Effective strategies to create an inclusive workplace

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated January 30, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

In the 21st century, many employees seek workplaces that make them feel accepted, welcome, and safe. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are values businesses are increasingly prioritizing. Though, despite intentional efforts, creating an inclusive work environment may not happen overnight.  

Making changes in a workplace environment can require actionable steps implemented by leaders within a company. If creating an inclusive workplace is your goal, there are a few practical steps you can begin implementing in your company or suggesting to higher-ups where you work.

You deserve to feel seen and appreciated in the workplace

What is inclusivity, and why does it matter?

Inclusivity is defined as the fact or policy of not excluding anyone based on their gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, or another defensive factor. You may hear of inclusion and diversity used interchangeably. However, there are a few differences. Diversity in the workplace refers to the variation in personal, physical, and social characteristics. Inclusivity in the workplace refers to the methods a company may take to diversify and safeguard diversity in the workplace. 

Inclusion can help create a space of belonging and acceptance. As all humans have different needs, interests, personalities, and identities, acceptance can ensure everyone feels safe and heard. However, in many locations, people are treated poorly and disadvantaged because of their differences. 

When companies prioritize inclusion, tolerance of such differences can grow into acceptance, empathy, and awareness. Individuals can feel empowered to be their authentic selves when they feel included in their workplace, which may boost overall productivity and help all employees feel comfortable in their work environment.

The characteristics of an inclusive workplace

Many people want to show up to work and feel comfortable being themselves. Although a workplace can have policies limiting certain forms of self-expression (such as uniform or hair color restrictions), there are potential ways to show employees that they are accepted as they are and help them feel included.

The characteristics of a diverse and inclusive workplace can vary. However, an inclusive workplace often includes the following characteristics. 

Openness to change 

To create a more inclusive workplace, a company's management may benefit from openness to change and improvement in the work environment. When workplaces are closed off to change or fearful of it, any effort made may be at risk of fizzling out or making little difference. 


Workplace diversity can increase innovation, creativity, flexibility, productivity, and collaboration. Work environments that value diversity may have employees with various talents, thought processes, personalities, and skills. Having diversity at every level within the company can be beneficial, including on a corporate level. If all individuals in management are of a specific gender, race, background, or financial status, those under them may feel their leaders do not represent them.


Employees may benefit from knowing that their company's leaders care about their well-being beyond productivity. Inclusive workplaces often attempt to provide their employees with as many resources as possible, whether educational or otherwise. Some workplaces may have diversity and inclusion groups as a resource for their employees to confide in when they are concerned. This employee resource can be helpful for employee engagement and support.


When employees know they're respected at their place of work, they may feel valued and important. Feeling valued can increase productivity and create a more cooperative environment. Inclusive workplaces often focus on respect by observing the different perspectives of their employees and taking the time to understand their viewpoints. The inclusion of various team members’ viewpoints can help employees feel respected.


Being treated fairly regardless of title, identity, or needs can be essential in a workplace. When employees are recognized because of what they've accomplished and not because of their position, they may feel more pride in their position and be incentivized to do their best work. 


Asking questions can open the door to a deeper understanding of potential problem areas in a business. When management assumes no adjustments need to be made, they may risk stagnation, which can decrease productivity. An openness to learn about other people can go a long way in an inclusive work environment.

Cooperation and teamwork

Inclusive workplaces often focus on teamwork and healthy cooperation, even in the face of disagreements. They may recognize that different opinions are a chance for growth instead of conflict. 

Ability to voice concerns

Employees may feel more motivated at work if they feel they have a voice and that their opinions matter despite their titles or years at the company. Inclusive workplaces take these concerns to heart, and rather than only expressing their apologies, they may work to create change through tangible action. 

Non-inclusive workplace characteristics

Developing an inclusive workplace can be ideal. However, it may not be the reality in every business. Knowing the signs of a non-inclusive workplace can allow you to evaluate your own to see whether any areas could benefit from changes. Examples of exclusion in the workplace include the following.

Avoiding hard conversations

A non-inclusive workplace may have a culture where difficult conversations or healthy conflicts are not encouraged or nurtured. This environment might include management that refuses to take action to address concerns employees have mentioned. 


Another sign of a non-inclusive workplace is harassment, which might be expressed verbally, psychologically, or physically. Employees may face discrimination or harassment because of their race, age, gender, sexual orientation, or other safeguarded identity markers. Any form of harassment is illegal. If you notice harassment in your workplace, report it to your human resources department. 


Micromanaging refers to an employer, or manager, who tries to control every aspect of a situation or project, including minor details. Micromanaging prevents employees from having autonomy over their decisions, timeline, or workload and relies on complete authority rather than collaboration.

Lack of diversity

A non-inclusive workplace may have a workforce that is homogenous, lacking staff from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds. One way to increase diversity in the workplace is to accept cultural hairstyles, interview candidates with unique names, and consider hiring those who identify themselves as being part of the LGBTQ+ community. A lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion can indicate further problems in the workplace.


The impact of non-inclusive workplaces

Non-inclusive workplaces can have an adverse impact on physical and mental health, including the following effects:  

  • Less cooperation
  • Decreased productivity
  • Stunted company growth
  • Lack of trust

Some non-inclusive workplaces can be challenging to identify. One way to know whether an employer prioritizes inclusion is to look at its values and mission statement and the people it employs. 

Feeling excluded at work can contribute to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression. Employees may feel lonely or isolated if they don't have support in their workplace. When someone is experiencing work-related mental health challenges, they may struggle to concentrate, contributing to reduced productivity. 

Creating an environment with mental health awareness

Employers can ensure their workplace promotes acceptance, inclusion, and belonging by increasing diversity, opening conversations about employee needs, and allowing employees to be complex individuals with their own stories and identities. These steps may improve employees' mental health and make the organization more productive and profitable. When inclusion is prioritized, everyone may benefit from it.

The impact of language on inclusivity

Inclusivity often goes beyond actions. Language can be a powerful tool to encourage inclusivity in the workplace. Being sensitive to your language can promote inclusion, respect, acceptance, and belonging. Below are a few tips on using inclusive language at the workplace and in your everyday life.

Use neutral language 

Instead of using gendered terms or biased words, aim for neutral terms that anyone could relate to. For example, you could say "honorable attendees" instead of "ladies and gentlemen" or "servicepeople" instead of "servicemen." 

Avoid contributing to stigma

Using phrases like "OCD," "PTSD," or "depressed" to describe day-to-day challenges or moods can hurt those who live with these real conditions. Seemingly harmless figures of speech can be non-inclusive and stigmatize the reality of people with these mental illnesses. Studies show that destigmatizing mental health is essential, so consider making mental health awareness a staple of your company. 

Ask people about terminology they prefer

Instead of describing someone in person-first or identity-first language, ask them what they prefer. For example, some individuals with a disability prefer to be called a "disabled person," whereas others prefer to be called "a person with a disability." 

Normalize gender inclusivity

Normalize gender inclusivity in the workplace by requiring pronouns on email signatures or badges. Doing so can allow trans and non-binary employees to feel safer giving their pronouns. In addition, respect your employees' chosen name instead of their legal name if they haven't been able to change it legally. 

Actively listen

If someone is concerned about your language, pause and reflect. It could be a learning opportunity and a chance to make changes. 

Even the most well-intentioned people can unknowingly cause harm with the language they use. The goal may not be perfection but progress. If you make a mistake, apologize, and move forward. With time, using language that empowers everyone may feel more available.  

How to be inclusive at work

Below are a few examples of inclusive practices in the workplace that you may consider implementing.

Post inclusion tips in a communal space at the office

Some employees may not be familiar with the best practices for an inclusive workplace. You can help them by offering resources. Consider posting information around the office or leaving it in the break room. You can print inclusivity fliers, advertise diversity events, and remind individuals about pronoun usage.

Use inclusive language

Using inclusive language at every opportunity can encourage your employees to do the same, whether in the monthly newsletter or daily emails.

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. Ensure everyone has the same opportunity to meet each other. You might assign seats to employees to allow them to talk to people they might not usually mingle with.

Offer options 

Some employees may benefit from working remotely, while others may benefit from social stimulation. Some employees want to talk and lead, while others might prefer to work in the background. When you give your employees a chance to choose, they may be more productive, as they are in a more comfortable environment.

Ask for feedback

You may think your workplace is excellent as it is, but your employees may feel differently. You can gather feedback to gauge how everyone feels about the work culture and adjust as needed. 

You deserve to feel seen and appreciated in the workplace

Counseling for those struggling with an exclusive workplace

Creating an inclusive workplace can take time, effort, and consistency. If you're new to the process, consider talking to someone about it. In addition, if you're an employee working somewhere that does not value your diverse identity or inclusion for employees, you may be struggling with mental health concerns. In these cases, talking to a therapist can be beneficial. 

For those with busy schedules, online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp can match you with a mental health professional trained to support you as you navigate the challenges that may come along with a changing workplace culture. With an online therapist, you may also have the option to choose between phone, video, or live chat sessions, depending on your preferences. 

If you're unsure about the effectiveness of internet-based therapy, you can check out studies that have been done on the topic. One study found that four out of ten Americans have used online therapy since 2021, which can be significantly more effective and cost-effective than in-person counseling.


Creating an inclusive workplace can be possible by implementing several actionable steps to ensure inclusivity. If you're in a leadership position at your place of employment, consider being mindful of your language and taking a moment each day to consider how you can do better. If you're struggling with a non-inclusive workplace or other challenges, you can also contact a therapist for guidance.

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