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In the workplace, inclusion means all employees feel like they belong and are confident that they have the necessary support to be able to succeed. Inclusion can involve equal access to opportunities, the implementation of accessibility features, and practices designed to make people feel valued and able to thrive at work.
We often hear inclusion mentioned as part of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) strategies. This is because these three concepts work together. To create a diverse workplace, employees need to feel an employer is fair (that’s equity), and they need to feel like they have a voice and can participate fully in a workplace (that’s inclusion).
People sometimes mistakenly use “diverse workplaces” and “inclusive workplaces” interchangeably. However, they’re quite different. Diverse workplaces are places with a mix of employees from different backgrounds. A diverse workplace may have team members of different genders, sexual orientations, physical abilities, mental health statuses, races, nationalities, ages, and backgrounds. Diversity refers to the makeup of the group. Inclusion refers to access. An inclusive organization allows employees to feel fully part of the workplace and able to succeed at work without being subject to discrimination or bias.
Why Is Inclusion Important in the Workplace?
We’ve all felt excluded at some point, whether it’s being alone at a party or arriving at an event where we didn’t know anyone. It’s not a nice feeling. When you focus on inclusion in the workplace, you ensure your team members don’t experience that feeling. You also reap other benefits, too.
- You may attract and retain more talent. In one survey, 12% of employees who felt that they were treated poorly at work left their organization. Another survey found that 80% of job seekers want to work for employers who value inclusion as well as diversity and equity. Inclusion matters to employees. Focusing on it can help you build and keep a great team.
- You encourage job satisfaction. No one is happy if they feel ignored at work. When people feel part of a workplace, they are more likely to feel satisfied at work.
- You create a stronger DEI strategy. If you try to hire a diverse team without inclusion, you may be changing the demographics of your workplace, but you will not be changing the innovation and participation of your teams. A robust DEI strategy may include mentorship, employee resource groups, and hiring internally with an eye towards giving everyone a chance to advance. Strategies like these make sure everyone has the opportunity to take part.
- You improve engagement. When workers feel trusted and listened to, they may be more willing to speak up and share ideas. Included workers are more engaged because they feel like they can contribute and be heard.
- You improve performance. A study by Bain & Company found a positive correlation between work performance and an inclusive work culture. The same study also found that fewer than 30% of employees feel fully included. There’s an exciting opportunity to improve work results by improving feelings of belonging.
How Can I Foster Inclusion at My Organization?
You may be genuinely happy to have your whole team in your workplace. Unfortunately, even if you want employees to feel welcome, it doesn’t guarantee everyone will feel part of the team. Here’s how to fix any gap between your intentions and employee experiences.
Survey your employees
You can’t assume anything about your employees. Some workers may be hiding their unhappiness at work because they want a job. An anonymous survey or digital poll using Connecteam lets workers be transparent. You can customize your survey to ask:
- Have you ever felt excluded at work?
- Overall, do you feel included at this organization?
- What would make you feel more included with the rest of the team?
Once you have answers, you can invite workers to take part in group chats, if they want to. Together, brainstorm ideas for making team members more welcome.
Make room for flexibility
Flexible work arrangements, schedules, and tasks help employees balance personal and work lives. For example, new parents or people living with chronic medical conditions may appreciate flexible schedules. This lets them work and take care of their needs. It also shows that your organization makes space for and values those who need a little flexibility.
Offer employee training
Does everyone at your organization know how to make all colleagues feel welcome? Training can help team members learn how to avoid aggressive or exclusionary language. It can help everyone at your organization learn about the importance of inclusion and how they are expected to embody it at work.
You may want to go a step beyond and create a learning culture. Learning cultures are company cultures that encourage exploration, open-mindedness, learning together, and flexible thinking. Harvard Business Review conducted a study of 19,000 of their readers, asking readers to rank cultures and DEI at their companies. They found that a culture of learning was the style of company culture most positively associated with inclusion and diversity at companies.
So, how can you develop a learning culture? Here are some ideas to try:
- Encourage leadership to share their own efforts, failures, attempts at learning, and examples of how they have changed their ideas or perspectives over time.
- Reward employees for innovative thinking.
- Offer learning opportunities.
- Encourage brainstorming at meetings and praise workers who take part.
Consider deskless and remote workers
These employees can sometimes be (unintentionally) left out. They may not be invited to in-person meetings, for example, or may not be told “inside” jokes that office staff share. The effects can be devastating. One study found that being excluded at work can be more painful for some employees than workplace bullying.
Embracing asynchronous communication can help you communicate effectively with these team members. Using an all-in-one platform like Connecteam keeps communication channels open, ensuring everyone is in the loop. You can start group chats for social interaction or send messages that can be read later. You can even start one-on-one conversations through the app or send recognition for a job well done. When all employees are on one platform, they may feel more connected to each other and the organization.
Remember new employees
This is another group of employees that can feel excluded. The first day on the job can feel like the first day of school: nerve wracking. It can feel like everyone has their work friends, routines, and “inside” jokes all set up.
You can make the process less daunting. Pair new hires with established workers to give new employees contacts to ask questions to, allowing them to get to know the company culture. In addition to this, having a virtual or in-person introduction can help everyone get to know your new employee. Don’t forget to check in with your new employees over their first few days and weeks. Even a short chat, asking how new hires are feeling and what they’re learning, can help employees feel part of the company.
Mentor and coach employees
Mentoring and coaching offers personalized, one-on-one interactions between a mentor or coach and a protégé. An organization can choose to hire third-party coaches and mentors. Equally, these supporters can be chosen from within the company. They can be managers, employers, or members of the leadership team who volunteer to provide professional development and to foster talent inside the business. This also helps create a stronger relationship between mentors and people inside the company, and means that each protégé has at least one close connection on the team.
Being chosen for a mentoring or coaching opportunity also shows an employee that they’re valued and seen. Their hard work is recognized and the organization is willing to invest in their career.
Look at compensation and benefits
Employees talk about compensation. Under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), private sector employees (excluding those who have access to payroll information) have the right to discuss pay and compensation.
Workers may learn that someone else is paid a higher salary for the same role and may feel less valued because of the disparity. Offering equitable wages and benefits and being as transparent as possible about compensation helps everyone feel they are valued equally.
Offer personalized, in-person communication
When possible, reach out to employees individually. Set up in-person meetings to catch up, or chat over a secure app. Individual attention demonstrates that you and your organization appreciate the employee. It also gives you a chance to find out whether any worker needs additional support or has any worries that you need to address. Individual conversations also help build relationships, which can help workers feel less isolated.
Make your workplace accessible
Inclusion also means your workers should feel that any physical or spatial requirements are being met. This can mean making changes, such as:
- Offering wheelchair-accessible seating in client and lunch areas.
- Using tech that is accessible, with features such as closed captioning, audio replay, and voice activation.
- Offering noise-cancelling headphones or quiet spaces.
- Having ramps or elevators to make all areas of a workplace accessible.
- Offering wheelchair-accessible cars for front-line workers using your fleet of vehicles.
- Investing in tables and chairs (and cars) that work for different body types and sizes.
- Making sure the doors in your workplace are wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs.
Create employee resource groups (ERGs)
Also known as affinity groups, ERGs allow workers who share an identity to come together. These groups have a budget and can communicate with leadership to pass on any requests or ideas. The goal of the groups is to let employees meet for professional development and to discuss their ideas and needs.
For example, an ERG for women at your company may meet together to discuss their needs, make suggestions, and create a space in which to problem-solve. Equally, an ERG for neurodiverse employees may discuss ways to raise awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace or may want to advocate for specific tech.
Including Inclusion at Your Organization
Everyone wants to belong. You can help your employees feel like part of the team by listening to them, finding opportunities to connect, and creating programs to help employees advance. The benefits are significant. Included employees are more likely to stay with your organisation, do great work, and show higher satisfaction. In other words, an inclusive workplace is a better workplace—for everybody.