What exactly is an inclusive workplace? 

An inclusive workplace is one where people feel respected, welcomed, and supported, regardless of factors like age, ethnicity, cultural background, gender, and sexual orientation. Workplaces are becoming more diverse. With new perspectives, perceptions, ideas, and experiences, companies are reaping the benefits. Inclusivity requires a conscious effort and is so much more than just hiring diverse candidates. It’s crucial for companies to develop action plans to ensure that they are doing all they can to not just attract diverse candidates but also retain them. In this article, we’re looking at 5 ways your company can create an inclusive workplace. 


Inclusivity vs. Diversity

It’s important to first recognise the difference between diversity and inclusivity. To put it simply, diversity is “what” makes up your workforce—different genders, ethnicities, and ages, for example. Whereas inclusivity is the “how” plan, or how your company can keep a diverse workforce, whether through programs or by changing the workplace culture, as an example.

Just because a company is diverse does not necessarily mean it is inclusive. It’s important to recognise that. Inclusion is much more intentional as it looks at the long term. Diversity can easily be relegated to a tick-the-box concept, whereas inclusivity requires constant effort. You can have diversity without inclusivity, but you cannot have inclusivity without diversity.


Benefits Of Diversity

A diverse and inclusive workplace has numerous advantages, ranging from recruitment to innovation and even to your company’s bottom line. From a recruitment perspective, employees want diversity and will seek it out when applying for jobs. In fact, 76% of job seekers see it as an important factor when choosing a company. You are missing out on quality talent by not facilitating an inclusive and diverse team.

Better and quicker decisions are also made with diverse teams. A study of 200 businesses found that those teams made better decisions 87% of the time and were twice as fast as non-diverse groups. You also lower the risk of the company-paralysing, ‘groupthink’. Groupthink is a phenomenon where those come to the same conclusions or decisions without critical thinking. This can be caused by homogeneous teams that have similar or the same background, ethnicity, age or gender, for example. Having a diverse team will bring new perspectives and valuable discourse.

A diverse team can also positively affect your bottom line. In a study by McKinsey & Company, they found that  (ethnically and culturally) diverse companies achieved 36% more profitability compared to their less-diverse peers. This is most likely a result of the higher levels of productivity; a study by Gartner found that team performance can improve as much as 30% in high-diversity environments.


What Are The Best Steps To Create An Inclusive Workplace?

Before getting into the steps, there’s one important thing to remember: Be bold. Over 25 years ago, Westpac was the first publicly listed Australian company to  offer maternity leave, and now companies are battling it out for the best parental leave policies. All it takes is one bold move to change the status quo.


1. Assess Your Workplace Culture

If you want to build an inclusive workplace, you need to ensure your organisation’s environment allows for inclusivity. Culture is the backbone of your organisation, and it determines whether your company is inclusive or exclusive. To get a pulse on your company’s culture, you should send out surveys to your employees. They are, after all, the ones that guide culture, and they can provide invaluable insight. You should ask questions like:

  • Do you think our workforce is diverse?
  • Do you feel diversity is celebrated and supported in the company?
  • Do you feel that opportunities and leadership pathways are accessible to all?

You can also gain some perspective through observation. It’s as simple as walking around the office and seeing how employees interact with each other and how they themselves act. These are great indicators of the culture your company is setting.


2. Have Diversity & Inclusion Training

Our workplaces are becoming more diverse. As companies increasingly become melting pots of cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds, so does our need for diversity and inclusion training. These types of training help tackle unconscious bias, increase awareness of other cultures (which is critical to reducing misunderstanding and conflict), and give employees the agency to stand up to discrimination and bias, among other learnings. The training programs should be conducted regularly and everyone should attend. To increase its effectiveness, it’s essential for top management and leadership to emphasise the importance of these trainings and actively participate in them.


3. Provide Learning & Upskilling Opportunities

Not everyone has equal access to funding for learning programs and upskilling opportunities outside of work. For a company to provide training, whether it be in-person, hybrid, or exclusively online, for all employees is a great way to give them a chance to further their skills and help them grow their career. These trainings also open up leadership pathways for everyone across the company, which is crucial to inclusivity. All employees should have the opportunity to grow in your organisation. You also have the added benefit of increasing retention and helping your succession planning, which are both big pain points for companies.


4. Give Employees A Voice

Employees want a voice, and they want to feel like they belong at your company. Belonging is essential to every company; it is what inspires, motivates, and empowers employees. You can give employees a voice by setting up staff representative groups or providing means of feedback (preferably anonymous). Essentially, you want to give employees a chance to speak to higher management and to provide advice or highlight concerns. They can also provide invaluable insight. Who better to ask for counsel than your own employees?


5. Measure Inclusivity Success

You need to know if your inclusivity plan is working. After implementing your changes, you need to measure them regularly. You should consider looking at retention numbers, leadership and management demographic percentages, training participation, and checking out the feedback received. You can also send out follow-up surveys and questionnaires that are specific to the new changes to see if they’re working and if employees feel that they are making a difference.


Inclusion is a choice, and (spoiler!) it’s the right one. Diversity is not enough. If we’re not fostering work environments that let people from all backgrounds thrive, we’re failing them and ourselves. We have the power to do better, so let’s do it.


About the Author:

Passionate for the written word you are always guaranteed to find Alex either hunched over a laptop with a coffee, reading a book, or writing in her notebook. Paper and post-it's cover her desk - just the way she likes it. She is a staunch advocate for physical books in the book vs e-book debate and won't be convinced otherwise. You would probably find Alex's Desk in the thesaurus as a synonym for Organised Chaos.