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“It’s time to step up and do more. It’s not good enough to say we value diversity.”

— Brian Krzanich, CEO, Intel

It’s about more than a feel-good culture, though — the benefits of diversity and inclusion improved financial performance, increased innovation, and reduced turnover. In fact, these organizations will outperform less diverse competitors.

That all sounds great, but how do you intentionally achieve a workplace where everyone feels valued? It’s a complex process, and a practice that must be nurtured over time.

Let’s take a deeper look at what it means to truly make a workplace inclusive.

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Definition: What is an Inclusive Workplace?

Before we dive in, let’s first define what an inclusive workplace is.

An inclusive workplace is one that has been intentionally created to be welcoming of all people regardless of their age, race, ethnicity, sex, socioeconomic status, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, physical abilities, and religious background and practices.

Creating an inclusive environment is a complex and multi-faceted process fostered through trust, which your organization earns through actions that align with the values it declares.

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Why is Creating an Inclusive Workplace Important?

Now that you know what an inclusive workplace is, maybe you’re asking, “Why does this matter?”

The answer is simple: People deserve a workplace where they feel they belong. In addition, inclusive workplaces lead to people feeling better about their jobs and themselves, which promotes greater commitment and engagement with their work. This, in turn, increases financial performance and reduces turnover.

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“To get real diversity of thought, you need to find the people who genuinely hold different views and invite them into the conversation.”

— Adam Grant, Wharton top-rated professor, leading expert on motivation, and recognized as one of the world’s 10 most influential management thinkers

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Creating an inclusive workplace is easier said than done, and the challenges of implementing diversity in the workplace can feel daunting. But it’s worth it, and the benefits of diversity and inclusion are backed by research. Here are a few key statistics:

  • Employees in inclusive multicultural workforces are more likely to feel respected and valued, and are less likely to leave.
  • Companies with multicultural leaders who have strong intercultural communication skills are 45% more likely to report yearly market share growth, and 70% more likely to capture a new market, year over year.
  • 85% of executives agree that a diverse and inclusive workforce brings together the different perspectives and ideas that a company needs to successfully innovate.
  • Companies with more racial and ethnic diversity are 35% more likely to have financial returns that exceed their respective industry norms.
  • Teams with at least one member who shares a client’s ethnicity are 152% more likely than another team to understand that client.
  • Diversity awareness training can save companies millions in turnover costs.
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How to Hire With Diversity and Inclusion in Mind

It’s clear why creating an inclusive environment is beneficial for a company and its employees. Now, let’s dig into how to put these values into action and how to be inclusive at work.

It all starts with the people you bring onto your team.

Hiring in a way that promotes diversity requires a lot of thoughtfulness. Companies often believe they’re working hard to hire a cross-culturally diverse workforce but then fail to see the biases undermining their efforts.

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Here are eight things to stop doing:

  1. Don’t discourage people in your job description. Words you may think are neutral can have unintended consequences. For example, research shows that words like “challenging” or “ambitious” are considered masculine — discouraging women from applying — whereas “loyalty,” “collaboration” and “enthusiastic” are perceived as feminine and often discourage men. Pro Tip: Check your job listing for subtle “gender-coded” language by plugging it into this Gender Decoder tool.

  2. Don’t hire for fit. Hiring someone who’s a lot like the people already at your business runs counter to the idea of adding new perspectives.

  3. Don’t depend on one or two interviewers. Including more perspectives in the hiring process creates more inclusive onboarding.

  4. Don’t overlook visuals. Do the images your company uses in its media reflect the cultural diversity you’re seeking? People are more likely to apply for a job where they see themselves represented.

  5. Don’t expect culturally diverse candidates to come to you. There are professional associations for nearly every industry, along with community organizations that serve older people, veterans, LGBTQ+ people, people with disabilities, and more: Go meet the people you want to bring into your organization where they’re at.

  6. Don’t insist everyone work at the office. We’ve seen firsthand through the pandemic that people can work and connect from anywhere. Limiting your workforce to a 9 to 5 at a specific office space limits your candidate pool.

  7. Don’t limit the pool of finalists. Research shows that when there is only one minority candidate amongst finalists, that person has almost no chance of being hired. But when there are, say, two women among the finalists, the odds one will get hired increase 79%. And when there is more than one racial minority among the finalists, the odds of one being hired increases 194 times.

  8. Don’t neglect metrics. Diversity programs in the workplace take time. You’re more likely to succeed by setting measurable, incremental goals (e.g., double the number of women at our organization within two years).

How can Inclusive Onboarding Support Inclusion Initiatives?

Onboarding is the first impression a new hire has of your company. How will you show them you’re not all talk — that creating an inclusive workplace is a high priority?

If there’s dissonance between the inclusive environment a recruit was promised and the experience they have during onboarding, you may never regain their trust, and they may even leave.

Inclusion Mobilizes the Power of Diversity

Creating an inclusive workplace should be a meaningful, positive experience for everyone in the organization. An effective inclusion program teaches people to appreciate diversity and harness its benefits.

People want to get along with their colleagues so they can collaborate, be productive and achieve their mutual goals.

What gets in the way? Two things: 1) Not having the skills to be inclusive, and 2) implicit bias - something that everyone has and needs to understand if we want to overcome its barriers.

People need to gain skills with which to implement their goals and good intentions. Here are five of the most common types of implicit bias.

"We tend to justify our own mistakes by explaining the circumstances that led to it, but we are frequently not so generous with other people."

Types of Implicit Bias

  • Confirmation Bias. We interpret new evidence or recall information that confirms pre-existing beliefs or ideas
  • The Halo Effect. Our positive impression of someone (or something) in one area influences our opinion of them in different aspects of their character.
  • Anchoring Bias. We’re influenced by previous information, or an "anchor," when we interpret a new situation. This "anchor" is usually the first piece of information we hear
  • Attribution Bias. Our tendency to project negative traits onto someone when they make a mistake, rather than blaming the mistake on circumstances. However, we tend to justify our own mistakes by explaining the circumstances that led to it, but we are frequently not so generous with other people.
  • Small Numbers Bias. We overgeneralize about a group, culture, or society based on too little evidence.
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What to Look for in an Effective Diversity and Inclusion Training Program

To establish an environment where employees feel able to fully contribute — and where both individuals and the company have an edge — you need to invest in diversity and inclusion training.

Not all diversity programs in the workplace are created equal and, often, their success comes down to execution. Most research shows that diversity and inclusion training is effective when it targets awareness and skill development and occurs over a significant period of time.

“Diversity is a strength to be understood — not a problem to be solved.”

You’ll want to ensure that training, along with any diversity and inclusion activities in the workplace, does not reinforce inequities or emphasize differences over common ground. Diversity is a strength to be understood — not a problem to be solved.

To get the most out of your training, look for a program that:

  • Defines diversity in the broadest terms. Diversity isn’t just welcoming a wide range of races, genders, and ages. Being inclusive means valuing things like different points of view, thinking styles, personalities, and cultures.
  • Shows team members what’s in it for them. Most employees aren’t motivated by the statistics surrounding diversity and inclusion’s impact on productivity and profits. They are motivated, however, by that which improves their career prospects. Demonstrate how understanding and respecting diversity will make work life easier, from leading meetings and selling ideas to managing effectively.
  • Makes it emotional. Everyone knows how bad it feels to be left out. Connect the dots for employees so they understand how detrimental exclusion at work can be on a colleague’s self-esteem and morale. A study from Harvard Business Review (HBR) discovered that mentally walking in someone else’s shoes can improve pro-diversity attitudes and behavioral intentions toward marginalized groups, and have long-lasting results.
  • Doesn’t skimp on time. You cannot take a one-and-done approach to diversity and inclusion activities in the workplace. Training is far more effective when it’s broken into smaller pieces and offered over several months. Extend the reach of your work by incorporating it into other training (e.g., customer service training that addresses cultural differences).
  • Addresses behavior and attitudes. An effective diversity and inclusion program will not just seek to change behavior, but also address the attitudes that influence the behavior, which means defining and confronting implicit bias.
  • Sets goals. The HBR study also found that setting individual goals (e.g., “challenge stereotyping comments I hear in the workplace”) leads to long-term change.
  • Doesn’t rely on training for everything. Imagine teaching equity in training but having a large gender pay gap. Your leaders and other initiatives throughout the organization must support your diversity and inclusion efforts beyond the training itself.

Fostering Inclusion at all Levels

Promoting inclusion at all levels begins with buy-in at the top. But everyone has a part to play in making a space comfortable and inclusive to all people.

Everyone has a part to play in making a space comfortable and inclusive to all people.

It’s vital that everyone — from board members and the C-suite to middle management, staff, and even interns — understands the importance of their individual role in creating an inclusive workplace.

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Corporate

Corporate actions set the stage for how inclusion is fostered and trickle down into the rest of your company. If, say, your board of directors doesn’t believe in your diversity and inclusion efforts, you’re unlikely to never enact real change or get buy-in at lower executive levels.

Have diverse representation at the top, and ensure high-level executives are just as (if not more) accountable for their actions as anyone else.

Corporate should also:

  • Frequently communicate corporate values regarding inclusive behavior.
  • Continually review hiring practices.
  • Intentionally mitigate instances of implicit bias in processes.
  • Create safe spaces for team members to express themselves.
  • Set goals and keep track of progress.
  • Avoid tokenism.
  • Show transparency in pay.
  • Allow third parties to come in and audit progress.
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Leadership

The success of your diversity and inclusion efforts is largely in the hands of leadership. Sincerity and authenticity are huge: Employees need to see leadership walking the walk — quota-filling and blanket policies will backfire.

Here’s how leadership can move in the right direction:

  • Create space for everyone who wants to speak, and allow diverse voices to have equal airtime and weight.
  • Be mindful of the way you choose team members and distribute work.
  • Invite a wide range of people to meetings to have different perspectives from different cultural viewpoints.
  • Schedule meetings that invite people in all locations.
  • Acknowledge all contributions and show participants equal respect.
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Employees

Do not burden your employees with the unpaid emotional labor of creating a company that is diverse and inclusive. It’s the job of corporate and leadership to set up the entire organization for success and provide the tools needed for staff to feel free to be themselves.

Here are some ways leaders can empower employees to work toward an inclusive, multicultural workplace without adding undue emotional labor:

  • Encourage working as a team to find blind spots and implicit biases, and ask managers to do intentional, self-reflective work to challenge their own biases as an example. Discuss how you can combat these biases as a unit.
  • Managers should model openness and inclusion of differences as much as possible. Consider providing them with specific managerial inclusion training or courses.
  • Make it clear that everyone should express their heritage and religious beliefs as long as it’s culturally appropriate. Demonstrate your own diversity, too.
  • *If it’s appropriate, ask colleagues questions that show interest and curiosity in individual differences, to help break down preconceived notions. Encourage them to do the same of one another, and to do research on their own. Remember to respect people’s boundaries and the energy it takes to answer questions, though; clearly — but politely — discourage comments that show bias.
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Creating an Inclusive Workspace Right Now

We’ve established that it takes time to foster an inclusive workplace, and that it requires thoughtfulness to overcome the challenges of managing diversity in the workplace. But there are several action items anyone can do that will help in creating an inclusive environment now:

  • Ask all team members to include their pronouns in email sign-offs and Zoom names.
  • Model gender-neutral language.
  • Encourage staff to correct one another when someone is misidentified, including when the person isn’t in the room (e.g.. if someone misgenders another in a conversation when they’re not there). Don’t wait until someone in a minority group has to defend themselves.
  • Expand your company holiday calendar to be representative of everyone on your team. In addition to Christian and secular holidays, include those that represent the beliefs of your company at large, such as Juneteenth, Rosh Hashanah, Eid-al-Fitr, and Diwali.
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Examples of gender-neutral language

Hey, y’all!
Welcome, folks!
Thanks to everybody for joining this call.
This is my spouse/partner/significant other.
Meet our new salesperson.

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How to Build an Inclusive Workspace for the Long Term

Creating an inclusive workplace is most certainly not a one-size-fits-all situation; it takes time, understanding, and deep thoughtfulness. If you’re committed to establishing an environment where everyone can authentically and safely represent themselves — and have it last for the long haul — you’ll want diversity and inclusion training that reflects these values.

“Creating an inclusive workplace is most certainly not a one-size-fits-all situation; it takes time, understanding, and deep thoughtfulness.”

Here are a few key pointers to successfully implementing inclusive diversity programs in the workplace:

  1. Present information in diverse formats. Everyone has unique learning styles, as well as different language fluency, so your training should be highly accessible. Offer varying training formats — think: instructional YouTube videos, an internal library of short, topic-specific videos that employees can access anytime, written guidelines, facilitator-led training sessions, Q&As, etc. Videos should always be captioned, and if relevant for your staff, provide training materials translated into multiple languages, as well as interpreters for events.

  2. Ask for — and use — input from diverse populations. Make sure everyone has a seat at the table — and a voice. Encourage new ideas and fresh perspectives. “This is how we do things around here” is not a mindset that stimulates progress. Facilitate an environment where feedback about the topics presented in the training, as well as the training itself, is highly encouraged. Then show your staff you’re listening by implementing that feedback.

  3. Look at your own business behaviors and biases. You or the trainer are the model for how employees should act. Don’t take that responsibility lightly: Every interaction is a chance to model what inclusion looks like.

  4. Pay attention to optics. Effective training incorporates visual elements like photos, video, and graphics. Do these visuals represent the diversity and inclusion you’re claiming to foster? If employees don’t see themselves reflected in your materials, you’re signaling that their presence isn’t important.

  5. Create a culture of inclusion by making it a constant practice. This training is not a “set it and forget” exercise. Set goals and regularly review them to ensure you’re meeting your targets. Hold people accountable for their actions and to the goals they set.

Conclusion

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are imperative to the success of businesses today. Creating an inclusive environment where your team members feel seen, respected, and able to show up fully benefits everyone at every level. It takes time and thoughtful consideration, but you’ll see happier employees, more innovation, better ROI, and less turnover.

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