What Is Inclusion in the Workplace?

Although often used in tandem with diversity, inclusion is a concept of its own.

SHRM defines inclusion separately from diversity as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute fully to the organization’s success.”

Inclusion Meaning

Inclusion is the practice of providing everyone with equal access to opportunities and resources. Inclusion efforts in the workplace help to give traditionally marginalized groups — like those based on gender, race or disabilities — a means for them to feel equal in the workplace. Inclusive actions, like creating employee resource groups or hosting information sessions, make the workplace a safer, more respectful environment for all employees.

Inclusion in the workplace is all about understanding and respect. Making sure everybody’s voices and opinions are heard and carefully considered is vital in creating a more inclusive work environment where everyone feels respected. Creating a work environment where everyone feels accepted and where everyone is part of the decision-making process is incredibly challenging and needs constant support to make it work. 

According to the Harvard Business Review, promoting and measuring inclusion among employees is extremely difficult. First, leadership must come up with a well-rounded definition of “inclusion.” Then, people and HR teams must consistently gather feedback from all employees regarding their current or proposed efforts. (This is an important step because you can’t have inclusion without having the opinions of all employees.) Then, D&I leaders can take some of the following actions to promote inclusivity in the workplace:

  • Have leadership undergo training in unconscious bias and active listening.
  • Form an inclusion council that plays an active role in goal-setting, hiring and retaining your workforce.
  • Create spaces within your office that highlight your diversity. For example, you can have a mother’s room for new mothers to breastfeed in private or you can install a prayer room for your employees to have the privacy to practice their religions.
  • Create employee resource groups (ERGs) that give employees safe spaces to get together and talk about common interests. For example, you can have LGBTQ+ groups, groups for new parents, groups for women in sales. These groups give employees the chance to get together and share what they are going through in a safe, non-judgmental way. These groups can also be excellent teachers to the rest of the employees, where they can host company-wide talks on topics that are important to them.

Diversity vs. Inclusion

Diversity refers to the traits and characteristics that make people unique while inclusion refers to the behaviors and social norms that ensure people feel welcome. Not only is inclusivity crucial for diversity efforts to succeed, but creating an inclusive culture will prove beneficial for employee engagement and productivity.

What Is the Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion?

Diversity is the presence of differences within a given setting. In the workplace that can mean differences in race, ethnicity, gender identity, age and more. Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that people feel a sense of belonging and support from the organization.

According to Rita Mitjans, ADP’s chief diversity and social responsibility officer, diversity is the “what” and inclusion is the “how” in your workplace. Diversity focuses on the demographics of your workplace — for instance, gender, race, age, professional background and sexual orientation — while inclusion focuses on efforts towards helping employees — with all of those different aforementioned traits (plus thousands of more) — feel safe, happy and respected. 

Though diversity and inclusion may be different, you cannot have either without first establishing a culture that embraces different perspectives. A close-minded workplace culture will ultimately fail to facilitate any semblance of diversity or inclusion. It is leadership’s responsibility to overtly acknowledge that different perspectives matter.

The more diverse an organization gets, the more important inclusion becomes. Inclusive efforts need to focus on making every single employee feel like they are respected and trusted, regardless of their background. Making the Black mother of three in accounting or the non-binary employee in engineering truly feel they share an equal voice with all other employees is imperative towards crafting a thriving diverse and inclusive workplace.

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