How to Cultivate a Respectful and Inclusive Workplace

Company culture impacts every aspect of your business, and inclusion is the bedrock of positive company culture.

There’s often confusion around what a fully respectful and inclusive work environment looks like. As Cherrie Davis, SPHR, a certified facilitator, coach and change consultant at ShiftForward Consulting, shared in a recent webinar for our Alchemizing HR webinar series, companies frequently fall under the “illusion of inclusion.”

That happens when business leaders assume that their diverse workforce is also inherently inclusive. But diversity alone doesn’t guarantee inclusion. In fact, cultivating diversity without fostering an inclusive environment can be extremely damaging to your workplace culture. Diverse employees might feel like you’ve brought them on board to reach a vanity metric, not to achieve an intentional cultural shift.

Companies that mistake diversity for inclusion end up leaving employees, often people of color or other historically marginalized groups, out of opportunities to participate and grow. They may be present, but they aren’t really heard, much less able to exert any influence. Creating an inclusive workplace requires giving everyone an opportunity to contribute to the team’s wins.

Here’s how to foster a more respectful and inclusive workplace to drive better business outcomes.

Work With the Front Lines

If you want to shift your company towards a more respectful and inclusive workplace, then you’ll need to better engage your talent on the front lines.

Business leaders can set guidelines for creating culture at the top, but the frontline leaders and middle managers are the ones making the decisions on a day-to-day basis. “Make sure that organizational support for your DEIB (diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging) initiatives permeates throughout all levels of the organization, and doesn’t get stuck in the C-suite,” says Rocki Howard, who has served in a number of diversity, equity and inclusion executive roles.

To truly create change, you need to model and incentivize the behaviors you want to see on the frontlines. You can design a perfect inclusion program, but unless managers take the necessary actions every day, change won’t happen.

If you haven’t already, implement 360-degree feedback so that employees can provide information on their manager’s success or opportunities for improvement as an inclusive leader. If inclusive behaviors are tied to compensation, managers are much more likely to take intentional action on a daily basis.

Move Beyond Training and Awareness

Achieving a respectful and inclusive workplace takes more than unconscious bias training and awareness. Those are only entry points for creating, cultivating and operating as an inclusive culture, Davis says. A truly inclusive culture requires deliberate daily practice.

Practice inclusion by building it into your everyday language and processes. Davis suggests asking these questions:

  • What is your current conversation or behavior around inclusion?
  • What do you want to shift in your current conversation or behavior?
  • What or how would you change your conversation or behavior to support making inclusion second nature?

There are simple steps to build inclusion daily, such as calling on each person to speak at every meeting or developing channels for employees to share ideas.

Make Opportunities Visible to Diverse Talent

A crucial part of inclusion is helping employees, especially those from historically marginalized groups, see a path forward in the company. It’s vital that internal employees feel they have opportunities for growth within the company. Yet, according to the 2021 SmartRecruiters State of Diversity Hiring Report, where Howard previously served as chief diversity officer, only 18% of companies reported having an internal posting process making job opportunities available to all employees.

“Part of a fair and equitable workplace is people feeling that they can have a long-term career,” Howard says. “How are they supposed to feel included if they're excluded from opportunities within their own organization?”

Advertising openings to your employee resource groups is a good place to start. There are also more decisive measures. For instance, mandate interviews for diverse internal candidates who meet 70% of a job’s criteria. (The SmartRecruiters Report found only 33% of companies report taking this step.)

Fostering a respectful and inclusive workplace requires dedication and intention. It takes understanding the people that drive your culture and developing opportunities for everyone to grow at your company. Remember, it’s possible to hire someone, but never truly let them be a part of your business.

Developed in accordance with ISO 30415:2021, HRCI’s Certificate in Diversity and Inclusion in HR Management provides a foundation for creating a workplace where all employees are respected and appreciated as valuable members of the organization, are able to participate in work-related opportunities, can follow career paths that use their skills and knowledge to the fullest, and receive fair compensation.