Building inclusive workplaces can be an excellent way for organizations to empower their employees equally and fairly. But, in reality, many companies don’t have completely inclusive workplaces yet.
There are myriad reasons leading to the lack of inclusivity at workplaces, including but not limited to unequal pay, insufficient support for employees with disabilities, workplace discrimination, gender inequality, work-from-home employees feeling invisible, and so on.
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What is an inclusive workplace?
An inclusive workplace is one where all the employees feel valued, respected, and accepted. This has to be inherent within the organization's system, where there is a fair environment for everyone to grow, develop, communicate, collaborate, and be productive.
So, as part of creating an inclusive workplace, organizations must focus on two main things- personal and organizational experience, per a McKinsey podcast. They include personal experiences such as belongingness, authenticity, meaningful work, etc. At an organizational level, fairness, collaborative work nature, camaraderie, and acceptance must be considered. Based on these components, companies can build inclusive workplaces and continue to evolve them further with time.
But this is only a reality for some employees and organizations.
As per a recent research survey by Pew Research Center, 56% of employed US adults consider increasing DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity) at work a good thing. And among the participants, 61% added that their organization puts forward DEI by bringing fairness in hiring, pay, and promotion. This is based on a survey conducted in Feb 2023 with 5902 US workers.
Yes, it sounds promising.
But, when we consider the percentage of organizations, a staggering number of companies still have to work on improving their DEI measures.
According to another Diversity and Inclusivity survey conducted in 2022 in the UK, 57% of participants witnessed discrimination or a lack of inclusivity at work. One in five participants in this research survey also added that their organization isn't inclusive.
While looking at these facts and figures, a question that would prick your mind would be how organizations worldwide can strive towards building inclusive workplaces. Well, we will get on with that in a few seconds.
Why is building inclusive workplaces important?
There is a plethora of benefits that organizations and employees can reap with inclusive workplaces. They include:
- Increases employee productivity and enhances performance
- Lowers employee turnover rates and improves employee retention
- Aids in building a positive, peaceful, and productive work culture
- Improves the mental well-being of every employee
- Creates better awareness of the significance of promoting DEI
- Reduces issues like biases and favoritism and facilitates equal opportunity for all
- Enhances employee satisfaction and employee engagement rates
- Reduces unwanted competition and toxicity in your organization
- Increases connection and collaboration among employees
- Improves employer brand value and recognition
- Creates better morale and social consciousness in employees
- Enhances creativity, innovation, and problem-solving abilities in employees
- Increases organizational flexibility and diversity
- Creates momentum for your organization’s other DEI activities
- Attains business growth and better market share
These are some of the many benefits of building an inclusive workplace. As part of building a diverse and inclusive workplace, here is a diversity calendar that can come in handy for you. Now, we will move on to the strategies for creating inclusive workplaces. So, let’s get on with that.
Five strategies for creating an inclusive workplace
From investing in building a strong workplace culture from top to down to strategically integrating AI, plenty of strategies are available for creating an inclusive workplace. Today, we will explore five unique strategies (that aren’t often discussed) that can act as the backbone of inclusivity in your organization.
Build a robust and inclusive organizational culture from top to down
As per Gartner Glossary, organizational culture refers to an organization’s shared values, beliefs, and priorities. It could be unwritten codes of conduct comprised of organizational structure, philosophy, operating styles, internal communication patterns, etc.
To build an inclusive workplace, one of the pivotal steps to take is to create a robust organizational or work culture from top to bottom. It has to spread the message and importance of diversity, equity, inclusiveness, and belongingness. It won’t be easy to integrate this into such an organizational culture. However, your organization can also do so with time and smart work.
It can be done by bringing in a fair meritocracy-based system, where you recognize employees based on their performance and contributions. In this inclusive structure, your work culture will be based on goals, KPIs, feedback based on performance, etc.
Along with this, your organization has to ensure that it provides every employee with opportunities to be authentic, attain meaning in their work, and offer them purpose at work. Another integral factor in creating an inclusive and robust organizational culture is treating each employee equally. Besides, everyone from top to down practice respect, acceptance, fairness, transparency, collaboration, fairness, and camaraderie.
Focus on incorporating inclusive language
Using politically correct language has a central role to play while promoting inclusiveness. It is because many people, even today, knowingly or unknowingly use exclusionary and gender-biased language (depicting male favoritism) in workplaces. Some of these terms, like guys, chairman, etc., often go unnoticed. Therefore, stepping up and spreading inclusiveness using gender-neutral and inclusive language is integral.
Remember, creating such a lexical shift will take time. Hence, your organization has to try different methods to improve the adoption of inclusive language. You can promote this by:
- Creating a guide to inclusive language within your organization,
- Choosing ambassadors who can promote the message and usage of inclusive language
- Forming best practices within the organization, such as encouraging employees to ask when in doubt
- Conducting sessions from time to time to improve inclusive language adoption
When your organization uses non-inclusive language, it can cause stereotyping, hostility, exclusion of a group of people, etc. On the other hand, your organization can form a high-performing work culture and improve productivity by promoting inclusive language. Ensure that your organization sticks to inclusive and gender-neutral language while:
- Creating job descriptions (for instance, using terms like competitive in the description could repel women from applying for a particular job)
- Conducting assessments, interviews, and other elements of the talent acquisition cycle
- Meetings and other interactions in the workplace
- Creating curriculums for upskilling and course materials for these activities
Thus, by focusing on the language used at work, you can kickstart a journey towards more remarkable things as you promote inclusiveness.
Enhance formal sponsorship and mentorship programs
Sponsorship and mentorship activities can help build authentic human connections within an organization. Although sponsors and mentors act for employees' welfare, both of them are unique in their ways.
Sponsors are senior-level leaders in a company who focus on creating opportunities and career growth for their proteges. They would do so by nominating their proteges, sharing job opportunities, and helping them build positive networks. It assists in enhancing employee morale, representation, and visibility.
As per a research survey from McKinsey, 87% of organizations who participated in the survey had some form of sponsorship program. But, even then, less than half of the people from different races had a sponsor at their organization. This shows that although such programs are in place, organizations must strengthen and improve their implementation.
Regarding mentorship, a mentor would act as role-model offering direct guidance to their mentees for achieving professional growth through coaching, advice, feedback, etc. Similar to sponsorship, mentorship can also boost employee representation and act as a tool for enhancing inclusion and belongingness in an organization.
Whether sponsorship or mentorship, employees can reap its benefits only if it is a formal and organization-backed program. If not, it might pave the way for biases and favoritism.
Create effective affinity groups (or Employee Resource Groups)
Affinity groups, or Employee Resource Groups (ERG), are internal communities where employees with the same interests and identities come together, interact, support, and even offer sponsorship. Although there were many informal ERG groups, the first official group was formed in 1970 as the Xerox National Black Employees Caucus. It focused on bringing change within the organization and spreading the message of inclusivity.
So, if your organization doesn't have such groups, it's time to form them strategically. Ensure that they are safe spaces for promoting diversity and inclusivity. These groups should focus on specific SMART goals, helping with mentorship, and organizing training programs for promoting career growth. It should never be a space for spreading negativity.
While laying the foundation for ERGs in your organization, remember that there can be multiple ERGs within a company, and they must have transformative infrastructures. These ERGs should always align with employee expectations and prioritize your company's DEI goals.
To clarify ERG's effectiveness, let's look at a research survey McKinsey conducted with 25,000 US-based employees. As per this survey, employees who said that their organization has effective ERGs were found to be in a much more inclusive workplace. This is in comparison with employees who stated their organization has ineffective ERGs. Therefore, organizations can enhance inclusivity with effective ERG or affinity groups.
Integrate ethical AI into your HR system
When your organization invests in ethical AI-based tools, you can foster the message of diversity, equity, and inclusivity correctly. But if your organization relies on any AI tool without performing ample research, it can cause harmful results. This is because all AI tools available in the market aren’t ethical. Some of them could be trained on biased data, and using such AI tools can hamper your process of creating an inclusive workplace.
As a CHRO or HR leader, you must understand your organization's AI tools. To avoid biases, you must focus on creating a transparent AI cycle from ideation to post-launch monitoring. You can do so when there is a need for a shift in the mindset of the AI practitioners within your organization.
Moving forward, while training your AI, you must bring in data diversity and data governance to remove biases. This will help explore data with an inclusive lens. Another way of ensuring your organization has ethical AI systems is to test the tool with a different set of end users before implementing it in your organization. Through this, you can understand if the AI tool is unbiased and fair in performing its tasks.
You can then scale AI in your hiring activities, including identifying talents, conducting assessments, upskilling your employees, and managing your talent efficiently with skills insights, career pathing, and talent benchmarking. HR professionals can perform all these activities together in one place with AI-backed tools like skills intelligence.
Thus, as a CHRO or an HR leader, you must focus on these strategies and bring in DEI elements in your talent acquisition, development, and management functionalities and in your leadership. Through this, you can create an inclusive workplace strengthened by fairness, equality, diversity, belongingness, and collaboration.