What is it?
Diversity means having different identities represented. Diversity initiatives
became widespread across American workplaces in response to the civil rights
movement and the creation of federal equal employment opportunity guidelines
in the 1960s. But it soon became clear that simply hiring workers of different
backgrounds didn’t guarantee they would stay.
In response, progressive organizations began focusing on inclusion as a distinct
but related strategy. Thus, the field of “diversity and inclusion” (D&I) was born.
Inclusion is the movement to make everyone feel welcome—focusing on the
work environment beyond hiring practices. This means making employees feel
they are valued, treated fairly, and empowered to grow, regardless of their
backgrounds or needs.
An inclusive culture fosters psychological safety, a concept coined by Harvard
Professor Amy Edmondson. According to Edmonson, “Team psychological safety
describes an interpersonal climate characterized by trust and respect, in which
people are comfortable being themselves.”
While diversity is relatively easy to break down into metrics like hiring numbers
or demographics, inclusion can be difficult to measure. At a basic level, inclusion
is a measure of whether employees feel like they belong and are valued at the
organization. While this can seem subjective, there are key sentiments
organizations can track, such as whether people feel like their opinions are
valued, differences are celebrated, and promotions and policies are fair.
Organizations can foster inclusion by encouraging different perspectives,
recognizing employees’ unique talents, and ensuring equal access to
opportunities. Ultimately, an inclusive workplace increases engagement and
unlocks employees’ full potential.
Why does it matter?
A recent survey of over 9,500 employed Americans found that a quarter of
workers feel like they don’t belong at their company. In another survey of nearly
20,000 employees globally, 54% reported that they don’t regularly get respect
from leaders. When employees feel they don’t belong or aren’t respected, they
may avoid sharing ideas, lose enthusiasm for their work, and feel disengaged.
The problem is pervasive in health care. In one survey, 49% of health care
employees said diversity is a barrier to progression, and only 24% of health care
organizations provide training on how to embed inclusive behaviors.
In an inclusive workplace, people are more likely to feel a sense of belonging
and feel comfortable sharing their perspectives. This, in turn, increases
employee recruitment and retention. It also allows organizations to fully benefit
from employees’ ideas, skills, and engagement. For example:
In health care, better engagement, retention, and decision-making can have a
major impact on patient care and experience.
Further, it’s important to hire and retain a workforce as diverse as the patients
you care for. Building a diverse and inclusive workforce culture can help increase
demographic representation, strengthen connections between staff and the
community, and deliver a better patient experience.
How does it work?
Staff should feel safe, celebrated for sharing their differences, and encouraged to
honor their shared experiences with colleagues. Building an inclusive culture
requires a multipronged approach across an organization. Here are a few key
places to start.
1. Teach leaders what inclusive leadership looks like.
Executives and managers interact with employees every day and set the tone for
their team culture. Inclusive leaders ensure all team members feel they are
treated respectfully and fairly, are valued, and feel that they belong. Inclusive
leadership is not about occasional grand gestures but rather practicing a clear
commitment to inclusion every day.
Implement training to ensure leaders understand what inclusion means, why it’s
important, and how to be more inclusive. For example, leaders need to know
how to engage in active listening, create space for others to contribute, and
encourage different points of view. Then, hold leaders accountable.
2. Create opportunities for staff to share their personal experiences.
In meetings or daily huddles, for example, foster an environment where
contributions from everyone are encouraged and valued.
Beyond work-focused meetings, elevate internal communities and dedicate
space and time for discussions about identity, such as employee resource
groups (ERGs). Leaders should promote the process to establish an ERG and
the resources available to support them (such as funding and meeting spaces).
Finally, create social events that allow staff from different backgrounds to have
fun with each other. This allows all staff to participate in team bonding and feel
comfortable bring their “full selves” to work.
3. Ensure all employees have access to resources for professional growth.
Objectivity and fairness are important to an inclusive culture. Provide equitable
access to professional development resources, such as through facilitated
mentorship programs and dedicated time for career development activities.
In addition, make sure promotions, raises, and other growth opportunities are fair
and transparent. Create and enforce the use of clear and objective criteria for
promotions that don’t bias toward a certain personality type or cultural norm.
4. Listen to employees—and act on their feedback.
Regularly take time to hear and understand employees’ experiences. Create
safe and open forums where people feel comfortable voicing their concerns
without negative implications. Consider using a combination of surveys, town
halls, and one-on-one meetings to create an ongoing dialogue with employees.
Then, recognize and value that input by acting on it.
5. Establish clear goals and measure progress.
As with any strategic initiative, it’s important to establish and communicate
measurable and time-bound goals. Start with an employee survey to get a
benchmark measure of inclusion and help shape initial efforts.
Over time, use ongoing feedback and data to revisit your goals, and combine
inclusion data with employee engagement and retention numbers to look for
correlations. Finally, regularly share data and progress to strengthen support for
inclusion initiatives among senior leaders and show employees that the
organization is committed to developing a more inclusive culture.
Conversations you should be having
Revisit these conversations over time—and ask new questions—to continuously
evolve your efforts at inclusion. Remember that building an inclusive culture
requires constant commitment over time.