level, inclusive spaces can be created simply by spending time with one another. Consider hosting team lunches and other informal events where employees can casually connect with each other. If your organisation is bigger, creating an in-office support group or network for diverse employees can help them connect with others who share their experiences.

“Employee networks can provide a safe, open environment to spark conversations and discuss the topics that are important to the community,” says Miguel Castro, senior director and lead for the diverse ecosystem, global diversity and inclusion office, at SAP.

Connect with employees (but be sensitive)

One of the best ways to signal to your employees that it’s okay to be themselves is to connect with them on a personal level. Be transparent with them about your own life. “If you are real with them, chances are you will get the same in return,” says Eloise. Simple gestures like asking about ‘spouses’ or ‘partners’ (rather than assuming someone’s sexual orientation and using gendered terms) can encourage LGBTQ employees to open up about their personal lives and feel included in non-work discussions. However, it’s important not to be insensitive about their identity.

“Be sure to treat LGBTQ employees like everyone else in the office, and not to ask inappropriate questions like, ‘How did you come out?’ unless you have a close relationship with the person,” she explains. “This is a very personal question.”

Give employees multiple ways to provide feedback

Alexandre advises giving employees an outlet for connecting with others and sharing their stories. “Whether it’s an employee survey, organisation all-hands discussions or campaigns, giving your employees multiple ways to share their feedback, their perspective and their stories will create an open dialogue that can lead to more positive outcomes,” he says.

Importance of cultural inclusion at work

Cultural inclusion has moved to the forefront of many employers’ HR agendas, and for good reason. Creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only the ‘right’ thing to do, but it can also benefit organisations in many ways.

  • It fosters a healthy work environment.  “[A sense of] belonging … and inclusion should be a big focus for employers because it ensures that all employees, regardless of their background and experiences, can be connected with equal opportunity and create a healthier, more successful future together with their employers,”  Alexandre told Organisation News Daily.
  • It increases employee engagement and productivity. “When people are comfortable, and can express themselves in an authentic way, they are more likely to perform better, which increases engagement and contributes to the organisation as a whole,” says Miguel. This is especially true of workplaces with an LGBT-inclusive environment. Miguel  notes that inclusivity has a significant impact on an organisation’s bottom line. Similarly, a study by The Economist found that the majority of its survey respondents believe that diversity and inclusion promote better talent management, employee satisfaction, collaboration and corporate reputation.
  • It leads to more creativity and innovation. Having a diverse and inclusive workforce can help your organisation in terms of creativity and innovation. When each team member’s distinctive background and experience is celebrated and encouraged, employees are more likely to voice their unique perspectives. This can lead to new organisational ideas, improved operations, and innovative solutions.

An inclusive culture is a work in progress, says  Alexandre, and you should constantly be revisiting your policies and programmes to create a more tolerant, diverse environment. “There is always something that can be improved upon,” he stresses.

“Make it your organisation’s priority to take action to close any gaps so that all employees feel like they belong, and are supported to thrive.”

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