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Five Ways to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

Nowadays, everyone is talking about diversity and inclusion. Experts in the area are competing to create yet another training. HR managers are eagerly seeking opportunities to increase their knowledge on the subject. But what, indeed, is inclusion? What is diversity?

Diversity and inclusion are two very different concepts; however, they go hand in hand in the workplace. Inclusion has been described as recognizing, appreciating, and utilizing the talents and skills of employees from all backgrounds. On the other hand, the term “diversity” means including the many communities, identities, races, ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities, cultures, and beliefs, including underserved communities. This was outlined in an Executive Order on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility in the Federal Workforce, signed in 2021 by President Joe Biden.

Stephanie Bolton is a Vice President of “People and Culture” at Bobby Dodd Institute (BDI), where she has been working for almost 22 years now. Being a part of an organization committed to providing equal opportunities for people living with disabilities, she has witnessed the evolution of creating better workplaces where no one is left out. Stephanie acknowledges the positive changes that have happened. Still, she also recognizes that there is a lot more to be done.

When it comes to diversity and inclusion, people often think about hiring more women, creating opportunities for people of different races, or hiring individuals with various sexual orientations. However, employers must consider this as a whole and not separate elements.

“It is important that employers target diverse candidates. They should not stop with only gender or race, for example. Employers must have a better understanding of what diversity is, what inclusion is, and look at the broader picture to ensure they are creating an environment where everyone feels welcomed and appreciated,”

Stephanie Bolton, VP, People and Culture, BDI

A recent Boston Consulting Group (BCG) study found that employees with disabilities significantly under-disclose to their employers. 25 percent of the people included in the report said they have a disability or health condition limiting a major life activity, a number significantly higher than most organizations report – only 4 to 7 percent. The study shows that employees with disabilities have a lower sense of inclusion in the workplace compared to their teammates without a disability.

Five Ways to Build a More Inclusive Workplace

There are multiple strategies that organizations can implement to ensure that everyone feels an integral part of the team. These strategies have been proven to work for Stephanie in building an inclusive culture at BDI. This organization provides support for all ages and stages of life for people of all abilities and their families. At BDI, there are a total of over 380 employees, and 43 percent are people with disabilities.

Here are five ways that BDI has tested repeatedly to ensure full inclusion in the organization.

#1: Create a safe space for your employees.

Employers must be open to feedback that comes from all levels of the organization and ensure that everyone who holds a supervisory role follows these principles. According to Stephanie, it is crucial for organizations to create a safe and welcoming environment for their employees. Employees need to feel secure and have a safe space to share their questions, concerns, or advice for the organization. They must know they can freely express their opinions without fearing punishment. One way to do this is through employee surveys. “Make sure your team has a platform that everyone can use and communicate, talk, and collaborate,” Stephanie added.

#2: Ensure everyone has access to training.

It is imperative that employees have access to training where they will be given the opportunity to develop existing and build new skills.

For those living with autism, for example, one of the biggest challenges is deficits in executive functioning skills, which can impact their ability to interpret social cues and develop specific skills. Individuals diagnosed with autism may struggle with different areas, which ultimately may affect their relationships with peers and job success. This is why it is essential for organizations to focus on developing job, social, and self-advocacy skills while also utilizing their strengths, which may include exceptional attention to detail, visual skills, long-term memory, and novel approaches.

This is a long-term investment not only in the employee but also an investment in the organization’s future.

#3: Make your employees feel valued. 

Although finding the best employee for the position you are hiring may seem like a tough task, it is just the first step. Keeping the employee may be even more complex. As per the BCG research, the higher the feeling of inclusion, the better the chances for the employee to commit to the organization for a longer period. One way to make your employees feel valued is by organizing events celebrating different cultures and traditions. Additionally, marking important milestones should also become a part of your culture. Stephanie added, “For us, a one-year anniversary is no less important than a ten-year one, for example.”

#4: Target diverse candidates.

This is where diversity comes into play. It is important for employees to look at the bigger picture, not just focus on one aspect of diversity. Make sure to hire employees because of their qualities, not because of their backgrounds, but despite them. Diversity is not just about filling a predetermined quota; it is not about putting labels. It is about genuinely understanding that we are all different in unique ways.

#5: Communication is key.

There is nothing better than a good old face-to-face conversation. Once you have built a safe place for your employees, the next step is to ensure that they feel heard. They must know that their opinions are important and are taken seriously. One way to ensure that is through one-on-one conversations, where employees can share their needs. Implement an approach where managers will review their team members’ performance and allow these employees to evaluate their supervisor’s performance.

What Are the Benefits of Creating an Inclusive Workplace?

Higher levels of workforce commitment, increased collaboration, innovation, productivity, and well-being are all related to full workplace inclusion.

To ensure inclusion, start with these simple methods and add your approach aligned with your organization’s vision.

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