Building a more equitable workplace starts with a company investing in a strong, inclusive workplace culture. Employees who work at a company that allows them to feel supported, respected, and fairly compensated empowers them to do their best work. Especially for individuals who are part of one or more marginalized communities— like Black and Latinx women who are often paid less than white male counterparts, or those who face discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation— encountering biases frequently at work can impact their ability to succeed.
The benefits of having a diverse and inclusive workplace include talent retention and worker satisfaction, but a fully engaged workplace is also good for a company’s bottom line as well. A 2019 study from McKinsey & Company found that companies that ranked highest for ethnic and cultural diversity outperformed in profitability by 36% compared to less diverse companies. The study also found that businesses with more than 30% women in executive roles were more likely to outperform companies with fewer women executives.
As more companies invest more to promote a diverse and inclusive workplace, JobSage compiled a list of approaches that employers can implement using news articles and other media, and advice from human resource experts.
Encourage self-expression at work
“Belonging” is a tough word to define, but it can be a contributing factor to the amount of turnover at any company. In other words, feeling left out doesn’t only happen in high school. As adults, however, we can often make the choice to leave unwelcoming environments. Whether an employee is a member of a marginalized community that doesn’t get much representation at the corporate level, or is someone with a niche interest, they may encounter unconscious biases, passive-aggressive remarks, ignorant comments, or even exclusion and discrimination.
Building a workplace culture starts with encouraging workers to express themselves authentically. Forbes gives insight to executives specifically about encouraging self-expression in the LGBTQ+ community at work: “Once you start thinking about how your language can cue belonging, you will see myriad ways to improve it.” For example, try referring to significant others as partners or spouses rather than making gender-based assumptions that someone has a husband or a wife.
Address unconscious biases in the workplace
The thing about unconscious bias is that it’s hard to recognize until we dig a little deeper. It requires us to ask ourselves hard questions about our assumptions about people who look different from us, or who come from unfamiliar backgrounds, or who we don’t often encounter in our social circles or other everyday interactions. Many institutions and consulting firms have created resources for companies to recognize and combat unconscious bias with inclusive information and practices.
One of the ways that this type of bias surfaces is through microaggressions—actions or words that stem from indirect or sometimes unintentional discrimination. Experiencing microaggressions is one of the common factors that deter and discourage people from wanting to work within a company. There are many resources that can aid employers to have closer relationships with employees by showing how much respect they have for everyone, even if they don’t know all the right things to say.
Provide mental health support and services
We spend most of our weekdays at work. Every stressful meeting, last-minute problem, or loss of a team member can affect our performance. Not checking in on employees and assuming that people don’t need help can often lead to many suffering in silence. According to the CDC, depression alone “interferes with a person’s ability to complete physical job tasks about 20% of the time and reduces cognitive performance about 35% of the time.”
Mental health services at work can include an in-house counselor, seminars to teach wellness and work-life balance, and making self-assessment tools available so that employees are aware of the effect work has on them. The nature of work is changing, so the CDC also suggests that as the company makes policy changes, they allow employees to have a say in what happens.
Invite diversity of opinions in discussions
The workplace is the perfect place for social development and building leadership skills, but belonging plays a role in that as well, even after recruiting and hiring is over. The people you hire need to have a voice in conversations about culture and how people should be treated.
Harvard Business Review encourages leaders to “zero in on the source of the silence.” Are you listening more than speaking? Are you recording and implementing suggestions from multiple types of people? Many people are worried about speaking up at work because they feel some people may get repercussions while others won’t.
Ensure employees are held to the same standards
“Inclusive” is another buzzword that’s hard to achieve in real life, but it becomes more real once damaging workplace discrimination begins. If two people commit the same infraction, but one person gets a stricter punishment, that is the perfect time to examine if implicit biases are present and why two employees are held to different standards.
Another way a company may be systemically discriminatory is through compensation. Companies may be reinforcing gender and racial pay gaps—when one employee who does the same work is paid differently than another. One way to combat this is by collecting pay data by race, ethnicity, and gender to find out where discrimination may be hiding.
Consider diversity and inclusivity in leave and holiday policies
Thoughtfully reevaluating your company’s paid leave and designated holiday calendar is one step to build a more inclusive culture. Taking steps for intentional and ongoing commitment—not just one-off events—is key. Acknowledging religious and cultural observances through company-wide announcements, recognizing them through support or celebration, and implementing policies that allow flexibility through paid time off can help those once “othered” feel like they belong. Whether through cultural awareness observances such as Juneteenth, which celebrates Black history in America, Indigenous People’s Day or religious holidays, it’s important to remember that every policy, even maternity and paternity leave, is a reflection of the company’s values.
Make online bias and diversity training courses available for all employees
Depending on the industry, your employees may be subject to more bias and exclusion than others. Hiring a woman leader can be a big step for inclusion at your company if it has never had a woman in the top position before. But while this might be a big step in inclusion at the leadership level, will the company’s long standing culture be welcoming? Diversity training when hiring for a new leader can make the transition smoother and ensure more success for both employees and leadership. There are many free online courses that help employees and managers stay updated, empathetic, and inclusive at work.
Many of the courses are led by people from marginalized communities, who speak from firsthand experience about how companies can be more welcoming and build stronger workplace cultures. Being an active listener and learner can help you learn from their experiences about how they would like to be treated at work.
Affirm pronoun visibility in the workplace
Introducing ourselves is the first thing we do when we meet someone for the first time. The seemingly simple act of identifying ourselves is one of the most fundamental and important ways that we announce to our coworkers who we are. When coworkers are called the wrong name or referred to by the incorrect pronoun, it reveals that their identities—who they are and how they see themselves—are not being respected.
By encouraging everyone in the office to take simple measures like affirming their names and pronouns in visible places such as email signatures, Zoom user names, and business cards, it becomes part of the culture to affirm identities and not make assumptions.
Consider forming a diversity council in the workplace
Small business advisers say that forming a diversity council in your office can help hold the company accountable, institute diversity initiatives in the workplace, and provide an advisory role to executives.
Having existing employees dedicated to setting goals for diversity, equity, and inclusion can help them feel empowered to make positive changes in the workplace while also helping the company as a whole advance DEI goals. A council or committee also provides another opportunity for transparency in the workplace. This arm can also encourage those who are passionate about the topic to participate in shaping company culture. If you do create a diversity council, it’s important to acknowledge the extra effort members of the council are making and consider recognizing this effort with a financial bonus or other incentive.
Make your efforts continuous, not a one-time sprint
If all work policies were perfect, there would be no cases of biases and discrimination in workplaces. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Becoming an active listener takes time and patience. Building a resilient and responsive office culture takes an investment of both time and resources. In other words, taking an annual one-hour training session and assuming all your work is done will likely not move the needle.
Instead, change needs to be constant and consistent. Scheduling recurring follow-up meetings provides dedicated time to check the status of programs that have been implemented and whether they’re working. Systemic bias is a complex problem without one single answer. Companies must be committed to continually updating themselves, questioning their policies, and revisiting what is and isn’t working.