While there has been recognisable progress in diversity in recent decades, a focus on increasing diversity alone falls short of tackling the systemic challenges around workplace equality, personal bias or exclusionary culture. Hiring a diverse workforce doesn’t guarantee that every employee has the same experience or opportunities in the workplace.

How can people professionals build inclusive workplaces?

Inclusion is what’s needed to give diversity real impact, and drive towards a world of work where all employees are empowered to thrive. And, whilst diversity and inclusion often go hand in hand, inclusion is fundamentally about individual experience and allowing everyone at work to contribute and feel a part of an organisation.

Often, inclusion is thought to help diverse workforces in particular, but diversity could easily be substituted for 'difference' and doesn’t need to refer to demographic characteristics. Given that all employees are unique, inclusion is relevant for everyone in a business.

Without clarity on what inclusion means, however, taking targeted action in organisations is challenging. There’s also the risk that inclusion initiatives are rebranded diversity initiatives that don’t fully address barriers to inclusion.

Our research report, Building inclusive workplaces, assesses the evidence on inclusion – what does inclusion look like in practice, and how can people professionals and the wider business be more inclusive?

Building inclusive workplaces: Assessing the evidence

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How inclusive is your organisation?

The summary below explores what inclusion means in practice, how organisations can assess inclusion, and some of the key actions people professionals can take to enhance workplace inclusion.

  • Inclusion in practice
    Psychological theories suggest people assess their social environment to understand how they 'fit'. Workplace inclusion is when people feel valued and accepted in their team and in the wider organisation, without having to conform.

    Inclusive organisations support employees, regardless of their background or circumstance, to thrive at work. To do this, they need to have practices and processes in place to break down barriers to inclusion, and, importantly, they need to value difference.

    To become more inclusive, organisations need to understand the state of play in their business, celebrate positive practices, and take action where issues are raised.
  • Assessing inclusion
    Whilst diversity and inclusion often go hand in hand, inclusion is different to diversity, so it requires separate measurement. To get an accurate picture of workplace inclusion, organisations need to think about employee perceptions of inclusion, as well as evaluating people management practices and line management capability.

Here are some approaches we suggest organisations take to comprehensively measure inclusion:

  • Create a bespoke survey to collect inclusion data, measuring individual-level perceptions of inclusion at multiple levels. Find out more about how to measure inclusion in our report, Building inclusive workplaces.
  • Add inclusion questions to existing organisational surveys on key areas of inclusion.
  • Make use of existing data, such as culture and engagement surveys, which may already touch on practices related to inclusion.
  • Run focus groups or employee feedback sessions to get an employee view on practices, policies and organisational norms.
  • Analyse existing workforce data to uncover barriers to inclusion. For example, compare promotion rates between demographic groups or 360-degree feedback data to understand employee and line manager behaviours related to inclusion.

Whichever approach you take, make sure you:

  • clearly communicate why the data is being collected, and what action will be taken off the back of it
  • ensure there are multiple ways to provide feedback (online or through another mechanism if employees don’t have access to work devices)
  • use the data to guide action, identifying the barriers to inclusion in your organisation, and how they can be tackled.

Taking action to build inclusive workplaces

Research links inclusion with employee satisfaction, creativity and reduced absenteeism, meaning that employees and employers stand to gain by being more inclusive. To do this, organisations need to take targeted action as part of their D&I strategies, recognising that inclusion is relevant to everyone in the business. Indeed, research suggests that there are five areas where action needs to be taken:

  1. employee behaviour
  2. line manager capability
  3. senior leadership
  4. policies and wider people management practices
  5. organisational culture, climate and values.

And, organisations must consider the broader picture; inclusion is more than simply 'including' diversity – it is about individual experience and work, and creating a positive environment in which everyone can influence, share knowledge and have their perspectives valued.

Tapping into all employees' knowledge and perspectives can only help business make better decisions and understand their customers – both of which are vital for businesses to continue to thrive and innovate into the future.

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