How to promote a workplace culture of diversity and inclusion

What does it mean for an organization to build an inclusive culture? Like with any change, embracing greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace may come with challenges along the way. It requires getting buy-in from throughout your organization—from leadership at the top all the way down to your junior employees. It also means placing a premium on doing the right thing by encouraging everyone to feel welcome within your business.  

In addition to being the right thing to do, there's growing evidence that creating a culture of belonging and inclusion can positively impact your company's bottom line. Recent research from LRN—both the Benchmark of Ethical Culture and the 2022 Ethics & Compliance Program Effectiveness Report—shows that an organization dedicated to sustainable human values like diversity and inclusion will exhibit superior performance across operations and be significantly more successful at integrating ethics and compliance into its day-to-day operations. In fact, organizations with more ethical cultures outperform

This year, Bain & Company released a report titled The Fabric of Belonging: How to Weave an Inclusive Culture. This report outlines how organizations can better incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into business operations. Let's take a closer look at the findings and examine some best practices on how you can embrace inclusivity. 

Inclusive cultures are an ethical necessity 

First off, it's important to recognize that beyond any business benefits you may derive from encouraging DEI efforts, companies should take these actions because they are ethical ones to take.  

Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace is about creating an environment that welcomes all people, no matter what demographic they are in. This is a baseline value that all organizations should share, regardless of their industry or mission. 

DEI also helps strengthen your business in a multitude of ways. According to the Bain report, "approximately 65% of people across identity groups view an inclusive environment as 'very important' when considering new roles." In a tight hiring market, it's critical to understand what candidates value. Establishing an inclusive environment makes your company more likely to land top performers.  

The report also found that employees who feel as if they are "fully included" within their organization are much more likely to become advocates for their company with people they know, promoting it externally. Bain used the Net Promoter Score methodology to uncover the "percentage of promoters minus the number of detractors." Their calculation determined that respondents who felt fully included were 14 times more likely to be promoters.  

Everyone values inclusion in the workplace 

Everyone sees inclusion as a crucial value for their organization to hold. The challenge that the report details is that “inclusion” means different things to different people.  

For example, the Bain Inclusive Organization Survey referenced in the report found that when looking at one specific demographic (in this case, Black women), the enablers that they perceived to foster inclusion didn't quite align with the enablers that actually did impact their inclusion. For example: 

  • 25% of the high-impact enablers like open communication and professional coaching/development weren't evaluated as high impact.  
  • Meanwhile, 20% of enablers, such as performance check-ins and team feedback meetings, actually had less impact than these employees perceived.  

As your company is attempting to be more inclusive, you may find yourself having to create a balance in which all employees are made to feel included without excluding others. The problem sometimes is that not everyone really knows what true inclusion looks like—it's more of a feeling that can be hard to define.  

Building an inclusive culture is more than simply acknowledging a desire to be inclusive. It's about confronting just how challenging that reality is. One of the first steps in the process, however, is to understand that it's something that matters to everyone. 

Achieving workplace inclusion is far from simple 

The report also found that fewer than 30% of respondents felt included within their current company. That swath of data extended across multiple populations, so it wasn't one group in particular that stood out as feeling excluded. Here's a breakdown of the demographics along with how included they felt (Note: respondents came from the US, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, and Italy, and the United Kingdom): 

  • Straight white men: 24% 
  • Straight white women: 25% 
  • Black men: 25% 
  • Black women: 22% 
  • Latino men: 24% 
  • Latino women: 26% 
  • Asian men: 16% 
  • Asian women: 20% 
  • LGBTQ+ men: 24% 
  • LBGTQ+ women: 29% 

Unfortunately, inclusion can be difficult because each employee has a different set of experiences they bring to the table. They all bring their own history of experiencing bias or injustice at varying levels. That can make it challenging to meet everyone where they are at, and truly make them feel like they belong.  

The best remedy for this? Providing your employees with a voice as well as fostering a culture of transparency. Your team members should feel comfortable defining what inclusion means for them, and your leadership should do the best they can to make that their reality.  

Knowing employee experiences can help diversity and inclusion in the workplace 

Understanding the data behind which groups are represented within your organization—and at what levels—will help you better acclimate your DEI efforts to each group’s unique needs and experiences.  

There are measures you can take across all populations that will help foster inclusion. For example, the Bain report found that the most effective enablers across all of the demographics they surveyed included offering growth opportunities (16 populations found this effective) and open, honest communication (12 populations found this effective). 

There's also a distinction between behavioral and systemic enablers: 

  • Behavioral enablers focus on ideas such as offering growth opportunities, fostering a sense of community, and open communication.  
  • Systemic enablers focus on structural, organizational enablers such as promotions, company values, DEI goals, and encouraging "safe spaces" with supervisors.  

In looking at three specific demographics, the report found that Black women saw systemic enablers as doing more for fostering inclusion, while white men and women focused more on behavioral enablers. Understanding how different members of your employee base experience your workplace culture can inform how to make it more inclusive.  

The most important step towards an inclusive culture: Getting started 

You may feel the pressure to immediately create as inclusive a culture as possible. But on the road to optimal inclusion in the workplace, it is important to recognize and accept that your organization is likely going to make mistakes. What's less important than perfection, however, is paving the road to progress with daily, incremental changes your employees can feel at every level. It's about using inclusive language in company-wide emails. It's about actively incorporating DEI training. It's about taking a no-tolerance approach to harassment and taking reports of it seriously. 

An example of a concrete action you can take to increase inclusiveness is having a mentorship program within the company. In the Bain report, 44% of respondents who did not feel fully included also did not have a mentor within the organization. Conversely, 31% of respondents reporting full inclusion did have a mentor to guide them. 

The key takeaway 

Ultimately, workplace inclusion is a complex but vital component of any successful business. By pledging to do the hard work needed to be more inclusive with a robust DEI program, you'll gain access to a workforce that performs better and is happier with the organization.  

Looking for more information on how to embrace DEI within your organization? LRN has more tips and best practices for how you can improve the way your employees feel at work.