How to create an inclusive workplace

As a business owner, creating an inclusive workplace that fosters equity, diversity and belonging can seem daunting. However, building a welcoming and supportive environment for all employees is key to attracting and retaining diverse talent and driving long-term growth.

In this blog, we’ll provide 5 practical steps to help you build an inclusive workplace where everyone feels valued, respected, and supported.

These 5 steps include:

  • ways to involve all employees in inclusion efforts
  • training and development opportunities for your management staff
  • how to create and evaluate your policies and practices to ensure they’re inclusive
  • how to create a positive organisational culture that aligns with your goals, values, and skills
  • the importance of measuring progress with data-driven plans

Involve all employees in inclusion

First of all, it’s crucial to recognise that promoting inclusion in the workplace is a collective responsibility and not solely confined to business owners or managers. It is vital that every employee understands their role in building an inclusive workplace. This can be achieved by setting clear standards of behaviour for inclusion and treating all colleagues with respect and dignity. You can make inclusion more relevant to people at all levels of your organisation by helping employees understand how they can contribute to building an inclusive workplace.

Here are 5 examples of how your employees could contribute to building a more inclusive workplace:

  1. Listen actively and empathise with colleagues from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences.
  2. Use inclusive language and avoid using language that can be perceived as offensive or discriminatory. For instance, avoid using gendered language like “hey guys” when addressing a mixed-gender group or using racial or cultural slurs.
  3. Educate themselves about diversity and inclusion topics such as microaggressions, privilege, intersectionality, and allyship, and share their learnings with colleagues.
  4. Challenge exclusionary behaviour or attitudes, such as jokes or comments that may make certain colleagues feel uncomfortable or unwelcome in the workplace. For example, if you hear a co-worker making a derogatory comment about someone’s gender, race, or sexuality, speak up and explain why such language is not acceptable in a professional setting.
  5. Advocate for diversity and inclusion initiatives within the company, such as employee resource groups, reverse mentoring schemes and diversity training programmes that address topics like unconscious bias.

By proactively involving all employees in the process of building an inclusive workplace, you can foster a culture of mutual respect, support, and appreciation where everyone feels valued. A 2020 report by McKinsey & Co, highlights that such an inclusive culture not only benefits employees but also drives business success in the long run.

Develop your managers’ capabilities for inclusion in the workplace

Managers play a critical role in creating an inclusive work culture; however, today’s managers bear the brunt of many recent changes in the workplace – managing and supporting colleagues when levels of attrition and burnout are high, facilitating a transition to the hybrid workplace, and more.

According to the Chartered Management Institute, for managers to become invested in equity, diversity, and inclusion, they need to be fully engaged at the onset of conversations. Like frontline workers, managers can benefit from additional support as their actions have a significant impact on employees’ experiences and opportunities at work which can make or break your equity, diversity, and inclusion strategy. For example, unconscious biases can often get in the way and lead to unequal treatment of individuals.

To address this, it’s important to review hiring and promotion data to ensure fairness and identify any biases. In addition, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development recommends that embedding inclusion in managers’ training and development is crucial and can help raise awareness of issues related to inclusion, such as building and leading diverse teams, identifying and challenging unconscious bias, and fostering a culture of inclusion that celebrates diversity and respects differences.

By investing in the development of your managers’ capabilities, you can build an inclusive workplace that values and leverages diversity to drive business success and fosters an environment where everyone can thrive.

Create and regularly evaluate your policies and practices

As a business owner, you can create a welcoming and respectful workplace for all employees by implementing policies that promote equality, diversity, and inclusion.

Here are some guidelines you can follow:

  1. Avoid unlawful discrimination against any employee based on protected characteristics such as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation and treat all employees fairly and with respect, regardless of their employment status.
  2. Ensure that your pay and benefits, terms and conditions of employment, grievance and disciplinary procedures, dismissal, redundancy, parental leave, flexible working requests, and selection for employment, promotion, training, or other development opportunities are free from all forms of unlawful discrimination.
  3. Train your managers and employees on their rights and responsibilities under your equality, diversity, and inclusion policy, and hold them accountable for conducting themselves in a way that promotes equal opportunities in employment and prevents bullying, harassment, victimisation, and discrimination. Take complaints of bullying, harassment, victimisation, and discrimination seriously and deal with them appropriately, in accordance with your grievance or disciplinary procedures.
  4. Monitor the composition of your workforce in terms of age, sex, ethnic background, sexual orientation, religion or belief, and disability, and use this information to encourage inclusion, and to meet the aims and commitments set out in your equality, diversity, and inclusion policy.
  5. Ensure that all employees understand and agree to follow your equality, diversity, and inclusion policy. Provide access to your grievance and disciplinary policies and procedures.

By following these guidelines, you can create a positive workplace culture that values and respects all employees and ultimately protects and benefits your business. It is very important to review your employment practices and procedures regularly to ensure fairness and update them and your policy to reflect changes in the law.

Create a positive organisational culture: goals, values, and skills

To achieve sustainable business growth, it is essential to prioritise the wellbeing of your employees by ensuring they feel fully supported, satisfied with their workplace, and fairly compensated. Building a strong organisational culture is a foundational step in fostering engagement, commitment, and a sense of belonging among your team members. Creating a positive work environment requires focusing on elements such as dependability, structure, clarity, meaning, and impact.

Here are some practical steps you can take to build a healthy and positive culture:

  1. Establish and clearly communicate specific, measurable and time-bound goals and vision as you would with any other strategic aim. By creating a shared vision for your team’s work and connecting it to a larger purpose, you can provide clarity, structure, and meaning for your team members. Identify how your team’s work contributes to the company’s mission and set collective goals to achieve this vision together.
  2. Mutual accountability is the key to success. Empower individuals to set their own goals, timelines, and plans of action based on the team’s collective goals. Ensure that these goals are transparent, measurable, and reviewed regularly as a team. Encourage team members to take ownership of their plans and responsibilities and communicate changes as they arise.
  3. Build trust and psychological safety by encouraging open and honest communication, listening to feedback and concerns, and fostering a culture of inclusion and respect.

Building an inclusive workplace takes time and effort, but it’s a worthwhile endeavour that can benefit your business in many ways. By focusing on these goals, values, and skills, you can foster a more inclusive and supportive work environment that encourages engagement, commitment, and a sense of belonging among all team members while promoting inclusivity and trust.

Measure progress with data-driven plans

According to a 2021 report by McKinsey & Co, true inclusion cannot be achieved through slogans, policies, training, fancy marketing, or communication campaigns alone. It requires a fundamental shift in how employees and leaders interact with each other, as well as the design of supportive organisational systems that actively encourage employees to leverage them.

To ensure the success of your inclusion efforts, it’s important to establish data-driven plans and regularly measure progress. This means conducting a full audit of your people processes, from recruitment and hiring to development and retention, and identifying any shortcomings or discrepancies around inclusiveness. By coupling this data with engagement and workforce survey data, you can gain a full measure of your workplace climate and identify areas for improvement.

With this information in hand, you can then establish rigorous inclusion strategies with clear goals and metrics. By measuring the results of your efforts, you can track progress and make data-driven decisions about how to adjust your strategies to achieve the best outcomes.

Finally, it’s important to establish a clear business case for how a more inclusive culture will benefit your company. This includes quantifying your inclusion goals and understanding how they will impact your mission, brand, and bottom line. By doing so, you can make a compelling case for investing in inclusion and ensure that your efforts are aligned with your overall business strategy.

This is a guest blog which contains the views of the author and does not necessarily represent the views of the IoD.

About the author

Kerry Chown,

Director at Cobalt HR

Kerry is an HR professional with over 25 years of experience in the public, private, and third sectors. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and holds a Master’s degree in Human Resource Management.

She is passionate about helping businesses improve their performance by maximising employee engagement and performance. She has a proven track record of success in developing and implementing HR strategies that drive business results.

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