6 Steps for Creating an Inclusive Workplace Culture

Companies that embrace diversity and celebrate differences have happier, more productive employees. Not only do they feel valued, but they ultimately outperform their competition. In a new report, NuBrick Partners provides half a dozen ways to foster inclusion at work, and help turn your workplace into a thriving environment.

July 28, 2023 – The culture around us influences everything we do. On a global scale, it influences the food we eat, the languages we speak, and the social norms that are expected. On a smaller scale, the culture of a company can speak volumes to its mission, values, and ideals.

Even though culture is all around us, even at work, it is likely defined by different people differently. On the most basic level, Forbes defines workplace culture as: “The shared values, belief systems, attitudes, and the set of assumptions that people in a workplace share.”

“Employees want to feel connected to their colleagues and to the company’s mission and core values,” according to a report from Workhuman. “Put another way, employees want a positive culture. And it seems like companies want that as well.” In fact, research by Deloitte shows 94 percent of executives and 88 percent of employees believe a distinct corporate culture is important to business success.

Teams who feel valued outperform their competition and a new report from NuBrick PartnersClarissa Peterson and Joe Mazzenga outlines proven steps to creating an inclusive workplace culture. The report paints this picture: Imagine stepping into a workplace where innovative ideas flow from left to right. Trust and support abound, and colleagues engage authentically with one another. Altogether, the environment radiates optimism and inspiration leaving you satisfied.

“By comparison, if your current workplace doesn’t reflect this, you’re not alone,” the NuBrick Partners’ report said. “Millions report unhappiness and a sense of exclusion at work stemming from prevalent exclusionary practices. As a result, inequity drains business success and harms team morale, productivity, and employee retention.”

The good news is that leadership can transform organizational culture, according to the NuBrick Partners’ report. “Studies show that companies embracing diversity and celebrating differences have happier, more productive employees who feel valued and, subsequently, outperform their competition,” the search firm said. “Moreover, an inclusive workplace drives innovation, supports collaboration, and improves employee and customer satisfaction.”

So if you aim to turn your workplace into a thriving environment that values DEI, NuBrick Partners offers six ways to foster inclusion at work.

1. Understand your Culture 

Transformation requires courage and before change can take place, leaders must uncover the current culture and its impact on employee engagement. “Organizational culture is deeply ingrained in unconscious and conscious behaviors, rituals, biases, and language,” said the study. “As a result, the environment may be hindering creativity, making people feel unwelcome, maintaining biases, and perpetuating outdated thinking.”

Clarissa Peterson, senior consultant, has expertise in all areas of human resources, with special interests in leadership & team development, executive coaching, board development, cultural transformation, succession management, and mindfulness. For more than 25 years, she has helped organizations cultivate diversity, inclusion and belonging, and spearheaded merger and acquisition integrations.

“First, define your current culture by conducting surveys and holding focus groups to gather perspectives that identify common perceptions of leadership and the organization,” the report said. “Without a clear understanding of your current state, making meaningful progress toward creating a better one is impossible.”

2. Define What DEI Means for your Organization

Inclusion won’t happen by wishing for it; this takes intentionality—planning, strategy, execution, accountability, and measurement— to create lasting change. “Therefore, leaders must set a clear vision and goal for what encompasses a psychologically safe, diverse, and inclusive workplace culture,” NuBrick Partners said.

The study says to be brave and ask your team:

• Which behaviors will no longer be tolerated moving forward? Which will be rewarded?

• What are the organizational values around safety and inclusion?

• How do we define a safe and inclusive environment that embraces diversity?

• What does success look like?

“Powerful questions help create goals and clarify how to measure and sustain these goals,” the NuBrick Partners report said.

3. Set Clear Goals and Implement Inclusive Policies  

To clarify vision, NuBrick Partners notes that executives must develop a roadmap and ensure the organization stays on track and moves forward in the right direction. The firm explains that it is up to leadership to recognize and remove barriers while providing the resources, tools, and training teams need to succeed.

Guard rails that protect DEI might include:

• Providing harassment and emotional intelligence training for all employees.

• Addressing and dismantling pay gaps across positions.

• Conducting routine company policy and DEI audits.

Related: Shaping a Culture of Inclusion

• Establishing actionable DEI success metrics.

  Developing anti-discrimination policies.

“Specific guidelines and procedures should be well-documented and communicated to all employees,” NuBrick Partners said.

4. Facilitate Open Communication and Feedback

Authentic feedback is critical to measure culture change results, according to the NuBrick Partners report. But how do organizations measure progress if team members fear retaliation? Ultimately, the firm says that it’s up to leaders to provide safe places for employees to voice their opinions, suggestions, and concerns.

NuBrick Partners notes that some ways to gather authentic feedback include:

• Anonymous suggestion boxes.

• Organizational leadership surveys.

• Transparent performance evaluations.

“Overall, open, transparent communication empowers team members to share ideas and contribute to decision-making,” the study said. “This creates an inclusive workplace culture and supportive environment where people can show up authentically because they feel safe, seen, heard, and valued.”

5. Create a Safe Environment  

In a psychologically safe work environment, leadership is transparent, solves problems, and is open and curious with a non-judgmental attitude. “As an added benefit of feeling secure, safety enables others to be their authentic selves,” NuBrick Partners said. “Employees who feel safe engage deeply and openly share thoughts and ideas for improvement, thus accelerating team performance. When trust is abundant, teams take more risks and learn from failure without fear of negative consequences. Friction reduces, and team members have more positive experiences. Moreover, long-term relationships and loyalty are established.”

Creating a psychologically safe environment necessitates that leaders:

• Promote open communication with respectful dialogue

• Provide multiple channels for feedback and involvement

• Demonstrate they are open to and are actively learning

• Use active listening

• Practice empathy

Furthermore, NuBrick Partners notes that organizations must:

• Recognize and celebrate contributions.

• Provide training on emotional intelligence.

• Hold their leaders and team members accountable for sustaining an inclusive workplace to help increase understanding and give empowerment to employees.

“Essentially, sustaining change needs to become a lasting endeavor, as opposed to being viewed as a passing interest,” said the study.

6. Start with Leadership 

Leaders have the most influence in shaping the environment because sustainable change requires systems, tools, planning, strategy, and ongoing operations. “With such a pivotal role, actively championing inclusivity and demonstrating a commitment to diversity and equity sets a powerful new standard,” the report said. “Leadership must go first in modeling the behaviors they want to experience in others. Employees look to leaders for guidance and direction. And when they observe leaders taking action toward inclusivity, it inspires and encourages others to do the same.”

Joe Mazzenga, managing partner, has a history as a consultant in building effective executive teams through leadership development and assessment, executive team performance, talent management, succession planning, and talent alignment amid organizational and cultural change. He has more than 30 years of experience in leadership development and strategy implementation, helping Fortune 500 clients optimize their talent. Mr. Mazzenga serves as an executive consultant and coach to board members, CEOs, physician executives and chairs, and C-suite executives on matters pertaining to board relations, leadership development, talent management, and enterprise-wide leadership and change.

NuBrick Partners says that building an inclusive mindset should be the top priority for any team seeking to build a thriving workplace and future-proof their organization. “Instead of waiting for an event to strike, be proactive and make lasting, incremental improvements now,” said the search firm. “Remember that creating a culture where everyone feels valued goes beyond profit and performance. Creating an inclusive workplace is simply the right thing to do.”

Systemic Approach to Talent Management

NuBrick Partners is a leadership development firm with a team comprised of highly trained psychologists and organizational development experts who provide an integrated, systemic approach to talent management. Their support encompasses the board, C-suite, and senior leadership team development, succession planning, executive selection assessment, and new leader installation across all industries as well as executive physician leadership within the healthcare industry. NuBrick grew out of executive search firm Furst Group.

Related: 4 Reasons to Focus on Building a Culture of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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