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The Psychology of Inclusion in the Workplace: What It Is and 5 Ways You Can Nurture It

Jessica Day
The Psychology of Inclusion in the Workplace: What It Is and 5 Ways You Can Nurture It

More and more, businesses are becoming wise to the critical importance of inclusion in the workplace. Across industries, businesses benefit from colleagues of diverse backgrounds who have equal opportunities and resources to flourish in the workplace.

For example—historically, businesses have been male-dominated, but we know that given a fair chance and support, there are many revolutionary women who changed the world of work with a seat at the table.

This is essential to consider. Diverse people contribute diverse ideas. Beyond it being morally right, including people from all cultures and backgrounds will offer you key perspectives and ideas you may miss out on without their involvement. Inclusion is important to members, too, which means it should be important to you.

Here are five ways you can nurture inclusion in your workplace:

1. Lead by Example

An essential step to creating and nurturing an inclusive workplace is to lead by example. This means it’s important to educate all colleagues about why inclusion matters. The best way to do this is to begin with the leadership team. After all, if the higher-ups at a workplace don’t understand the importance of inclusion or how to nurture it, the rest of the team will struggle to follow suit.

The key here is to focus on managers in particular. As the bridge between senior and more junior colleagues, managers will be instrumental in fostering inclusion company-wide. Managers are in a unique position to communicate with employees and improve inclusion on the front line.

Here are a few practical steps to take:

Begin running seminars and workshops to educate employees on the importance of diversity and cultural inclusion. These should be informal, open forums that, while led, should allow employees to ask questions. The important thing here is to be forgiving and patient; these seminars should be treated as learning environments, and if an employee uses inappropriate language (within reason), try to educate, not berate or exclude. Inclusion cannot be nurtured through exclusion.

Another aspect of workplace inclusion is not to simply talk about it but to actualize it. Evaluate the make-up of your C-suite. If the leadership team is mostly white and male, as is the case across many companies, consider the message this sends to more diverse colleagues. Do they feel welcome or that they can progress at your workplace if those in more senior positions don’t reflect the diversity discussed in practice?

You don’t need to fire staff if they’re not of a diverse cultural background, but rather look to the future. If a new position opens up down the line, are you considering suitable candidates from diverse backgrounds? And do your existing leaders foster a welcome environment for more diverse colleagues? These are the types of questions worth asking.

2. Accessibility—a Workplace for Everyone

It’s probably uncontroversial to tell you that different people have different needs. To nurture inclusion in the workplace, it’s important to recognize and act on this.

Consider this example. Some architects (and the company they work on behalf of) are designing a local shopping mall. They design and build this multi-story mall with only stairs. This isn’t because they expect a person in a wheelchair or a parent with a pram to take the stairs, but because they didn’t think to install elevators.

They didn’t consider the fundamental physical needs of these people.

Put yourself in the affected people’s position. How do you think a person who relies on elevator use will feel? What kind of message would those architects be sending to them and the wider community? Would they want to shop there; would they recommend it? The answer probably goes without saying.

It’s not the shopper’s responsibility to accommodate or adapt to the business. If you build a shopping mall, it’s your responsibility to be aware of and accommodate others. A physical workplace should be no different.

coworking space member in a wheelchair

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3. Make Space for Colleagues from All Cultures and Backgrounds (Literally)

This is where changing attitudes come into play—do you practice what you preach? It’s great you hold ongoing educational seminars and workshops on diversity and inclusion—really, it is. They’re a great first step. But to truly embody those ideas, this inclusion has to be enacted in practice.

This doesn’t have to be overly complicated. You can start with little things, like answering these questions:

  • Does your workplace have the facilities to accommodate members with diverse needs?
  • If you have workplace celebrations for days like Christmas, consider members from different religious or cultural backgrounds. How will they feel?

An inclusive initiative you could introduce is pot-luck dinners. This is an opportunity for colleagues to bring in foods from their culture. This allows everyone to be involved and proud to share more of their culture in an equal, welcoming setting.

Worshippers of Islam pray five times a day. Is there a free room in the workplace you could reserve for them to pray undisturbed; could you adjust the schedule of certain meetings to accommodate their faith?

What about returning mothers? Is there a room or private space that could be made available to them to allow them to breastfeed comfortably? Should you operate in a coworking environment, you can consider extending these considerations even further.

These considerations don’t always have to be so serious—they can be fun too. What about implementing a space for games consoles or flexibly zoning your workplace? Inclusion is also about giving spaces and means for coworkers to socialize.

These might sound like simple changes, but they do make a world of difference. These are the types of practical, inclusive steps you could consider taking action on today.

members playing video games at a coworking space

4. Make Space for Colleagues from All Cultures and Backgrounds (Virtually)

In recent times, it has become increasingly common for workers to operate via a blended model of working both from home and a physical workplace—hybrid workers. Some employees, due to circumstances, work exclusively from home. To ensure you’re nurturing inclusion comprehensively, you need to take into account remote employee engagement.

According to the Economist, “before the pandemic Americans spent 5% of their working time at home. By spring 2020 the figure was 60%.” This massive shift to online working requires the workplace to move in tandem.

Working from home can sometimes feel isolating. It’s great that colleagues can work in their own space and get an extra hour in bed, but there are new challenges to be aware of from an inclusivity standpoint.

Employees who have built a relationship with their colleagues are more productive and more comfortable in the workplace and are better collaborators. Virtual face-to-faces will be key to this. Implementing agile systems, like a virtual office phone service, will allow teams to see each other while they communicate their ideas and discuss things like documents and pitches.

A great initiative you could start is, every Friday, you schedule some time for a video call where members can play online games and socialize. In this relaxed environment, employee relationships can naturally develop, and it’s a great way to build trust between remote workers.

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5. Consider Language

Language matters. Words, written and spoken, hold enormous weight when it comes to nurturing inclusion in the workplace. For example, when carrying out coaching in a call center, it can take just a single word for colleagues to feel completely othered and excluded. If you want to foster inclusion, it‘s your responsibility to make sure this is never the case.

Here are some examples of key areas for you to consider:

The wording of documents—when a member reads a document, the language it uses is essential. Write documents for everyone. If you write something but would only consider showing it to a select group, then the language needs to be adapted. For example, where possible remove gendered terms for more neutral substitutes; instead of “husband” or “wife,” use “partner.”

Multilingual colleagues—many people speak multiple languages. Sometimes their native language is not that of the company. Ask yourself, does your workplace allow for colleagues to communicate in any language that is not English? Encourage those colleagues to feel comfortable communicating in that different language, whether that be in the common room or virtual call center.

Multilingual members will open new markets, allowing you to build relationships with new clients, so consider updating and expanding things like your customer onboarding template if you don’t already have one.

Remember also to be forgiving to those non-native speakers who sometimes struggle to find the right word or phrase. Offering them support, even if it’s just some time for them to find that word, can do wonders for how included and welcome they feel.

You may notice that (typically) male members tend to be more vocal in discussions, while female-identifying members are more hesitant or reserved. This isn’t always the case, but if it is in your workplace, you don’t want to risk losing their insight.

Consider introducing a “round-robin” approach to meetings and discussions. This is a technique that gives everyone an equal amount of time to speak without being interrupted. It allows every voice to be heard, which is essential to nurturing an inclusive workplace environment.

Final Thoughts

It’s essential to remember that nurturing inclusion in the workplace is a learning process. If you make mistakes, that’s okay—everyone does. The important thing is to learn from these and not be afraid to ask questions when unsure. Be patient with yourself, and remember that this is an ongoing process. Things won’t become perfect overnight, but with the right mindset and attitude, positive change will come.

The article was written by Jessica Day. Jessica is the Senior Director for Marketing Strategy at Dialpad, a modern business communications platform that takes every kind of conversation to the next level—turning conversations into opportunities. Jessica is an expert in collaborating with multifunctional teams through automated phone systems for small business to execute and optimize marketing efforts, for both company and client campaigns. Here is her LinkedIn. She has also written content for Shift4Shop and lucky orange.

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