What is inclusion? (And how to improve it)

Published by:
Joe Caccavale
September 4, 2020
 min read

What is inclusion?

Inclusion refers to a culture of accepting, welcoming, and offering access to equal opportunities to groups or individuals with different backgrounds.

The difference in backgrounds could be anything from ethnicity, age or gender, through to less visible differences such as education, experience, or personality. 

Inclusion is often described as a sense of belonging. 

Inclusive work cultures are ones that equally value and respect every member of staff, regardless of their identity.

A genuinely inclusive workplace should offer equal opportunities to everyone. No group should be promoted, listened to, or paid more in relation to another.

What inclusion is not

Inclusion isn’t just an indifference to people’s backgrounds.

Just because you’re not discriminating against anyone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being inclusive.

Inclusion entails not just seeing past people's backgrounds, but actually taking them into account in decision-making.

What is the difference between equality diversity and inclusion?

Inclusion is often spoken of alongside diversity and equality.

Whilst they do play a role in upholding and improving one another, there is a distinct difference between the terms.

  • Diversity: the variety in people - whether it be race, gender, education, etc 
  • Equality: treating everyone fairly and equally
  • Inclusion: practices and general culture of allowing people to be themselves and feel valued

How inclusive practice promotes equality and supports diversity

By creating a working environment in which people feel comfortable to be themselves, you’ll naturally attract a more diverse array of talent.

This could be through word of mouth, reviews, or by being transparent around inclusion on your careers page.

Talent from minority backgrounds (not just in terms of race, but also socio-economic and disability) may be deterred from applying to jobs if they feel they’ll be judged or overlooked.

Before you set out to improve diversity, you’ll need to ensure you’ve got an inclusive workplace for people to come to work in first - where diversity is actually valued and appreciated. 

8 tips for improving inclusion in the workplace

1. Find out how new hires like to work before they begin

We send out a ‘Who’s Who’ survey before new hires begin so that everyone knows how best to communicate and work with each other.

Here are some of the headings that we use:

  • Nickname
  • Preferred pronouns 
  • Tasks they like
  • Tasks they avoid
  • Preferred means of contact 
  • Non-negotiables (e.g. family time after 5 pm)
  • Just so you know (e.g. I don’t drink alcohol)
  • Signs of stress
  • What time of day they work best
  • How to tell if they’re too busy to be disturbed

2. Make sure flexible working is an option

Everyone works differently and has different responsibilities outside of work.

If you truly respect that all of your employees have varying needs and stresses, then flexible working options are a must.

Parents or carers, for example, may need to be at home on certain days of the week. If you’re hiring is effective (which you can prove using our data-driven methods), then there’s no reason not to trust employees to deliver on their own terms.

Since people may have needs they’re not comfortable expressing, it’s vital to offer flexibility to all employees, not just those who communicate their need for it.

3. Organise more inclusive socials

Certain types of socials may tend to attract certain types of employees. 

Those who don’t drink, are socially anxious, or have other commitments on Friday evenings may feel excluded from socials if it’s always the classic pub trip.

Try organising different types of socials on different days and at different times of the day.

It could be as simple as a board games evening or a lunch trip.

Showing that you appreciate people’s differences, even in small ways like this, goes a long way towards improving inclusion in the workplace.

4. Ensure decision-making is open and feedback-based

Flexible working, socials etc will only go so far if decision-making is inclusive too.

If decisions are still being made without taking individuals’ needs into account, then the above tips are just bells and whistles, with little substance behind them.

According to Culture Amp, the majority of women in the workforce feel excluded from decision making and uncomfortable expressing their opinions.

Fixing an issue like this doesn’t have to be too difficult.

Where possible, you could ask the wider organisation for feedback before making big decisions - especially where the people function is concerned.

If it’s people you’re trying to help, then why not get direct feedback from those you’re advocating for?

5. Use a text analysis tool to ensure you’re writing is inclusive 

The words you use carry subconscious meaning.

In job descriptions, for example, women can be put off from applying if you use too much masculine-coded language.

This is because certain terms carry hidden meanings - which can be associated with particular gender-norms.

Take a look at some examples from this LinkedIn article.

There’s also the reading burden…

Is the level of complexity and use of jargon appropriate for what you’re writing?

We go deeper into inclusive language in our job description guide - which applies to anything you’re writing.

6. Double-check your dress code

If your organisation has a dress code, you may want to check that it takes into account people from all cultures and backgrounds.

Some black people, for example, feel as if they have to groom their natural hair in order to fit in - which has now become somewhat of a civil right issue.

Although your dress code may not explicitly forbid certain hairstyles/ clothing etc, employees may feel the need to tone themselves down in order to feel comfortable.

Inclusion is about addressing these issues head-on.

7. Track progress using feedback surveys

Although it’s not a concrete metric, inclusion can be gauged through feedback surveys.

Products like Officevibe can be used to collect and analyse employee feedback.

If employees are reporting that they are feeling comfortable and valued at work, then you’re probably doing something right!

Don’t be afraid to share your progress - it shows that you’re taking proactive measures to make people’s work lives better… and you can ask for input and feedback on any areas that are lagging behind.  

8. Look for cultural add, not ‘fit’

You should care about company culture.

It essentially dictates how people work and how well they perform.

But the focus should always be on expanding and improving culture, as opposed to protecting it from change.

Culture fit is basically just a measure of how similar a candidate is to the current makeup of the company.

Instead, look at what someone could add to the company culture, and how well aligned they are to your mission and values.

Applied was designed to remove bias from hiring so that every candidate gets a fair shot, and teams get to hire the best people. Browse our resources to find out how we built diversity and inclusion into every step of the hiring process or feel free to start a free trial of the Applied platform.