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How to Create an Inclusive Workplace
by Nellie Akalp
June 2, 2022
Diverse Group of Colleagues Conversing in Office Lobby

As the nation’s employers struggle to attract talent and retain valued employees, many companies remain culturally short-sighted. While American businesses are still impacted by  The Great Resignation, companies must look beyond merely offering competitive salaries and benefits. In an employee-dominated marketplace, an inclusive workplace culture greatly influences employee job satisfaction and dedication to their employer.

In Deloitte’s latest report, “Unleashing the Power of Inclusion,” 80% of surveyed employees say inclusion is essential when choosing an employer, and 39% report they’d consider leaving their current companies to work for more inclusive employers. In addition, creating an inclusive workplace pays off for a growing company. Research shows that companies with inclusive cultures are six times more likely to be innovative, six times more likely to anticipate change and respond effectively, and twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets. 

As the owner of a growing company, I constantly strive to provide my employees with a workplace culture that celebrates diversity and encourages individuals to be their authentic selves. But to get your people on board, it’s not enough to be a boss—you have to be a leader. And inspire them.

How do you do that? We’ve all heard the age-old phrase, “There is no I in team.” As an entrepreneur, it is easy to take a path of “me, myself, and I” in all aspects of the business. But for organizations to succeed, leaders must realize that while there is no “I” in “team,” there is an “I” in “responsibility.” 

Here are five key takeaways for how leaders can and should change their “I” mentality to a “we” mentality: 

  1. How leaders handle inevitable mistakes can be the make or break moment for a company
  2. Hiring others to do what you don’t like to do can only help, not hurt, your business
  3. Transparency is crucial to success, but it goes both ways between leaders and teams
  4. When you talk, people listen, but sometimes it is better to listen while others talk
  5. Taking time for yourself is a sign of strength—not weakness

Once your team trusts that you have their best interests at heart, creating an inclusive workplace is easier. Here’s how:

Understand what’s important

Before creating an inclusive workplace, it’s essential to understand the difference between merely proclaiming company inclusivity and authentically practicing it. According to the Deloitte survey, the top aspects of an inclusive culture for employees are “an atmosphere where I feel comfortable being myself” and “An environment that provides a sense of purpose, where I feel like I make an impact.” They do not want to work in an atmosphere where everyone is the same, meaning having the same life experiences and social values. Diversity is key.

Use inclusive language

Under U.S. laws enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), discrimination is illegal in every aspect of employment, including using offensive comments about someone’s sexual orientation. Knowing what language to use and what not to use may not always be apparent (especially to older generations) but intentionally using inclusive language helps foster an inclusive culture where the historically marginalized can feel safe. For example:

  • Use language about the person and not a label.
  • Use neutral words such as “you all” and not “you guys.” Say "partner" instead “wife” or “husband.”
  • Be wary of specific  implications in words and phrases. If you’re not sure, look up the historical context, there may be cultural insensitivity you’re not aware of.
  • Pay attention to how your employees react to the particular language used and if you’re unsure, ask.

Promote inclusive leaders 

Your managers should show and promote inclusive behaviors. Consider sending your team to inclusive training.

Create a collaborative environment

Once you hire a diverse staff and encourage inclusivity, it’s time to build a connected and supportive team. Utilize the skills and strengths of individuals and celebrate the team’s efforts. Employees with a strong sense of each other’s worth and abilities will embrace inclusivity for the company’s good.

Celebrate employee differences

A diverse and inclusive workplace creates an opportunity for all employees to learn and grow in acceptance. Encourage employees to share their backgrounds, traditions, and social causes.

Encourage authenticity

You can encourage authenticity at work by supporting conversations about lived experiences safely and respectfully. Employees who can’t be themselves at work or feel they must hide certain aspects of their lives can’t be comfortable enough to focus on performance. Take away the fear of bias and retribution and watch performances soar.

Finally, it’s time to treat inclusion as more than legal compliance. Making inclusion a business-critical priority can make the difference in helping your company practice what it preaches.

About the author
Nellie Akalp
Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, business expert, professional speaker, author, and mother of four.
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712 H St NE PMB 98848
Washington, DC 20002

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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