7 strategies for building an inclusive workplace culture

Image of different coloured crayons to promote inclusive workplace culture.

Key takeaways

  • Diverse and inclusive teams are more innovative and productive, fostering employee happiness and resilience in uncertain times.
  • Beyond tolerance, organisations should actively celebrate and integrate diverse perspectives and experiences within the workplace.
  • Organisations should promote diversity by offering tailored support, like flexible work options, mentoring, coaching, and protective policies, to help all employees succeed.
  • Organisations should encourage conversations and interactions among team members to combat bias and build inclusive teams.
  • Inclusive leadership is crucial, and leaders should understand, embrace, and promote inclusion through education and support

It’s no news that diversity and inclusion are good for business. Studies have repeatedly shown that diverse teams are more innovative and quicker to solve problems, and that people who work in inclusive teams are likely to be happier and more productive than those who don’t.

We know that diversity and inclusion are essential for building the kind of engaged, creative, forward-thinking teams that are needed to drive organisations forward in an increasingly uncertain future.

In short, diversity is not a buzzword; it’s a smart business move.

With 61% of people admitting to covering some aspect of themselves at work though, it’s possible that organisations are not reaping the benefits of the diverse teams they’re hiring. Having different people sat at the table means nothing if they don’t feel able to join the conversation and share the diverse thoughts and experiences that make them so valuable.

So, what can we do to build an inclusive workplace culture that celebrates diversity and creates a win-win environment for individuals and organisations alike?

Read on to discover our recommendations for building an inclusive workplace culture.

Our top 7 strategies for building an inclusive workplace:

1. Understand why inclusion matters

2. Celebrate diversity, don’t tolerate it

3. Get leadership buy-in

4. Facilitate conversation

5. Support employee advancement

6. Show public support

7. Commit to challenging conversations

1. Understand why inclusion matters

Over the last few years, we’ve seen major cultural shifts around topics relating to diversity and inclusion. From the ‘Me too’ and ‘Black lives matter‘ movements; to an increase in public awareness around trans rights and neurodiversity; to discussions around how flexible working can impact people with disabilities or caring responsibilities, diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of cultural conversation.

The covid-19 pandemic has accelerated these conversations in relation to the workplace. After a turbulent period in which conversations around work-life balance and wellbeing came into sharper focus, many people have emerged with greater expectations of their employers. People want to be able to bring their authentic selves  to work, and to feel that they are respected and valued as individuals, not just workers.

This means taking a more holistic approach to understanding diversity and inclusion. While conversations often focus on the 9 protected characteristics , truly embracing workplace diversity means going beyond these legal stipulations. Cultural background, working preferences, caring responsibilities, socio-economic situation and other personal circumstances can all contribute to diversity of experience and impact how people feel they are able to show up at work.

If we want to reap the benefits of diversity, we need to create an inclusive workplace culture in which people feel able to show up as themselves, with a high degree of psychological safety to know that they will be respected and valued for the differences they bring.

2. Celebrate diversity, don’t tolerate it

The first step in creating a truly inclusive workplace culture is to understand that tolerance, or acceptance, is not enough. If we want people to bring the full value of their experiences and perspectives to the workplace, we need to celebrate and actively embrace diversity.

While many organisations have diversity and inclusion policies, these rarely address the pressure that people may feel to conform within an environment that doesn’t wholly embrace difference. This undermines attempts to build an inclusive workplace culture and means that organisations fail to reap the benefits of the policies and practices they have in place.

You need to seek out different opinions, actively encourage people to contribute to conversations, and embrace thoughts and opinions that challenge your own. Show people that the differences they bring to the table are welcomed and celebrated as a vital part of the value they bring to your organisation.

3. Get leadership buy-in

Leaders have an important role to play in setting company culture and direction. Teams with inclusive leaders are 17% more likely to report that they are high-performing, 20% more likely to say they make high quality decisions, and 29% more likely to report behaving collaboratively. If we want to create an inclusive workplace culture, inclusive leadership is vital.

This may involve educating leaders on why inclusion matters, investing in training, providing coaching, or facilitating a safe space for people to ask questions and discuss any challenges or concerns they may have. Inclusion can be a sensitive topic and it’s important that leaders acknowledge the need for this to be a central element of their leadership approach.

4. Facilitate conversation

It’s not just leaders who have a role to play in building an inclusive workplace culture. People who work in inclusive teams are 10 x more likely to be very satisfied, 11x more likely to be highly effective and 4x less likely to leave their job in the next 12 months. Making sure that individual team members understand why inclusion matters is a key component in creating inclusive teams and building an inclusive workplace culture.

As with leaders, this may involve education or training, but may also involve finding ways to facilitate less formal conversation. Unconscious bias means that we often inadvertently gravitate towards people who are like us, and may miss out on the diversity that exists within our team or wider organisation. Encourage social opportunities that give people a chance to meet colleagues they may not interact with every day, establish colleague networks or committees that give people a safe space to discuss topics that may feel too sensitive to broach during the normal working day, and facilitate conversation around what people can do to be a supportive ally to those around them.

5. Support employee advancement

Diversity often focuses on increasing the representation of marginalised groups within an organisation, particularly at a senior level. These conversations are not always straightforward, with quotas and active discrimination a hot topic of debate. What these conversations often overlook is that this is not about ‘fairness’ but about ensuring that organisations benefit from a wide range of experiences and perspectives — something that we know directly impacts innovation, problem-solving and productivity. Sometimes, the best person for the job is someone who brings something different to the table, rather than someone who has the same set of qualifications and experiences as everyone else in the room.

With this in mind, understand that different people may need different supports  to develop and reach their full potential. We don’t all stand on a level playing field and if we want to reap the benefits of diversity, we need to approach employee development as an exercise in equity rather than equality.

Support options:

  • Have open conversations around flexible working arrangements for parents or carers.
  • Offer mentoring for people from lower socio-economic backgrounds who haven’t previously been exposed to the corporate world.
  • Invest in coaching for people who belong to marginalised groups and may not see themselves represented at a senior level.
  • Implement formal policies that proactively protect people who have a disability or other medical condition.

Rather than focusing solely on numbers, demonstrate that your organisation wants to create an inclusive workplace culture where difference is welcomed at every level.

6. Show public support

Workplace culture isn’t just about what happens within an organisation, but also about what that organisation stands for. If you claim on paper to support the LGBTQIA+ community but ban employees from posting about Pride on LinkedIn for fear of damaging client relations, you undermine any attempts to create an inclusive workplace culture. This doesn’t mean you need to change your company logo to support every cause of the month (and actually, if you don’t actively support that cause, you probably shouldn’t) but it does mean that you should seriously consider how your organisation publicly shows up.

Consider creating a cultural calendar that includes a more diverse range of events to inform your marketing activity, publicly acknowledge different religious or cultural days within your organisation or think about how any organisations or charities you support align with the values of your own.

Your clients are not the only people who see your public activity; your employees do as well. So, extend your thinking around what constitutes an inclusive workplace environment and show up for the people you want to support.

7. Commit to challenging conversations

As important as inclusion is, it’s not always easy to get right. Sometimes, there will be people within an organisation who don’t appreciate the need for diversity or feel that supporting diverse voices is an attack on their own. To truly commit to building an inclusive workplace culture, we need to be prepared to have challenging conversations.

Understand why this topic is so important for people and for business, commit to taking action, and be prepared to champion inclusion even when it isn’t the easiest path.

Final thoughts

So, there you have it, our top 7 strategies for building an inclusive workplace culture. If you would like support talking about diversity and inclusion within your organisation, get in touch. We would love to help!

More of our latest news