Everyone Belongs: A Guide to Inclusion in the Workplace

Creative team putting their hands together in circle

Everyone has a need to belong. Unfortunately, at a time when diversity in the workplace is a topic sure to incite controversy and passionate debate, some employees have a more difficult time feeling they belong than others.

Individuals of minority backgrounds of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity might have a harder time fitting in to your workplace than you might expect. Research from the Harvard Business Review reports that 37 percent of African-Americans and Hispanics and 45 percent of Asians feel that they “need to compromise their authenticity” in order to match organizational norms.

And that’s a problem, because when employees do not feel they belong, performance suffers. Workplace morale takes a hit, leading to increased turnover rates. An organization will not function well under these conditions, so it is up to organizational leadership to create ways for all workers to feel that essential sense of belonging.

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Steps Leaders Can Take to Increase Inclusion

Results might not happen instantaneously, but there are several steps organizational leaders can take to increase inclusion in their organization. Not all these steps are easy to undertake or even identify, but fortunately we can turn to suggestions that come from the likes of Howard J. Ross, author of Our Search for Belonging and partner at Udarta Consulting in Silver Spring, Maryland.

  • Declare a Mission Statement. Declare an easy-to-read mission statement about inclusion and circulate it throughout your organization. Workers need to have a shared sense of purpose. Ross feels that this sense of shared purpose is essential, saying “The more people feel they are the same, the more they see their experiences as collective.”
  • Set Expectations for Employees. Come up with a list of expectations for employee behavior concerning diversity and inclusion. Of course, leadership can’t regulate all interaction between employees, so it is useful for employees to know what sort of interaction is valued in the workplace.
  • Avoid the Echo Chamber. Hire people with different backgrounds or points of view. Look for candidates with unique experiences who will add value to your organization.
  • Keep Work Safe. Ensure that the workplace is an environment where workers feel safe enough to share their life experiences and be vulnerable with one another. This is easier said than done, but it should be a priority for everyone in the organization to be considerate of others.
  • Make Time for Discussion. Meet with employees whom you disagree with so that both of you can understand each other better. Allow each of you time to present your own thoughts so that no conversation is monopolized by one party. Afterwards, instead of trying to come up with counterpoints, ask questions and learn. Emphasize that this is not a debate but a learning opportunity.

A positive safety culture reduces workplace accidents and incidents.

Examples of Businesses Leading the Way

A last note to remember is your organization is not alone in its effort to promote inclusion. You can find inspiration and examples in several leading businesses and organizations already striving to forge these pathways.

  • L’Oréal partners with organizations such as EDGE (Economic Dividends for Gender Equality) to foster gender equality in the workplace.
  • Gap Inc. has several initiatives promoting inclusion. One is the Diversity + Inclusion Training Curriculum, which uses videos, discussion guides, and learning modules to educate employees about inclusive practices.
  • Through the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program, Microsoft helps job applicants on the autism spectrum through the hiring process to make sure the company is using talented individuals to their fullest potential.

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Lacey Conner

Written by Lacey Conner