Running A Business

Keys to Creating an Inclusive Workplace

Feb 21, 2021 • 8 min read
Two female employees discussing work
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      The bottom line used to be the only metric that mattered to most companies. To be clear, it’s still important; what’s changed is that diversity and inclusion have emerged as more than just peripheral workplace topics. “A growing number of consumers want to buy from companies that are socially conscious and fair–and shareholders and investors are requiring it,” says Julia Taylor Kennedy, executive vice president at the Center for Talent Innovation, a nonprofit think tank that produces research and programs to help leaders design diverse and inclusive workplaces. 

      “Also, employees want to work for companies that are purpose-driven and equitable,” Kennedy says. “Companies that don’t pay attention to these trends will be left behind.” 

      However, she says the organization’s research has found that 58% of Black professionals have experienced racial prejudice in the workplace, and more than 1 in 3 professional women have experienced workplace sexual harassment.  

      So how can companies create more diverse and inclusive work environments? In addition to diversity training, inclusive practices and policies can put organizations on the right track. Here’s what our sources say you need to know to create a safe, fair, and inclusive work environment.

      Check Your Company’s Pulse

      A lot of companies assume that they’re inclusive, but that’s the wrong gauge to use. “To really make a difference in long-term retention and advancement of diverse talent, companies need to get an objective understanding of just how inclusive they are,” Kennedy explains. “They should start by auditing the culture and climate that their diverse talent faces each day, and then they need to awaken their employees to the truth.” 

      Until you gather input from your diverse talent, she says you won’t be ready to proceed because you haven’t laid the foundation for real change. “Only then can company leaders, with buy-in from an array of department heads and input from employees of many backgrounds, build an impactful strategy.”  

      Examine Your Hiring Process

      Referrals are a great way to get new employees. However, they can also contribute to the lack of a diverse workforce. “As an African American who worked in Silicon Valley, I know first-hand how implicit bias—specifically personal referrals—is a significant contributor to the lack of diversity and inclusion in big tech today,” says Leroy Ware, cofounder and CEO of Knack for Engineers, a job-finding mobile app designed for engineers.   

      “Many qualified female and minority candidates are passed over because much of the hiring in tech is done through personal referrals—which are natural bottlenecks for diversity.”

      In fact, his desire to provide opportunities for diversity and inclusion is what led to the creation of his app. “The app’s AI feature creates a shortlist of ideal candidates based on a skills analysis instead of relying on a human whose implicit bias may affect who gets hired.”

      Ware encourages this type of “blind” evaluation to help companies hire based on skills instead of personal traits.

      “I also encourage recruiters to publish job descriptions highlighting the flexibility of company culture or work-life balance to better attract talented female candidates who may already be or are thinking of becoming mothers.”   

      Evaluate Your Workweek Requirements

      Of course, before you can highlight flexibility or work-life balance, you need to have those types of policies in place. “The global pandemic has turned our working world upside down and forced us to rethink how, where, and why we work, job satisfaction, and the viability of the 40-hour workweek,” says Terence Mauri, global disruption thinker, founder of Hack Future Lab, and author of The 3D Leader: Take Your Leadership to the Next Dimension.

      According to Mauri, the crisis has accelerated a number of trends: “Results-driven work (RDW), working from home (WFH), and working from anywhere (WFA) are 3 of the trends in which employees can live and work where they choose, typically within a specific country, but in some cases, anywhere in the world with a reliable WiFi.” And he believes this will hasten the end of the traditional 40-hour, anchored-to-a-desk workweek. As long as your employees are getting the work done, does it really matter where they are or what time they log on or off?

      Celebrate Differences

      Another way to encourage inclusiveness is actually quite simple. “Celebrate diversity by simply building upon current customs to include everyone on your team; being inclusive doesn’t mean ignoring differences, it means celebrating them,” says Nerissa Zhang, CEO of The Bright App, which helps studio owners and fitness instructors to manage their business on a smartphone. 

      For example, suppose your company tends to decorate or plan special events to celebrate holidays throughout the year. In that case, she recommends asking your entire team what holidays they celebrate, so you can plan events or decorations to include all of them. “You don’t have to shy away from celebrating Christmas, for example, but make sure you’re also celebrating Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Chinese New Year,” Zhang explains.

      Set Expectations and Communicate Clearly

      It’s not enough for you to just declare that you have an inclusive workplace. “If you have not already done so, or have not created a handbook, organizations should train managers to root out racial bias from their hiring and recruitment processes,” advises Adam P. Gordon, Miami-based cofounder of PTO Genius, an HR tech platform that helps companies increase employee satisfaction and engagement. “Additionally, you should invest in retaining women and people of color professionals, in part by reinforcing the message that gender and race will not be a barrier to advancement.”

      And this message should be shared throughout all ranks of the organization. “If you hear anyone making jokes or offensive comments about someone’s gender, race, religion, etc., Gordon says those remarks should be addressed immediately so everyone knows this type of behavior is not acceptable. 

      In fact, this is something else that starts at the hiring phase – but doesn’t end there. “Everyone at your company needs to understand the commitment that was made to ensure a safe and inclusive work environment and how exactly that commitment will affect and support them,” says Zhang. “This not only means a comprehensive onboarding process for new hires to introduce them to your inclusive workplace policies but a continued discussion with all employees about expectations set to maintain those policies.” At a minimum, she recommends biannual company-wide meetings to discuss ways to improve or celebrate inclusive workplace policies.

      Understand the Limitations of Diversity Training

      Diversity training is important, but it is only one component in the quest to create an inclusive workplace. To truly create an inclusive environment, you’ll need to dig deeper and it may involve a level of discomfort. Talisa Lavarry, founder of Yum Yum Morale, a workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion firm, and the author of Confessions From Your Token Black Colleague, offers the following advice:

      • Hold your team accountable for consistently challenging their own subconscious biases while working hard to become more aware of the challenges that their marginalized colleagues face. Listen intently, strive to be empathic and understand.
      • Do the work that it takes to become an authentic and active ally.
      • Be aware of microaggressions and how to stop them.
      • Be willing to admit that you are privileged while having tough conversations.

      “Supporting marginalized team members cannot be accomplished in one training or listening session,” says Fatimah Pierce, Ph.D., founder and principal at Hickman Rose Strategies, which provides management consulting services for organizations, entrepreneurs, and government agencies. 

      She says there has to be a systemic shift in the organizational culture. “Many employers peripherally engage in these types of activities, often as a result of compliance with anti-discrimination laws or other policies,” Pierce explains. “Yet, efforts to improve conditions and opportunities for marginalized team members are excluded from strategic plans.” For companies that don’t know how to get started, she recommends hiring a consultant who can assist with not only facilitating conversations and providing training but also planning and evaluations.

      About the author
      Terri Williams

      Terri Williams is a writer based in Birmingham, AL, who specializes in business, technology, education, real estate, and personal finance – and dabbles in home improvement/décor. She has bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Bankrate, Investopedia, US News & World Report, American Bar Association Journal, Verizon,, Apartment Therapy, and several other clients you’ve probably heard of. Follow her adventures @Territoryone.

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