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As employers, we should commit ourselves to creating a workplace that values diversity and inclusion. We hear a lot about diversity and what it means for employers, but what does inclusion in the workplace look like?

An inclusive workplace is one where employees feel supported, respected and valued for who they are. Employees feel comfortable sharing their input, asking for help, collaborating with coworkers, and participating in decision-making processes.

Though inclusion is closely connected to diversity, it is different. Diversity is about representation. Inclusion is about feeling included. It is about employees feeling like they have a voice and can be their true selves.

Many employers believe that if their team is made up of respectful, compassionate individuals, then an inclusive culture will develop from this automatically. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

Having individuals who are committed to inclusion is a great start, but this must be supported by policies and procedures.

Don’t expect this can be done easily and quickly through a single policy update. Instead it takes consistent, conscientious effort and many small changes that cumulatively have an impact on an organization’s culture.

Employers should be prepared to take a hard look at how biases influence decision-making and employment practices within their organization and commit themselves to creating a safe space for employees to share their perspectives.

Here are a few tips and best practices for building an inclusive workplace culture:

Talk with Your Employees

Start by getting your team involved. Ask employees about their own experiences with diversity and inclusion. Give them an opportunity to provide feedback about what is and isn’t working in your organization and what changes they would like to see.

While this is an opportunity to engage your employees, it also gives employees the opportunity to play a part in shaping the future of your organization. Employees feeling invested in your organization also contributes to an inclusive culture.

This is not a conversation or project for your human resources team alone. You need to involve employees from across the organization to represent diverse perspectives, roles, and departments.

Create Processes for Feedback

It is important that employees feel empowered to provide feedback and add their voice to decision-making process.

You can invite employees to share their feedback and concerns as part of your annual review process, or you may want to create a feedback and satisfaction survey where employees can share their perspective anonymously.

Some employees feel comfortable voicing their opinions in large group meetings, but others may need a one-on-one setting to do this. What is comfortable for one employee may not be comfortable for others, so it is a good idea to have more than one avenue for providing feedback.

Update Your Employee Handbooks

Your handbook should have robust anti-discrimination and harassment and bullying policies, as well as disability and religious accommodation policies. These are necessary to be in compliance with federal and state laws.

However, you can do more with your handbook than just check off compliance boxes. Your handbook is also a key employee communication tool and can serve as a platform for defining and sharing your vision to create a diverse, inclusive workplace.

Finally, your handbook should outline the processes you have in place for employees to report incidents of bullying, harassment and discrimination. It should also describe what process employees should follow to share more general concerns and feedback. Once these policies are established and have been distributed to employees, your HR and management teams must make sure these policies are uniformly enforced.

Bias Training

Implement training that enables employees to gain awareness and understanding of unconscious biases and the effect these have on decisions we make.

We all have biases, which are preferences in favor of, or against a person, group of people, or thing. Often, we make assumptions or judgements about other people without even realizing we’re doing it. In fact, our brains are wired to do this. The problem is that our biases blind us to experiences, perspectives and ideas that are different from our own, which affects everything from who we choose to work with or ask for advice to how we make decisions.

This is why it’s so important for our employees, managers especially, to receive training that helps us examine our own biases and patterns of thinking. With conscious effort, unconscious biases can be overcome. As employers, we can facilitate training to help our employees, and ourselves, do this.

Outsource Your HR

Larger organizations often have diversity and inclusion experts on staff to lead their effort. Small and medium-sized businesses don’t have the resources to do this. Their HR teams, if they have one, lack the time and resources to research and develop the necessary programs, policies, and training materials.

Small and medium-sized employers may need to partner with a third-party for support. A full-service HR and compliance firm can help business owners create employee handbook and ensure compliance with state and federal equal employment opportunity laws. Their team of experts can also provide anti-bias and anti-discrimination training for managers and employees.

An inclusive workplace is not something you can create overnight. Nor is it something you achieve and then cross off your list. Instead it is a continuous process, requiring a long-term commitment. The result is a workplace with higher productivity, lower turnover and more engaged, happy employees.

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