Inclusion in the workplace - What does it take?

October 27, 2022

True inclusion at work cannot just change the lives of many individuals but also organizations. But what does it take to build an inclusive work environment and how can you get started?

Imen Besrour

Table of Content

Buzzword, or business essential?

Inclusion is a buzzword we hear everywhere nowadays. There are new initiatives, roles and positions that did not exist a few years ago, such as ‘Diversity and Inclusion Manager’ and it seems to be a trend that keeps us from doing real work, right? Well, not quite.

Having an inclusive work environment means staying competitive with the market. In a globalized, fast-paced world such as the one we live in, we have people from different backgrounds coming together to become a team and work cooperatively. How is such a variety of human beings able to function comfortably together? Exactly: through an inclusive work environment, which welcomes human beings with different backgrounds and includes their assets for valuable purposes.

An inclusive workplace raises employee morale, promotes creativity, productivity, innovation and caters to multi-faceted target groups. It is therefore not an intangible, fuzzy initiative of the Human Resources department anymore, it does increase ROIs, KPIs and decreases turnover, buzzwords that have ‘more meaning’ in today’s data-driven world.

What is an inclusive workplace?

True inclusion at work goes beyond accepting and tolerating differences such as age, race, and gender. It is a feeling, where every employee is safe to be themselves, where there is an opportunity to grow, rather than to be fearful of being or feeling different. Inclusive work environments provide an equal playing ground to leverage and include ideas and strengths of everybody, regardless of their faith, preferences, looks, pronouns, etc.

Our world is diverse, the quicker organizations hop on that inclusivity bandwagon, the better they are positioned in the market with their services, products, or other offered portfolios. Instead of creating parallel societies, companies can leverage an immense opportunity through their biggest resource: their employees.

Common challenges to build an inclusive workplace

Creating inclusive organizations can be challenging, as it is not something the company has, an organization is inclusive. Being inclusive or having campaigns to promote inclusivity as an initiative on paper are different in their authenticity, and you can feel the environment if it is or is not, regardless of how many posters or newsletters have addressed it. Inclusion is a mindset that needs to reach every employee.

Implicit biases, for example, are a difficulty for inclusion, as they could stand in the way of fostering a fair opportunity for everyone and offering their involvement in the workplace. Biases are particularly challenging to dislodge when unconscious attitudes do not align with stated beliefs, because how are organizations supposed to detect if someone is biased and somehow closed off to certain groups? How can we ensure that every application is reviewed and not rejected due to a name?

Biases are not unusual to have, the start of dissolving them is through honesty that they potentially exist within us. Recognizing and holding ourselves accountable that we could have unconscious attitudes towards a group of people is where the journey of long-lasting inclusion in the workplace starts.

Curiosity to find out where they come from and to be open to the fact of being mistaken about implicit biases. Being ready to learn about others and constantly questioning ourselves is part of a growth mindset that things are not ‘just the way they are’, but that we as human beings have the power to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Where to start?

Creating an inclusive mindset and culture in the workplace starts in the zone between discomfort and the company’s readiness to embrace the inclusive mindset. That zone keeps on shifting though, as new people, new structures, new positions, and new targets come in constantly.

Why should it be between discomfort and readiness? Well, if it is within the comfort zone, no real shift is taking place. If an inclusive mindset is too assertively introduced, the natural resistance to an abrupt change is going to be too large as well and people feel ambushed about something that should be celebrated and not feared from.

It is constantly worth striving for inclusion, as it cannot be fully reached and put to rest. It is like wanting to become a basketball player: you do not stop when you have mastered it. You continue to practice maintaining the skills or adapting to new teams. This is exactly how inclusion in the workplace works: not just through web-based learnings but through interactions.

Creating experiences where colleagues discover the feeling of belonging and connectedness. Focusing more on what we can relate to, rather than a title. Implementing games, such as ‘two truths and one lie’ to recognize in a gamified way ‘the human’ behind ‘the colleague from the legal department’. That is where inclusivity starts in the workplace: creating awareness that difference is not something to be feared, but an asset that compliments.

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