Article: What needs to be done before building an inclusive workplace

Learning & Development

What needs to be done before building an inclusive workplace

Inclusion is welcoming, sustaining and strengthening diversity by embracing and respecting differences in the workplace.
What needs to be done before building an inclusive workplace

Diversity and inclusivity are the most talked about topics these days. Some organisations have built a diverse and inclusive workplace; while others aspire to create their identity. Yet, at the same time, few organisations are already thriving as diverse and inclusive workplaces. 

As rightly said, diversity is a fact, whereas inclusion is a choice. Diversity varies from demography to age, gender, religion, caste, and community.

Inclusion is welcoming, sustaining and strengthening diversity by embracing and respecting differences in the workplace. 

As per the McKinsey report, an inclusive organisation is two times as likely to exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high performing, six times more likely to be agile and innovative and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes. 

However, many organisations with aspirations to become inclusive begin with initiatives, programs and standalone interventions. Consequently, the impact of such interventions is not sustainable. While going through a few empirical investigations, the core to building an inclusive workplace is to identify, create and strengthen PALS- 

  • P-Progressive culture 
  • A-Allyship 
  • L-Leaders’ sponsorship 
  • S-Sustainable practices 

Progressive culture 

An organisation can be inclusive through its forward-thinking and progressive approach toward people and diversity. 

Before building an inclusive organisation, it is essential to identify and define the purpose of being inclusive. An organisation needs to have a vital purpose behind being inclusive, and employees should be aware of the intent of being inclusive, keeping the organisation's context in mind. In these turbulent times, organisations are already experiencing a talent shortage and engagement and retention of talent. Therefore, an organisation should identify inclusion concerns and initiate actions consciously around the same.

The purpose of an inclusive workplace is to create a safe and respected workplace. A workplace where an employee feels psychological safety to bring their their authentic self to work. They are open to sharing their point of view without fearing being judged, in an environment where ideas cultivate innovation, and honest disagreements are welcome. As a result, people feel empowered and enabled. 

Progressive culture fosters a progressive mindset contributing to building an inclusive workplace. Organisational policies are essential enablers to embedding inclusion in the workplace. For example, policies related to LGBTQ, maternity and paternity leave, recruitment policies, pay parity, promotion and performance evaluations, sabbatical and returning mothers, people with disability etc. 

These policies strengthen the organisation's core and bring a framework for everyone. Progressive culture fosters a progressive mindset. An advanced civilization can build and reinforce employee connections and social capital within the organisation. 


Institutions can only be inclusive if they can build strong allies within and outside the organisation. Allyships is a structured, systematic way of driving and embedding inclusion through employees. Allyship allows employees to become contributors, collaborators, accomplices and advocates. These allies not only guide and lead inclusion but can give insights from representing various cohorts and can influence policies, practices and initiatives within the organisation. Allyships bring us closer to the business, field, and reality, as well as helps in seeking the commitment of various stakeholders in embedding inclusion as a fabric of the organisation. Companies can also look at collaborating with diverse external communities representing different cohorts and standing for them in society. Henceforth, allies can catalyse drive and create an inclusive workplace. 

Leaders' sponsorship and support

As per the Mc Kinsey report of August 2022, 82% of the CEOs from some of the world's largest organisations have prioritised culture in the past three years, increasing employee engagement and improving diversity and inclusion. However, a previous Heidrick and Struggles study showed that only 27% of leaders reported that their company was broadly inclusive. As a result, the onus of building a diverse and inclusive organisation is often human resources or the diversity and inclusion head/Lead. 

Inclusion has to drive from the top inevitably. Leaders and people managers are the most prominent anchor and sponsors of inclusion in the workplace. Leaders and people managers first need to identify the stage of inclusion in their enterprise to understand the differences experienced by the employees. Apart from the understanding through various surveys and audit data, they are stepping up and getting engaged with people, listening to them, and doing open houses and town halls, where people can discuss, voice out and feel heard. Organisations are also leveraging AI to connect with a more extensive base of employees and closed-loop feedback. 

Once the leaders understand the gap, they can create a firm purpose of what being inclusive means to their organisation—bringing solid context to their people. Hence, every employee finds meaning in the inclusive workplace. 

As per the companies, Best Places to Works report 2020, one scored 75% higher for an inclusive culture because leaders know to create an inclusive environment daily and a better work environment for everyone, regardless of background. 

Leaders go through sensitisation and awareness interventions where they learn about inclusive behaviour and unconscious biases. They are very much involved from the beginning. They drive the agenda of inclusion in the workplace. Leaders demonstrate behaviour like authentic listening, open communication, empathy and running inclusive meetings, delegating with an intent to give opportunities and creating empowerment. They provide honest feedback, develop talent through coaching, resolve conflict fairly, and create an inclusive environment. 

As per the Deloitte report 2017, 71% of the respondents valued working for an organisation with leadership that consistently demonstrates inclusive behaviours over one with mixed quality of inclusion and initiatives offered as opposed to working for an organisation with high-quality inclusion programming but inconsistent leadership behaviours. 

Sustainable interventions 

As inclusion has become a global plan for organisations, we want to take the best foot forward. We want to deploy the best practices. However, it is significant for us to step back and see what will be sustainable in our ecosystem. There are various touch points within an employee life cycle which can strengthen one's sense of belongingness and commitment if the ecosystem is inclusive. 

Every employee represents a different age and gender and goes through different life stages. Hence, an organisation can create interventions around the same. 

A new employee joining the organisation is looking forward to a welcoming environment and approachable leadership and support system. 

A returning employee from maternity would need an assurance of protection of her role, performance ratings etc. 

Instead of solving a glass ceiling, let us solve for broken rung, a life stage of women in their career of first-level manager aspirational promotion which if they don't make it hits them badly. 

One shoe doesn't fit all. Hence the developmental interventions should be based on the principle of equity and not equality. Moreover, the needs of different generations and employees as per their career ladder are different. Therefore, equity and not equality should be the principle while offering developmental interventions like mentoring, reverse mentoring, coaching, shadowing and capability journey.  

One of the surveys of Deloitte cited those participants who shared their experience of an inclusive culture-

  1. 47% of the employees surveyed shared where they feel comfortable being themselves 
  2. 39%   shared an environment that provides a sense of purpose where they feel like they make an impact. 
  3. 36% shared a place where work flexibility (parental leave, ability to work remotely, flexible scheduling etc.) is a top priority.

Building an inclusive workplace is a movement to be sustained at your workplace consciously. Leaders and employees need to demonstrate tenacity, openness and a high sense of awareness to embed inclusion as a core of the organisation.


This article was first published in October 2022.

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Topics: Learning & Development, Diversity, #GuestArticle, #DEIB, #Future of Work

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