What an inclusive workplace looks like (and 7 ways to achieve it)

What do you imagine when you think of what an inclusive workplace looks like? For many, diversity (the demographic differences of the team), is usually an indicator. However, inclusivity goes beyond the measurable numbers of diversity. Instead, it’s a workplace where everyone is accepted and supported to succeed at their work, regardless of their background, identity or circumstances.

inclusive workplace

While diversity and inclusivity are often seen as being closely linked, there are some examples of how they function separately within organisations. For example, research shows the gap between female and male UK employment rates is the lowest since it was first recorded in 1971, so the UK workforce has higher gender-diversity than ever before. Despite this, in 2018, it was reported that FTSE 100 CEOs were more likely to be called Steve or Dave than they were to be a woman, indicating a lack of inclusive workplaces that nurture all talent equally.

Just this example shows that it’s pretty clear that more businesses could be doing more to tackle the often unconcious bias and prejudices that drive the homogeneity of those in positions of leadership. But what will an inclusive workplace do for your business, and how can you achieve it?

Create a D&I strategy AND choose someone of influence to oversee it

If you want to achieve anything in business, one of the usual first steps to create a robust strategy which clarifies the aims and objectives as well as detailing the steps needed to get you closer to your goal. Creating an inclusive workplace requires the same structured approach. Attempting to improve your businesses inclusivity without a considered strategy is akin to setting yourself up for failure; there will be no way to tell if anything has worked, if your approach needs altering, or how far it’s progressed.

This is where D&I strategies come in. They are used as a holistic approach to improving businesses’ diversity and inclusivity and are becoming increasingly common. Research shows that industries including retail and consumer goods, pharmaceutical and healthcare, and technology are amongst those leading the way to dedicate a C-suite position to D&I. This ensures that both the D&I and corporate strategy are aligned and is set as a priority amongst the business leaders.

By following in these footsteps, your business can keep ahead of the curve and build a reputation as a D&I leader within your industry. This will come with many benefits, including your ability to attract and retain top talent.

Click here to read our article about how D&I strategies can create a work culture of high performance.

Don’t rely on targeted recruitment alone

Remember that D&I strategies are more than a numbers game. A downfall of many businesses implementing the strategy is that diversity is prioritised because the results are easily measurable, and an increase in diversity can initially be achieved through targeted recruitment.

This kind of approach alone cuts corners and fails to tackle the underlying problems. If there’s been a lack of diversity at a business for a long time, there are probably deeper reasons relating to prejudice and poor work culture behind it. Bringing in more diverse employees isn’t going to solve that. In fact, the lack of inclusion in the culture means that you may well experience issues in retaining the new hires.

A highly inclusive workplace will also be a driver of diversity by itself as there is less bias, so diversity becomes something that naturally follows inclusive cultures.

Organisational structures

While an inclusive workplace is created by people with the right attitude and approach to difference, the organisational structure can also affect how inclusive a business is or can dictate how easy it is to adopt an effective D&I strategy.

Traditionally, businesses have been hierarchical. In order to exist, this structure requires inherent inequality between employees of different positions. However, hierarchical organisations can still be inclusive. A lack of equality can be replaced with equity, where employees are not treated the same but are instead treated according to their individual needs. Hierarchical structures should also consider placing a C-suite professional in charge of inclusion so D&I is continually championed by someone with power and influence.

Adopting an inclusive workplace in flat and holacratic organisational structures may be easier since there’s less hierarchy. Additionally, non-hierarchical structures are usually smaller businesses where the rollout of a D&I strategy is less challenging. These structures don’t come without their problems. Informal hierarchies and ‘cliques’ can quickly become an issue that threatens inclusivity.

It’s not easy to transition your business from one structure to another, but by weighing up the pros and cons, you can see which challenges are specific to your business.

Inclusive leadership

Inclusive leadership is essential for creating an inclusive workplace. Leaders should embody all the values of an organisations culture; if inclusivity is one of these values, leaders need to be authentic role models in promoting it. This means they should genuinely believe in what you’re trying to achieve so that D&I is aligned with all actions and processes, rather than taking a tick-box approach to solving any issues.

While cause and effect have not yet been fully established, research has linked positive relationships between the line manager and employee to inclusion, showcasing the key part management plays in advocating and maintaining an inclusive workplace. Without the right people in place, it won’t matter how diverse your team; the right work culture can’t be achieved if those leading the teams are not inclusive themselves.

To find out more about inclusive talent management, click here.

Measure your progress

Once you have decided you want to pursue an inclusive workplace environment and have created a robust strategy to manage its implementation, you need to measure your progress. Without doing so, there’s no way of knowing how effective your strategy has been, and the adoption of new inclusive practices may well fizzle out after the initial push.

It’s crucial that inclusivity remains at the forefront of measuring progress. It’s all too easy to revert to simply measuring diversity, but that only reflects part of the picture. One of the most accurate ways to measure progress is by asking employees whether they think it’s inclusive. You can ask them to share both their own perceptions of their feelings of inclusion as well as their perception of the businesses practices. Ask the difficult questions by provding anonymity for participants and using an independent experienced and qualified facilitator. However, if the current employee base is relatively homogenous, measures of inclusion may not tell the whole story.

Consult the experts

Even with your own research, it’s a challenge to create an inclusive workplace without the input of experts who can advise and guide you through the process. This approach will make it easier to deliver lasting and impactful change to your organisation which benefits all the stakeholders, from financial to employees.

While outsourcing the work requires investment, plenty of research showcases the increased profitability that comes with better D&I practices, so the ROI should outweigh the work it takes to get there.

Additionally, fair, inclusive and transparent thinking should be prioritised over exclusively bottom-line thinking. A culture that revolves around the first three will drive profitability.


There are lots of steps you can take to ensure you have an inclusive workplace for all. Even if you are happy with the culture that you currently have, looking for areas that can be improved sets a precedent of continuous progress in everyone’s interests. After all, if some people feel included in a workplace while others do not, the workplace is simply not an inclusive one. By prioritising workplace inclusivity, you will be strengthening your business as well as creating a positive broader social impact. What have you got to lose?

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