Building a culture of inclusion is a journey and one of the first steps you can take is to ensure employees understand what inclusion means in day-to-day interactions and business decisions. It starts with business owners and managers who lead by example and demonstrate an authentic commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). From there, organizations should embed DEI into workplace policies, programs, processes and practices — from recruiting and retention to training and professional development.

Real progress and sustainable change doesn’t happen quickly or easily, however, these are a few steps that can make a positive impact on your work culture today.

Raise Awareness of the DEI Lexicon

As part of ongoing conversations, training and education, raise awareness of key concepts and behaviors that can promote or hinder DEI. Knowing the difference between diversity and inclusion is important. A diverse workplace has a mix of people with different characteristics, backgrounds and experiences. An inclusive workplace takes diversity to the next level by involving marginalized or underrepresented people in the organization’s operations and leadership.

Other behaviors that teams should understand and know how to address:

  • Unconscious / Implicit Bias: Everyone has unconscious bias — either favorable or unfavorable. It’s the way the human brain groups things together to help make sense of a complicated world. In the workplace, it’s important that these stereotypes or preconceived opinions about people based on their race, gender, ethnicity, age, ability or other factors don’t become a barrier to making positive changes and improving DEI.
  • Microaggressions: Often stemming from unconscious bias, microaggressions contain demeaning hidden messages that reaffirm a stereotype. Whether intentional or not, microaggressions communicate hostile, negative or derogatory messages, making people feel judged, misunderstood, excluded, disrespected, vulnerable and unsafe.
  • Cultural Competency: The ability to communicate and collaborate effectively with people from different cultures, backgrounds and beliefs. Hand-in-hand with cultural competency is being sensitive to the differences and comfort levels of others.
  • Allyship: A good workplace ally is someone who is willing to speak up, stand up and take meaningful action to support a member of a marginalized group. Allies provide friendship and assistance by reaching out to make sure underrepresented employees know they’re being heard, valued and supported.

Make Interactions Inclusive

Being inclusive involves more than simply inviting people from diverse backgrounds and experiences to participate. The details and logistics, such as when, where and how a meeting or event takes place affect inclusivity. Managers should be sensitive to the working and communication styles of team members and seek out different kinds of interactions, especially now that virtual teams are a mainstay for many companies.

Understand the Need for Psychological Safety

In a post-pandemic workplace, the concept of psychological safety has come to the forefront as organizations realize the need to address uncertainties, new stresses and employee burnout, whether they are onsite, virtual or in a hybrid environment.


A psychologically safe workplace is one in which employees feel comfortable expressing themselves without fear of being criticized, threatened or punished for speaking up and taking interpersonal risks — such as — contributing ideas, making suggestions, asking for help, owning up to a mistake or voicing an opposing opinion. Organizations that foster psychological safety and trust can benefit from better team performance and innovation, improved employee mental health and well-being and reduced turnover.

Creating a more inclusive work culture requires everyone to intentionally change their habits and behaviors, whether it’s inviting someone new for coffee or choosing a project leader. Some ways to gauge the effectiveness of your own DEI initiatives: stay connected with one-on-one conversations with team members, establish employee resource groups, implement formal communication channels and engagement surveys to learn how people perceive the organization’s progress, and seek input from outside the ‘regular group’ when making key decisions. It’s never been more critical that employees, managers and leaders understand what it means to build a workplace culture that everyone can belong to and feel proud of.

Andrew Rawson is the chief learning officer and co-founder of Traliant, an innovator in online compliance training, including diversity, equity and inclusion training, sexual harassment prevention training and other essential topics to help organizations create a respectful, inclusive workplace culture.

Inclusion stock image by Lightspring/Shutterstock