How to Make Your Organization More Inclusive

By ebelke -

Editor's Note: Author Emily Belke is passionate about inclusivity and making everyone feel welcome in the workplace, and has received training on inclusive language and building an inclusive workplace. As part of our 2019 RelationEdge initiative to improve inclusivity in the workplace, Emily has put together this guide on making your workplace more inclusive and we are sharing her tips publically through the RelationEdge blog.

Forget the ping pong tables, kegerators, and other perks. If you want to create a modern and welcoming workplace, you need to move past the trends and onto something that really makes an impact on your culture — inclusivity.

While making large organizational change is challenging, and many changes don’t work out in the long run, inclusivity is designed to last. Making your company truly inclusive allows you to establish a fair and respectful workplace for years to come. And unlike a flashy new office decor, it doesn’t have to cost a pretty penny.

All your company needs to get started is some awareness and an openness to new perspectives.

To promote inclusivity, you have to become aware of the working situations that may be (unintentionally) excluding some of your team members or customers. Once you can see how people may at times feel excluded from your company, you can educate your entire team on how to work with inclusivity in mind — and overcome any resistance.

Read on to learn how inclusivity makes a real difference in the workplace, and what you can do to make your organization more inclusive for employees and customers alike.

How Does Inclusivity Benefit Your Company?

Encouraging inclusivity at your organization boosts collaboration, transparency, and engagement among your employees. This isn’t only good for morale — it also makes your team more productive. When everyone feels empowered and included, your company is three times more likely to be high performing.

Inclusivity also spurs innovation. Diverse teams bring forward diverse ideas that may never have been considered by a homogeneous team. An inclusive culture expands your company’s knowledge base, providing different perspectives and valuable new ways of thinking. This helps overcome challenges and stimulates business growth.

Inclusivity can improve your reputation with customers, too. Wouldn’t you prefer to do business with a company that values and respects you for who you are? What’s more, if your employees are more satisfied at work thanks to an inclusive company culture, it will show in the service they deliver to your customers. You won’t only attract a more diverse customer base — you’ll also impress new and existing customers.

Although inclusivity goes far beyond numbers, all the benefits have the same end-result: they improve profitability at your company.

What Can You Do to Foster Inclusivity at Your Company?

With 71% of businesses hoping to have an inclusive workplace in the future, now’s the perfect time to set the example at your company. Take the following steps to get on the right track toward an inclusive workplace where all your employees and customers feel safe and valued.

1. Use Inclusive Language

To welcome a more diverse workforce and customer base, you must start by reflecting inclusivity in your communication. If you use exclusive language — even out of unconscious habit — you risk undermining your other efforts toward inclusivity and perpetuating bias in the workplace.

The best way to ensure inclusive language is to remove assumptions from your words. Whether you’re giving an important presentation or running your weekly standup meeting, avoid speaking to the members of your audience as though they all represent the same demographic. One way to do this is to use gender-neutral language.

For example:

  • Instead of greeting groups of people with “Hey, guys,” try “Hey, team” or “Hey, everyone”
  • Instead of using gendered titles like “chairman,” try non-gendered alternatives, such as “chairperson”
  • Instead of the pronouns “he” and “she,” try using the singular “they” unless you're sure what your audience identifies as

Of course, when gender isn’t relevant, there’s no need to mention it in your communication at all. You don’t need to refer to one of your employees as your “woman engineer” or your “female engineer.” You can simply call this person an engineer, as their gender has nothing to do with their role, responsibility, or title.

Other words to avoid include those that reinforce stereotypes about religious groups, race and ethnicity, and mental and physical disabilities. Although words like “crazy” and “lame” have become mainstream descriptors, they can inadvertently shame employees or customers you’re talking to.

In order to help drive your initiative for inclusive language, create and circulate language guidelines around the company. These will inform your employees of inclusive words to incorporate into their communications, as well as words that — perhaps unbeknownst to them — carry the kind of bias you want to remove from the workplace.

2. Create an Information Pack on Inclusivity

In addition to language guidelines, provide an information pack on inclusivity for your entire organization. This will expand on what your team members can do every day to ensure an inclusive environment and help put your inclusivity policy into action.

Use the information pack to educate your employees on perspectives they may never have considered before. For instance, a section on all religious and cultural holidays can help prevent your team from overlooking days that are important to some colleagues and customers. While Christmas time may be a period of excitement around your office, it isn’t a holiday that everyone celebrates and could alienate some people — especially if their special celebrations aren’t acknowledged.

Similarly, people from different backgrounds have different dietary restrictions or may not consume alcohol. Include guidelines on dietary habits for various cultural and religious groups in your information pack to help employees plan catering options, customer meetings, and work culture events. Events that center around food and drink are great for relationship-building, and this ensures that everyone enjoys the experiences without feeling left out.

3. Train Your Team on Inclusivity

Training sessions are great opportunities to introduce your new inclusivity policy, language guidelines, and information packs with context. By meeting with team members in person, you can explain what inclusivity is, the benefits it brings, and how your company intends to promote it among staff members and customers moving forward.

The discussion about inclusivity shouldn’t be one way. Make sure training sessions provide an opportunity for questions and feedback to help foster a culture of transparency and growth. As important as it is for you to explain guidelines and set the tone, it’s equally (or more) important that your employees feel they can come to you to discuss inclusivity. Some team members may be uncomfortable asking questions or voicing concerns in a group training session, so ensure you offer opportunities for employees to meet with you one-on-one if they prefer.

You can also use training sessions to address general concerns or resistance to your inclusivity policy, but be careful not to single anyone out in a group setting. If you find one team member is resistant to aspects of your inclusivity policy or is acting in a way that violates the policy, it’s always best to meet with that person individually to address this. The goal isn’t to shame or embarrass the person, but to help them find ways to understand inclusivity — after all, exclusivity often stems from a lack of awareness and understanding.

As well as training sessions, group discussions, and informative videos, you can train your team on inclusivity through Trailhead courses. This gives employees the chance to study at their own pace, allowing them to really absorb the concept of inclusivity and how it can strengthen the workplace.

Check out these two Trailhead modules that emphasize the importance of inclusivity:

4. Make the Most of Your Technology

The technology your organization uses on a daily basis doesn’t just help you work more efficiently — it can also help you reinforce inclusivity.

Your team members can use their email signatures and profile sections on platforms such as Salesforce to show their preferred pronoun. This helps creates a safe environment where colleagues and customers understand how to best communicate with one another. Not everyone will want to add this information to their signatures and profiles, nor should they be forced to. Simply include this option in your information pack to normalize the practice and inspire your team to be themselves and to know that they are included.

Remember those pesky biased words that many of us use without thinking? Technology can help with that! If you use Slack to message colleagues, contractors, and colleagues, you can ensure that you don’t send non-inclusive vocabulary. You can set up Slackbot to prevent your users from sending a message that contains a certain word or phrase, such as “Hey, guys,” and prompt them to rethink what they want to say. This is a creative way to make your team more mindful of excluding others and helps develop more inclusive habits.

Moving Toward a More Inclusive Future

Even once you’ve implemented your inclusivity policy, mistakes can still happen among your employees or with your customers. Use your training sessions and information packs to inform your team members about how they should handle these situations: acknowledge and apologize for the mistake, consider how they can act more inclusively in the future, and then move on.

Don’t linger too long on non-inclusive mishaps; rather, focus on celebrating the progress that your organization makes. New habits aren’t formed overnight. Your employees will need ongoing information and education to build an inclusive team culture — as well as a strong example from leadership. Creating an inclusive workplace takes time and effort, but it promises to pay off.

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