How to Build an Inclusive Environment
We've all heard the benefits of building a diverse and inclusive workforce. But in order to reap those benefits, you must first create a culture and community that is welcoming and inclusive of diverse people. If your diverse team members are not feeling included, they will not be able to contribute in the same way other team members who feel included can. Ultimately, they are more likely to become disengaged and even leave the company.
Instead, do your due diligence. Understand what it means to be inclusive and learn ways to build a culture of understanding and support no matter your differences. This guide is a great place to start.
How to Build an inclusive environment
- Put your mission in writing
- Get your entire team involved
- Establish a dedicated program or committee
- Start with your recruiting process
- Focus on culture adds, not culture fits
Feel free to click the links below to skip ahead.
Definition of Inclusion
Inclusion is the deliberate effort to create an environment where everyone is respected and empowered to contribute equally and supported with access to the same resources and opportunities, regardless of individual demographics and dissimilitude.
What is Inclusion?
For starters, creating an inclusive environment requires everyone to actively work to understand and alter the unconscious bias that instinctively emerges into stereotypes and attitudes towards other groups of people. To effectively reduce bias, people need to constantly learn and question their beliefs and actions towards people who may have different backgrounds, experiences and personalities from their own. When people are aware of their own biases, they are able to better distinguish between what is true and what is tainted by bias.
Another component of inclusion is utilizing inclusive language. What do we mean by that? Instead of referring to a group of mixed-gender people as ‘guys’ instead say ‘hey team’ or ‘hello folks’ as a way to be more gender neutral and inclusive. Get to know your colleagues preferred gender pronouns by including your personal pronouns in email, instant messaging and social media profiles. Doing so will not only open up a conversation with people who may not understand the importance of inclusive language, but more importantly, it will help people feel more included. For more inclusive language tips, check out this article.
Make an effort to recognize when someone is not being included. This is really quite simple, and merely requires people to pay attention to those around them. Back in 2016, women in the White House banned together and adopted a meeting strategy called ‘amplification’ where if one woman stated an idea or important point, another woman would repeat the same point and give credit to the original woman. Anyone can do this regardless of gender, and in doing so, you’re helping bring underrepresented voices to the table.
Above everything, inclusion is being kind and considerate — it’s going out of your way to invite a new person to the lunch table; it’s asking people about their day-to-day, their personal life, their future aspirations and past experiences; it’s making connections through your similarities and learning from your differences. With a little effort, your community, culture and workforce will reap the benefits of building an inclusive environment — but it will take everyone’s support and conscious effort to do so.
How 10 Companies Create Inclusive Work Environments
Now that we’ve covered some of the basics for what inclusion is and how to be an inclusive person, let’s take a look at how to put a plan into action. There are a number of ways to build an inclusive work environment and culture. To learn how companies are actually doing this, we talked with several people to hear what inclusion means to their teams. Here’s what they said:
You Can’t Have Diversity without Inclusion
“Ensuring a diverse workplace equates to inclusive programming. One does not operate without the other. Diversity is what you have; inclusion is what you do with it. Every community, no matter how big or small, has an organic diverse makeup — it’s the type of programming that follows that fosters cohesion.”
Israel Gutierrez, Employee Experience Manager at Telaria
Focus Your Inclusion Efforts
“We focus on two key areas to drive diversity: cultivating a pipeline of diverse talent in the community and creating an inclusive culture.
Zayo also works hard to create an inclusive culture that reflects our entrepreneurial roots. Everyone has a voice on their work teams, in frequent leadership roundtables and on our Chatter communications platform. We drive profit and loss responsibility down to the segment level, which encourages every employee to contribute, learn and grow.”
Pat Nichols, Corporate Communications Specialist at Zayo
Put Your Mission in Writing
“Our inclusion and diversity statement is, ‘Our zeal for inclusion fuels our best work.' We wholeheartedly live by this and approach it as an ongoing conversation in which we are all evolving and learning together. To us, it’s not an initiative but rather a way of life and a part of our company’s DNA.”
Karyn Lu, Chief Diversity Officer & Director of Digital Experience at Four Winds Interactive
Get Your Entire Team Involved in Inclusion
“As the newest Greenhouse office, we know how important it is to align culture with company values. We are developing our Denver culture in an intentional and inclusive way through regular cross-departmental collaboration sessions.
Employees with diverse skill sets, roles and backgrounds come together to celebrate diverse perspectives, identify initiatives that will make Greenhouse an even better place to work and plan socialization events.
By rotating this responsibility among our 25 employees in four different departments, we ensure that each employee is able to participate. Opening a Denver office was a strategic business objective, and our local culture committee is helping to ensure its success!”
LizAnn Nealing, Manager of Customer Support Greenhouse
Establish a program or committee dedicated to inclusion
“It's encouraging to see how many people at OutboundEngine feel passionate about building an inclusive culture. When we first launched the women's program, we thought only women would attend, but the meeting was packed with employees of all genders, ages, and ethnicities, and we received overwhelming feedback about expanding the program for other minority groups. Learning that you work with such open-minded and motivated people is an incredible feeling.”
Kedzie Teller, Brand Strategist at OutboundEngine
Start with the Recruiting Process
“We care deeply about reaching out to under-represented groups, so we allocate resources specifically to sponsor and/or attend events centered around diversity in technology. We have developed an employee experience that is inclusive of all gender expressions and backgrounds, taking care to utilize software that allows us to check for gendered language in our job descriptions and to ensure our websites are accessible to a wide range of abilities.”
Team Members at Granicus
Focus on Culture Add Rather than Culture Fit
“To foster an inclusive environment, we offer unconscious bias training, which is mandatory for people managers; interview for ‘culture add’ instead of ‘culture fit’ and have piloted removing resumes from the engineering interview process. Our employee-driven diversity council focuses on providing opportunities for learning, community building and celebration during nationally recognized months of diversity.”
Stacey Kraft, Chief People Officer at Enova
Be Inclusive at Every Stage of the Employee Lifecycle
“For us, it starts with being intentional about our efforts across the entire candidate and employee lifecycle.
When it comes to attracting a diverse set of candidates, we go the extra mile to remove biased language — gender or otherwise — from our job descriptions now that there is a lot of research on how word choice can subtly discourage certain groups from applying. We also like to make sure our inclusive work culture is highlighted online and on our website so that everyone feels welcome to apply.”
Amyra Rand, VP of Sales and Strategic Partnerships at Criteria Corp
Make Inclusion a Priority in Company Culture
“Hosting events is one way we actively encourage inclusive practices in our offices and create firsthand inclusion opportunities for all. We opted for a volunteer system — we ask our teams to submit ideas for diversity and inclusion events they would like to see happen in our office and if interested, to sign-up to help plan it. This approach ensures the events we host are relevant to our team and, we hope, create a positive experience for both the participants and the hosts. It also helps avoid situations where we try to identify people in the office who observe or are affiliated with a particular group and then ask them to do work to share their perspective with us.”
Lisa Vasquez, Diversity & Inclusion Program Coordinator at Braintree
Openly Discuss Your Team’s Similarities and Differences
“One inclusion initiative that we launched in 2018 is an employee engagement group called StratEx Spectrum.
The mission of Spectrum is to educate the StratEx community about each other’s backgrounds, identities and viewpoints and celebrate those differences in a fun and meaningful way.
Since the inception of this group, Spectrum has sponsored several creative and educational events that have brought our company together in a new way to help us better understand and support the people we work with every day.”
Gretchen Van Vlymen, VP of HR at StratEx