To create a place where people want to work, it’s essential you cultivate a welcoming workplace for diverse worker, to create a truly inclusive culture that brings diverse voices, perspectives, and strategies. It’s no longer enough to simply hire diverse voices and faces. Today, your organization needs to build out a culture where people feel they belong.

Going further than diversity to prioritize inclusion and belonging 

Diverse hiring is linked to increased innovation and financial success, truly inclusive workplaces, which include belonging and trust among employees experience increased job satisfaction and retention while creating a positive employer brand.

Inclusion is the result of the actions and behaviours that create a culture where employees feel valued, trusted and heard. Alison Grenier, head of culture and research at Great Place to Work writes: “Inclusiveness takes it a step further by creating an environment where people’s differences of thought and experience are actually appreciated and viewed as a business advantage.”

Building the trust

Achieving a culture of inclusion starts by building meaningful trust among your employees. Unfortunately, trust is often unevenly distributed, leaving some employees with vastly different work experiences than others.

Workplace trust happens at three levels: the company level, the team level and the interpersonal level. All three of these levels are interconnected and employee trust must be continuously earned. 

Earning and maintaining trust takes deliberate steps to be transparent, honest, and open.

Start by:

  1. Being open, honest, and clear
  2. Building in accountability,  and admit mistakes
  3. Actively listening
  4. Getting leadership buy-in — and visible support
  5. “Walking” the inclusivity walk
  6. Staying consistent

Creating safe spaces for DI&B

With this trust-based framework, the next step is to shore up those safe spaces — environments where employees can come together, share experiences, give feedback, and discuss challenges freely and openly. Ideally, these spaces include HR and organizational leaders who can take action on insights and experiences emerging from these groups.

It’s also important to enable spaces for like- minded employees and allies to engage and share experiences such as Employe Resource Groups (ERG) to help foster trust and inclusion. It also  encourages cross-functional communication, builds relationships, and supports a positive workplace culture.

For example, Air Canada Maintenance has a dedicated group for female employees. The forum was designed for women occupying non-traditional roles within the organization and gives women an opportunity to network, explore leadership opportunities, and pursue personal development together.

Indeed has ten Inclusion Resource Groups (IRGs) including: Access Indeed (to drive education and awareness around inclusion for visible and invisible disabilities), Women at Indeed, Parents & Caregivers, and All Generations Empowered (to explore the benefits and challenges of a multi-generational workplace).

Catering belonging everywhere in the company

Employees should be able to recognize themselves in more than just affinity and inclusion groups. Creating an inclusive and diverse workplace culture means embracing and integrating representation throughout the business, including the very highest levels. Not only do diverse leadership teams drive greater financial returns, but having diversity at the top shows your organization truly promotes what you preach — that diversity is a priority.

In workplaces of inclusion and belonging, employees feel most deeply connected to their colleagues ,the work, and the organization as a whole, and they’re motivated to do their very best. With this framework, diversity can thrive. 

Without an inclusive culture, diversity efforts won’t progress past diverse hiring — and there’s a good chance these hires won’t stick around. Without an inclusive workplace, diversity veers into tokenism.

By cultivating an inclusive environment that fosters belonging, diverse hires will have that critical sense of belonging through safe spaces, senior-level mentors, and a consistent, cohesive culture that promotes ongoing conversation and evolution. These environments honour diversity and authentically celebrate and elevate the kinds of differences that lead to innovation, creativity, and employee- and company-level success.

Nurturing and growing an inclusive workplace culture

Canada is one of the most diverse countries in the world, giving us a distinct advantage when it comes to creating inclusive workplaces,  but the work needs to start by laying the groundwork for more trusting environments where employees feel safe, heard, and valued. Companies that can celebrate these natural tensions are likely to cultivate high-trust cultures that promote retention, facilitate recruitment, improve employer brand, and may lead to creative breakthroughs and innovation.

It’s an ongoing journey but, as our workplaces, our industries, and our country diversify and accelerate, creating these dynamic, inclusive cultures will ensure we’re all moving forward together.