How To Create An Inclusive Workplace

Updated September 30, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Now more than ever, employees are looking for workplaces that make them feel accepted, welcome, and safe. Diversity and inclusion are important values many businesses are getting more serious about, and employees are specifically trying to work at the businesses putting these values at the forefront. Creating an inclusive work environment doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it is something you must be intentional and actionable about. When it feels like the work is done, there’s always more to be doing. If an inclusive workplace culture is your goal, keep reading to gain insight on how to make it a reality. Looking into online therapy services might be beneficial if you aren't experiencing inclusion in the workplace. 

You Deserve To Feel Seen & Appreciated In The Workplace

What is Inclusivity? 

Inclusivity can be thought of as a way of life, a mindset, and a process. Inclusivity, therefore, is about leveling the playing field for everyone and ensuring all people feel valued. 

Why is Inclusivity Important? 

Inclusion is important because it creates a sense of belonging and fuels acceptance. Humans are unique individuals. We all have different needs, interests, personalities, and identities. While everyone should ideally be accepted exactly as they are, this isn’t always the case. People can be put at a disadvantage because of their differences. When people are scared of differences, whether they be racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, or otherwise, they might exclude others from that place of fear. Inclusion, on the other hand, allows tolerance to grow so that people can be accepting of each other despite how different they might be from one another. When people are included, they are empowered to be themselves, which benefits everyone. 

What Settings Does Inclusion Apply To? 

Each and every day, there are an endless number of opportunities to include or exclude someone. Creating a society that is more diverse and accepting often begins in the home and then stretches out from there. However, inclusion applies in the workplace, at school, in public, and anywhere else you can think of. Of course, inclusivity will look different in each of these settings, but the core values will remain the same. 

The Characteristics of an Inclusive Workplace

Most people want to show up to work and feel comfortable enough to be themselves. Although a workplace can choose to strip people of their individuality sometimes (such as by requiring a uniform or natural hair colors), in general, there are still plenty of ways to show employees that they are accepted as they are. The characteristics of a diverse and inclusive workplace will vary, meaning there is a lot of freedom when deciding what your workplace will look and feel like. Some common characteristics of an inclusive workplace can include:

  • Openness to change: When a workplace realizes that the environment they’ve created isn’t as diverse or accepting as they’d like, they must be open to making changes to improve the situation. When workplaces are closed off to change or fearful of it, it’s hard to create more positive outcomes. 

  • Diversity: Although the people at a company may all be very different from one another, this should be something that brings them together rather than pushing them apart. Workplace diversity can increase innovation, creativity, flexibility, productivity, and collaboration. Work environments that value diversity will usually have employees with a wide range of talents, thought processes, personalities, and skills. There should be diversity at every level within the company, including different cultures, beliefs, and lifestyles, among other identities. Together, they will work toward a common goal while retaining their individuality. 

  • Resources: Employees need to know that their company’s leaders care about their well-being, beyond just being productive workers. Inclusive workplaces attempt to provide as many resources as they can to their employees, whether educational or otherwise. Some workplaces even have diversity and inclusion groups as a resource for their employees to confide in when they have a concern. 

  • Respect: When employees know they’re respected at their place of work, they feel valued and important. This can increase their productivity and create a more cooperative environment. Inclusive workplaces focus on respect by hearing the different perspectives of their employees and taking the time to understand where they’re coming from. They realize that differences are to be embraced, accepted, and celebrated.

  • Sense of belonging: Employees who feel included at work will naturally feel a sense of belonging. They may not think or act like the colleagues next to them, but at least they know they are accepted as they are. 

  • Fairness: Everyone deserves to be treated equally at work no matter what their title is. When employees are recognized because of what they’ve accomplished and not because of their position, they’re more likely to feel pride in their work. As a result, they’re able to be more productive and believe that the work they do matters. 

  • Curiosity: Asking questions is paramount to learning more so that improvements can be made. Respectful curiosity can help a company’s leaders discover problem areas and things that may need to be changed. Assuming everything is fine as is leads to stagnation, which decreases productivity. Employers should always be focused on being better than they were the day before. 

  • Cooperation and teamwork: Inclusive workplaces focus on teamwork and healthy cooperation, even when there are disagreements. They recognize that seeing things differently is a chance for growth and not a setback. 

  • Ability to voice concerns: Every employee should feel that they have a voice at work. They should know their opinion matters despite their title or how long they’ve been at the company. Inclusive workplaces take these concerns to heart and, rather than simply expressing their apologies, they work to create change through tangible action. 

There are many more examples of inclusion in the workplace but looking for these can be a great place to start. Belonging to an inclusive workplace can make you feel like you’re on top of the world. It is something every employer should strive to have, as well as each employee. Building a diverse and inclusive work environment does take time, effort, and learning, but it’s always worth the positive outcomes you’re sure to see. 

Non-Inclusive Workplace Characteristics

Having an inclusive workplace is important, but it’s not something that everyone gets the chance to experience. Many people are employed in non-inclusive workplaces but don’t realize it. They might just recognize that something is off or not how it should be. How can you tell which category your workplace falls into? You can look for non-inclusive workplace practices. Examples of exclusion in the workplace could include: 

  • Avoiding hard conversations: Workplaces that don’t value inclusion may be more likely to avoid the tough conversations. When an employee expresses their dissatisfaction with something, such as feeling like they don’t belong, their concerns are often brushed under the rug. Managers and other leaders take no real action to alleviate their concerns. 

  • Harassment: A key sign of a non-inclusive workplace is any type of harassment. This could be verbal, psychological, or physical, among others. Employees may face discrimination or harassment because of their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or other identity markers. This is illegal and should always be reported. Inclusive employers take these reports seriously and do everything they can to prevent these situations from happening. 

  • Speaking over others: Employees in non-inclusive workplaces may not feel like they have a voice or that their opinion doesn’t matter. They might be interrupted in meetings, ignored, or spoken over. None of these are inclusive practices. 

  • Micromanaging: Micromanaging refers to a boss or manager who attempts bosses or managers who attempt to control every little aspect of their employee’s work. It is a non-inclusive practice because it doesn’t allow a person autonomy over their own decisions, timeline, or workload. It assumes that managers know the manager knows best and relies on complete authority rather than collaboration. 

  • Withholding information: Withholding information, whether about an important work meeting or an upcoming event, can be an intentionally exclusive behavior. Of course, it’s always wise to be sure these actions were intentional and not an accident. 

  • Inappropriate events: Inclusive workplaces consider the needs of every employee. A workplace that hosts a hiking trip for their employees even though one is wheelchair-bound would not be considered inclusive. There are always alternative options so that everyone can feel included. 

  • Lack of diversity: If you look around and everyone seems the same, it may be a sign you’ve wandered into a workplace that isn’t committed to diversity or inclusivity. Non-inclusive workplaces usually won’t mind that their values or policies are exclusive, whereas inclusive workplaces will at least be taking steps to create change because they care. 

If you think that you’re a part of a non-inclusive workplace, you may feel disheartened. However, before you try to move to a new job, it could be helpful to voice your concerns to your employer and see how they respond. Sometimes employers aren’t aware of the culture they’ve created or have never been challenged before. Those that genuinely care for their employees will take these concerns to heart and try to make the environment more inclusive for everyone. 

The Impact of Non-Inclusive Workplaces

Non-inclusive workplaces can have negative physical and mental health effects, not to mention the cost to the employer. Below are some examples of these effects: 

  • Mental Health Challenges: Feeling excluded at work can contribute to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Employees may feel lonely or isolated, especially if they don’t have anyone to turn to. When mental health challenges are rampant at work, employees can’t concentrate as easily, tend to be less creative, and may display reduced productivity. 

  • Less cooperation: It can be a combination of sadness, anger, or other emotions that cause an employee to withdraw or react. It’s important that each individual feels the freedom to be themselves despite differences. 

  • Decreased productivity: The more diverse an organization is, the more productive are and the greater profitability they’re able to achieve. Diversity promotes innovation, a bigger pool of talent, and better performance from employees. It brings new perspectives to the table and allows problems to be solved with greater speed. When diversity isn’t valued, everyone is negatively impacted as result— even the company. 

  • Stunted growth: Since inclusive workplaces encourage innovation, non-inclusive workplaces tend to stunt a company’s growth. Not only that, but employees may fail to grow as well. When people are surrounded by the same perspectives and ideas day after day, they don’t have the opportunity to be challenged. The workplace and the employees can easily become stagnant. 

  • Less trust: Employees that feel judged, excluded, or left out are less likely to trust their colleagues and upper management. They may not voice how they really feel and choose to remain quiet instead. The result is that the employer loses out on the employee's unique perspective, insight, and ideas. The employer may not experience as much growth as they had envisioned, stunting productivity and ultimately the bottom line.  

Some non-inclusive workplaces can be hard to spot until you take a closer look. The surest way to know that an employer values inclusion is to look at their values and mission statement and the people they employ. If there isn’t anything about diversity or inclusion, or all their employees seem all too similar to one another, it may be a sign of a non-inclusive workplace. Luckily, you have the opportunity to search for an employer that appreciates diversity and seeks to make everyone feel included.  

Non-Inclusive Workplaces and Mental Health

Many employers are already committed to creating a workplace that is accepting of all types of people, while others are still in the process. 

Many different disparities have existed in the mental health care system for decades. They are the result of factors like poverty, genetics, poor legislation, environmental conditions, poor quality of care, societal stigmas, and more. For example, those belonging to minority groups are less likely to reach out for help. In certain racial and ethnic groups, there is a bigger stigma surrounding mental health, which makes many people shy away from trying to get support. When they do finally look for someone to talk to, they often don’t receive quality care. Providers may downplay their concerns or not take them seriously. Often, minorities have mental health disorders that go undiagnosed and untreated. 

There is also a lack of representation in the mental health care field, meaning it’s much harder for minorities to find a mental health professional they can connect with and confide in. Around 86% of psychologists are white, 5% are Asian, and 4% are Black, which doesn’t match the racial makeup of the country. 

Further, socioeconomic factors make it harder for certain groups to receive care at all. Treatment can be expensive, and not everyone can afford even the most affordable options. When free resources do exist, they may exist in a limited quantity or they may not be enough for the individual’s needs. 

Creating an Environment with Mental Health Awareness

Employers can help turn things around by ensuring that their workplace promotes acceptance, inclusion, and belonging. Not only will these steps improve the mental health of employees, but they will make the organization more productive and profitable as well. When inclusion is prioritized, everyone benefits from it. 

The Impact of Language on Inclusivity

Inclusivity goes beyond actions; it also extends to the words you choose to use. Believe it or not, how you speak to yourself and others matters. Language is a very powerful tool that can be used for harm or for good. Failure to use inclusive language can cause someone to feel rejected or excluded, even if that wasn’t the intention. However, being sensitive to the language you use can promote inclusion, respect, acceptance, and belonging. These are things to strive for. Below is a quick guide to using inclusive language at the workplace and in your everyday life:

  1. Use neutral language: Instead of using gendered terms or biased words, aim for neutral terms that anyone could relate to. 
  2. Don’t contribute to stigma: Using phrases like “OCD,” “PTSD,” or “depressed” to describe day-to-day challenges or moods can hurt those who live with these very real conditions. Seemingly harmless figures of speech can be non-inclusive and stigmatize the experience and reality of the people with these mental health disorders.  
  3. Use person-first terms: Instead of describing someone as a disabled person, recognize that they are a person with a disability. In this way, you make it clear that you see them as a person first and that their disability does not define them.

  4. Listen: If someone voices concerns about the language you are using, pause and reflect. It could be a learning opportunity and a chance to make changes. 

The most important thing to remember when it comes to inclusive language is to make sure your intentions are good. You should also recognize that even the most well-intentioned people can cause harm unknowingly. Know that no one is perfect, and you probably won’t use inclusive language correctly all of the time. When you make a mistake or someone voices that they felt excluded by something you said, apologize and take it as a learning lesson. Be sure to forgive yourself, too. With time, using language that empowers everyone should become easier and easier. 

How To Be Inclusive At Work

Are you wondering how to be more inclusive at work? Supporting people of all classes, genders, races, backgrounds, and identities is a possibility. It takes education, learning, and patience, but is certainly achievable. Here are some examples of inclusive practices in the workplace that you may consider implementing: 

  • Post inclusion tips for the workplace: Not everyone will be familiar with best practices for an inclusive workplace. You can help them out by offering plenty of resources. Consider posting information around the office or leaving it in the breakroom.

  • Use inclusive language: Whether it’s in the monthly newsletter or daily emails, using inclusive language at every opportunity can encourage your employees to do the same. 

  • Create connection: Creating opportunities for connection among your employees can help foster a sense of belonging in the workplace. You can host mixers and other events that bring everyone together. 

  • Give options: Some employees like to work remotely, while others need social stimulation. Some like to talk a lot and lead, while others would rather work in the background. When you give your employees the chance to choose, they’ll usually be more productive because they’re in an environment that’s comfortable. Plus, they’ll respect that you trust their individuality and are willing to honor their choices. 

  • Ask for feedback: You may think your workplace is on track to be inclusive, but your employees may feel differently. You can gather feedback, even anonymously, to gauge how everyone feels about the work culture. Then, you can make adjustments as needed. 

Inclusion at work is just as important as everywhere else. It should be something to strive for no matter where you are or who you’re with. The more people feel included and accepted, the better world we can create. 

Ways to Cope on Your Own

Whether you’re at work or home, learning healthy ways to cope with life’s challenges is important. If you can’t see a therapist or don’t feel it’s the right time to see one, there are plenty of things you can do yourself to help. Below are some different techniques you can try to regulate your emotions and reduce stress.

  • Connect with friends: During difficult times, friends can help lift you back up and encourage you to keep going. They can also offer great advice. If you don’t already have a close support network of friends, do your best to make new ones or strengthen old ties. Needing other people for advice or support does not make you weak. It makes you human. 

  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a kind of meditation practice that can help keep you grounded in the current moment. It helps you identify what you’re feeling without judging those emotions. Mindfulness can reduce stress, bring a sense of relaxation, and promote better emotional regulation. 

  • Take care of yourself physically: Maintaining your physical health can also benefit your mental health. You should aim to get 7 or more hours of sleep each night as an adult. Some people will need more or less than 7 hours; you can find your own sweet spot. It’s also vital to eat healthy meals and get your body moving at least a little each day. Try to spend 30 minutes exercising each day whether you’re doing heavy cardio or something lighter like yoga. 

Whether you’re experiencing an unwelcoming work atmosphere or are dealing with personal problems, practicing self-care is never a bad idea. Everyone needs something different to move past the obstacles standing in their way. Find what works best for you, and keep utilizing those methods until you’re ready for something new. 

You Deserve To Feel Seen & Appreciated In The Workplace

Finding Extra Support

Creating an inclusive workplace takes time, effort, and consistency. If you’re new to the process, you may consider talking to someone about it. At BetterHelp, an online therapy medium, you’ll be matched with a mental health professional who is trained in the areas you’re needing support in. Whether you’re navigating your workplace or home life, a BetterHelp therapist can offer you the extra help you’ve been needing. You will need a Wi-Fi connection, some type of device, and a comfortable, private place to meet with your therapist. Once you’re ready to begin the process of receiving care with BetterHelp, be sure to reach out to get started. 

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

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