An inclusive culture at work is one where everyone in the organization feels welcomed, appreciated, and supported. It’s a culture that respects the unique differences of each individual through direct, visible, and meaningful actions from both executive leaders and team members. Inclusivity done well leads to reduced turnover, increased employee engagement, and an increase in profit margins, a win-win for everyone involved. If done poorly, you risk seeing the opposite results occur.
Use this guide to learn more about the importance of an inclusive work culture and how you can develop it as central to your organization.
Before you start: Inclusion doesn’t happen in a bubble. Often, it requires intense and intentional work. Mentoring programs focused on DEI are a great way to get started. Learn more in our post on the Purpose of Mentoring.
Defining Inclusive Culture
An inclusive culture is defined as a work environment that honors, appreciates, and values employees from different backgrounds. When a company has an inclusive culture, it does not mean that the members ignore their differences; instead, they acknowledge those differences and embrace them.
Avoid thinking too rigidly about company culture. Organizations run the risk of appearing not just inauthentic but can put themselves at legal risk when they approach inclusivity the wrong way.
For example: Having a racial and gender-based quota system does not automatically make your company inclusive. In fact, you may set yourself up for legal challenges if you try to put strict quota systems in place. As Bloomberg Law highlighted in a blog post on workplace diversity through quotas, this type of policy may be prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
More often than not, using a quota strategy to force inclusivity creates more complications instead of solving problems. It’s often far more trouble than it’s worth as a way to create real and lasting diversity and inclusion.
You don’t create an inclusive culture by filling spaces with people from different backgrounds and hoping for the best.
The problem is that diversity is often too rigidly defined as what’s visible. Even in an environment that’s welcoming and inclusive, some employees may not share everything about themselves that makes them a minority or part of a historically underrepresented group. This is why focusing solely on looking diverse in an organization is the wrong approach to creating an inclusive workplace.
Instead, an inclusive culture at work is one where company values (spearheaded by leadership teams), hiring practices, and employee engagement and development practices all focus on embracing and encouraging, and supporting diverse backgrounds, experiences, beliefs. When inclusivity is inherent in the values and practices of the company, it becomes a magnet for like-minded people who support and want to be a part of an inclusive work environment.
As the saying goes, don’t put the cart before the horse. Consider these 5 inclusion activities that are more effective for building an authentic inclusive culture.
What we’re describing here is the “B” part of DEIB: Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging. When the company culture revolves around ensuring everyone feels as if they belong to the organization, positivity flows outward into all other aspects of DEI. It will then become a part of your practices, which everyone will see when they interact with your company, its people, and your product.
Why Is an Inclusive Culture Important?
A rather eye-opening Josh Bersin report found that most companies are only paying lip service to DEI. According to the survey of 800+ HR professionals:
- 75% of companies have no DEI goals written into their leadership development strategy
- 76% of companies have no written DEI goals of any kind
While an inclusive culture that develops organically is ideal, companies need to plant the seeds and structures that result in that organic growth. That starts with having written goals or plans at a minimum.
And ultimately, inclusive cultures are about more than just making the company look good both from an employee and customer perspective. Companies with more diverse teams are more profitable. McKinsey & Company, for example, found that diverse companies are 36% more profitable than their competitors with less diversity.
In our 2023 Mentoring Impact Report, MentorcliQ discovered the median profits in 2021 for US Fortune 500 companies with female CEOs was 47% higher than companies without female CEOs.
There are many possible reasons why more inclusion and diversity breeds better financial results, but it comes down to a greater diversity of thought.
Diversity of thought starts with DEI
People from different backgrounds bring different ideas and perspectives to the table. As a result, those companies are more likely to be innovative in their approach and are more likely to generate better profits. It’s part of the reason why building an inclusive workplace is a priority for many companies nowadays, aside from being both an ethical and practical imperative.
Companies with inclusive cultures are also more attractive to top talent. Multiple studies point to this, including a Manifest survey that found 70% of job seekers look for companies that visibly support DEI in their branding and job description material.
The topic of inclusive culture at work is more comprehensive than it appears. If you’re serious about taking concrete steps instead of discussing inclusivity as part of lip service, you need to understand how you can get rid of unconscious bias and build an open environment where diversity is encouraged and inclusion matters.
The following are the top benefits that having an inclusive workplace can do for your organization.
1. Promote Employee Engagement and Employee Satisfaction
Employees who are part of companies with inclusive cultures are more likely to stay in their job because they experience higher satisfaction and engagement. The reason behind this is that employees feel respected and valued in an inclusive workplace. Employees feel that their company appreciates the work that they do since they offer a real contribution to the business’s success.
Employee engagement remains at an all-time low. Gallup found that only 34% of employees are engaged. Numbers dropped significantly following the pandemic and in response to a rise in economic uncertainty.
What does this mean? Lower employee engagement and a higher risk of turnover. Turnover will cost around 1.5 to 2 times an employee’s salary, while disengagement and lower productivity cost companies 34% of an employee’s annual salary. Considering employees usually disengage for months before they quit, the cost to a company is compounded.
To put those numbers in perspective:
- The median salary for a sales professional is around $60,000 per year
- Turnover for a sales professional could cost a company $90K to $120K in replacement costs.
- Disengagement for a sales professional could cost a company over $20K.
These numbers hurt. That’s why 92% of U.S. Fortune 500 companies now use mentoring and most leverage mentoring software. Read more about how mentoring programs increase employee retention.
(By the way: High turnover and low productivity in sales teams are some of the worst problems to have. We hear about this problem all the time, which is why we have content on sales mentorship.)
A higher employee engagement and satisfaction level is a good sign for any employer. After all, it will help you retain top talent in your organization and ensure that your employees will stay with you for a long time. A higher employee turnover rate costs your company more in the long run. Increasing employee satisfaction should be a priority, and creating an inclusive culture is one way to achieve that.
2. You Can Attract a Diverse Talent Pool
There is beauty in diversity.
This statement is most evident in the workplace because more diversity in your company means you can tap into various skill sets and knowledge bases.
Creating a sense of inclusion can also make your company attractive to the best talents in the market. We already threw some stats at you in the previous section on that, so we won’t double down here. It’s safe to say here, however, that your organization likely wants to attract the best talent available. If you examine what that looks like, you’ll note that there are a few trends:
- Talent is getting younger (more Millennial and Gen Z workers)
- These workers value diversity as a personal and professional ethos
- These workers are also increasingly coming from more diverse cultural, ethnic, social, political, experiential, educational, and backgrounds
They understand that by promoting inclusion, you are at least showing that it’s an important value for your organization. When you speak their language, they’re far more likely to apply for open positions and say yes to job offers.
Boldly advertising your inclusive culture is also a form of inbound marketing. You’ll spend less time and less money on recruitment as these individuals will independently seek out your organization and apply without additional prompting on your part because your work environment brings a diverse group of people in.
3. An Inclusive Culture Fosters Effective Leaders
Earlier, we offered some data insights on the inclusion and diversity has on leadership. In particular, companies with diverse leaders are far more likely to generate better profits than their less-diverse competitors.
Promoting a more inclusive culture within the organization makes leaders more effective. That doesn’t just apply to having diverse leaders. Surrounding your leaders with diverse thoughts and ideas also improves their outcomes.
This is why reverse mentoring programs hold so much value. Since employees look up to leaders, an inclusive culture that values insights from diverse backgrounds encourages growth and appreciation for inclusive cultures and increases productivity and effectiveness.
4. An Inclusive Culture Promotes Innovation
Innovation entails risks. But inclusive organizations and their employees feel more confident to take risks because they know their position in the company and they have a sense of belongingness.
Diverse teams see the impact of their diversity in:
- Revenue-generating actions within the company
Innovation and competitiveness in any market require thinking differently. Employees that don’t feel comfortable in their environment are far less likely to express ideas. Creating an inclusive culture will breed collaboration and the free flow of ideas and allow innovation to occur organically.
Don’t forget to reward good ideas! When you create an employee spotlight program, you can both highlight and promote employees who do good work and make visible the inclusive culture you’re fostering.
5. Inclusion Boosts Employee Loyalty and Job Satisfaction Rates
How does inclusion impact the employee experience?
Welcoming underrepresented groups and individuals into your company is an expression of a more inclusive culture. It shows your employees that you value them beyond their visible “identity.” It’s also a way of letting them know that everyone can enjoy a sense of belonging in your organization.
As a result, your employees’ job satisfaction rate rises. You develop employees who later on become loyal to your company. They’ll recommend friends to work for you and promote your business to others within their network.
Don’t forget that your team members should be strong advocates for your brand. That’s only possible when they feel like a valuable and valued member of the team.
What Are the Characteristics of an Inclusive Culture?
It’s not enough to know about the benefits of an inclusive work culture. We should also zero in on the DNA of what an inclusive culture looks like. The more you know what inclusion looks like in practice, the better you’ll understand why it’s valuable.
We’ll say it again: Mentoring Supports DEI. That’s especially true when you have DEI mentoring programs. Check out our Mentoring Soundbites video on How to Support DEI with Mentoring Programs.
Let’s break down the major characteristics that make an inclusive workplace.
Commitment to diversity
An inclusive culture at work is not just about lip service. There should be concrete actions taken to promote diversity and inclusivity. For example, positioning easy-to-find statements about your commitment to supporting and creating a diverse and inclusive workplace will send the right signals to talent professionals who by and large care about that type of culture.
Be sure to be specific as far as your commitment to supporting everyone regardless of age, work experience, gender, culture, or other factors important to their personhood.
Having an inclusive culture at work does not just value diversity. Instead, it encourages it and you seek out people from all walks of life to become a part of your organization because you value the different input and knowledge they bring.
Sense of belonging
A sense of belonging is integral to an inclusive company culture. This characteristic of inclusive organizations makes employees feel secure and ensures that they get adequate support.
In addition, they do not feel alienated even if they might be construed as “different” by some people’s standards. Differences are embraced in this type of work environment, not just tolerated. It serves as part of the psychological safety for employees.
Employees have a voice
The beauty of having an inclusive and diverse work environment is that every employee has a voice. They are allowed to openly share their ideas and opinion without judgment. They don’t have fears about sharing their ideas because they know there are no negative consequences for it.
Inclusive workplaces provide a voice to diverse individuals because their backgrounds and experience provide fresh insights and ideas that enable the company to innovate.
Opportunities for learning and development
Inclusive workplaces do not stop by hiring a diverse pool of talent. They also provide training tools and resources that facilitate development for employees. Consequently, not providing ongoing learning and development opportunities is risky, at best. The vast majority of employees would stay longer at an organization if it provides learning and development opportunities. And by “vast majority” we mean 94%, according to CNBC.
Training and expanding the employee skill set is one of the most important characteristics of a company culture that promotes inclusivity. The process should also start with the onboarding process, ideally with an onboarding mentoring program to accelerate the process.
Since differences are embraced in inclusive cultures, every member of the team is recognized and valued. This means that the ideas and work of the leadership team, executive team, and down to the new hires are treated equally. At the same time, equality means that all contributions from each member of the diverse teams are valued as they keep the entire company running.
How Do You Build an Inclusive Culture?
Discover the various strategies you can employ if you want to create a diverse workforce and achieve better business outcomes.
Listen to employees at every level
Providing an avenue for your employees to voice new ideas is the pillar of an inclusive work culture. You must acknowledge everyone’s voice at every level, not just those of your leaders. It will give everyone the courage to speak up because they know that their voices are heard.
Promote safe spaces
Everyone needs to have safe spaces, especially at work. A third of your life will be spent at work in some capacity. Increasingly, much of that work is remote or hybrid. But whether they’re at home or in the office, workers need to have a safe space to open up and be vulnerable, especially within the context of work.
There are many ways to incorporate safe spaces in the workplace:
- Creating accessible bathrooms
- Offering digital devices for workers with visual or hearing impairment
- Creating and providing resources for Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), with a particular focus on (but limited to) employees from underrepresented groups
- Offering parental leave for everyone in your organization, regardless of gender or birthing process (make sure adoptive parents get parental leave, as well!)
An inclusive workplace ensures the comfort and safety of individuals from underrepresented groups. Facilitating this kind of space is one way that you can welcome and embrace them.
Leadership plays a critical role in creating an inclusive environment at work. The leaders make the important decisions that impact the culture and direction of the organization. If the senior leaders are not visibly committed to diversity and inclusion, the organization’s culture could lag behind and the behavior of the employees can also follow suit.
The worst thing that could happen is that senior leaders speak out about their commitment to diversity and inclusion, and yet their actions don’t match their words. As noted earlier, most companies only go through the motions of supporting and creating inclusive cultures. You can differentiate yourself by being authentic and creating a real value change for employees.
To implement diversity and inclusion as part of your organization’s culture, purposeful leadership is a must. Leaders have to be more conscious about their decision-making and ensure that they lead the change.
That top-down approach works because employees tend to trust their CEO. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer found that among societal leaders, “My CEO” is the third-most trusted category of person right now, at 66% of people.
CEOs are second only to “scientists”, who are trusted by 75% of survey respondents.
That kind of trust should not be underestimated. CEOs have an incredibly large platform, but also command a significant amount of trust among their teams. They can use that trust to be the most important advocate and drivers for inclusive cultures at work.
Purposeful leadership enables diversity training and takes direct action to ensure diversity is prioritized.
Foster and Promote Inclusive Mindsets and Behaviors
Once the leadership team takes charge, the real action toward building an inclusive workspace will start to take shape. The goal here is to promote inclusive behaviors along with a change of mindset.
The company culture must embrace the individual differences of its employees and view them as an asset. Having a diverse workforce that has developed from intentional planning and thoughtful structures is something to be proud of, as it gives your organization strength in your market.
What does this mean? Acknowledging and promoting your diversity without doing so in a way that makes people feel alienated or uncomfortable. When conducting diversity training, for example, it’s important to focus on a positive and inspiring tone about your work culture, without signaling out employees or putting them on awkward pedestals.
E.g., support diversity and inclusion but don’t tokenize your workers. BWG Business Solutions founder Janice Gassam Asare has an interesting Forbes Leadership Council post that addresses four ways companies tokenize underrepresented employees.
As she notes in her post, “Just because an employee identifies as a queer, Asian, Muslim employee doesn’t mean they want to be the spokesperson for Asians, Muslims, or the queer community.” We strongly recommend you bear that in mind as you develop your inclusion strategy and how to promote your inclusive workplace.
The following are some of the best mindsets to adopt that inspire positive behavioral changes, such as self-awareness, empathy, vulnerability, curiosity, and courage.
According to Juliet Bourke’s book, “Which Two Heads Are Better Than One?”, inclusive companies deliver increased innovation six times higher than those business units that are not as inclusive. It’s clear: Engaging your employees with your focus on inclusivity can achieve better business outcomes.
Broader engagement means creating a sense of belonging for people across all groups, whether based on demographic groups or racial groups. This type of approach makes them more committed to producing their best work as they have more passion for their jobs.
Use inclusive language
The use of inclusive language is one of the fundamental steps to promoting inclusivity in your company culture. When you’re not sure, ask your employees about their preferred language. It’s better to ask than to assume and be offensive, especially if your assumption is based on your existing or societal bias.
Another way to build an inclusive culture with your language is to be sensitive to how certain words or phrases could be interpreted. Never use discriminatory terms or expressions, even if those who might be offended by them are not around. Always choose inclusive language whether or not those who prefer them are around.
This is an overwhelmingly sensitive area, especially for managers and executives. Reverse mentoring programs are a boon for solving this issue.
Ok, I’ll bite. How does reverse mentoring work? Glad you asked! Check out this Mentoring Soundbites on 4 Expert Tips for Reverse Mentoring.
In case you use any offensive or non-inclusive language, be quick to own up to your mistake and apologize for it. Growth opportunities arise in daily situations when you acknowledge your mistake and open yourself up to learning.
Provide diversity and inclusion training
This may be the biggest theme of our post here, but diversity and inclusion training of some kind is often necessary, but it’s also easy to get wrong.
Diversity training is a critical factor if you are serious about instilling this into your company culture. The focus of this training is to address any stereotypes and prejudices within your organization and open people up to embracing different cultures. Depending on which stage you are in your diversity efforts, there are different levels of training that you can have your employees undergo.
That said, most of those well-intentioned and often expensive bias training seminars don’t create measurable results. Should you stop having them? Not necessarily. The issue lies in switching from an informational to an actionable approach.
It’s also crucial to continue the training, instead of it being a one-time process. The definition of inclusivity continues to evolve so you have to adapt your understanding as well. Continuous training ensure that your employees build a stronger sense of tolerance and respect for various groups and individuals.
Another option to train for inclusion and diversity is through mentorship programs.
Build Employee Resource Groups
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are an important feature of an inclusive culture within your organization. These are employee-led and organization-supported groups based on a specific aspect of one’s identity, including (but not limited to) ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or personal life experiences.
ERGs are an important tool to promote employee engagement and create a more inclusive environment at work. At the same time, it empowers your organization’s effort to access and attract diverse talent.
Inclusive Cultures Start with You
Building an inclusive environment in your organization takes time. It won’t happen overnight because you must carefully develop a strategy and find a way to execute it successfully. It also requires commitment from all members of the team — from the leadership level to all of your employees but especially starting with yourself.
If you’re starting from scratch, here’s a short list of top-level considerations for creating an inclusive culture at work:
- Be authentic. Don’t engage in practices that force inclusion in a way that’s harmful or even illegal.
- Be mindful. Don’t jump the gun and start launching programs or initiatives too quickly. Take time to plan your strategy and make sure to write goals down.
- Be inclusive. As odd as that might sound, building an inclusive culture starts by including others in your thought process and planning. Going it alone creates more stress and more mistakes on your part. Create a team of people from diverse backgrounds, whether they’re at your organization or in your network, and have them work with you to plan a strategy.
Since the definition of an inclusive workplace culture continues to evolve, you have to adapt your strategies accordingly. Make sure you re-evaluate your best practices for hiring and managing your employees to encourage employees (in-office and remote workers alike) to become their authentic selves at work.
Your goal is to foster safe spaces that inspire change, promote employee well-being, and create a stronger sense of commitment to diversity.
Next Step? Contact us today to learn more about how to create an inclusive culture with mentoring and ERGs.