An Overview of Inclusion in the Workplace

Workers in an office participating in a team huddle

Learn about the importance of creating inclusion in the workplace and practical steps you can take to get started.

In today's dynamic world, inclusion is the cornerstone of organizational strength and innovation. Approaching diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) with an inclusion-first lens is vital for leaders desiring a welcoming workplace environment where differences are appreciated and celebrated.

What is inclusion in the workplace?

Inclusion at work is about creating an environment where every person feels valued, respected and integral to the organization's success. It transcends mere tolerance or accommodation, embodying a strategic business imperative that leverages diverse perspectives for enhanced decision making, creativity and problem-solving.

What is a culture of inclusion in the workplace?

Ultimately, inclusion in the workplace is about building a culture of belonging, where every employee can bring their whole selves to work and thrive. It requires a commitment from leadership at all levels to model inclusive behaviors, challenge biases and foster an environment where everyone feels empowered to contribute their best. In doing so, businesses can enhance their operational effectiveness and position themselves as leaders in social responsibility and corporate citizenship, making a meaningful difference in the lives of their employees and the communities they serve.

How do you demonstrate inclusion in the workplace?

In practical terms, inclusion involves policies and practices that support the participation and advancement of all employees, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, age, disability, sexual orientation, religious beliefs or any other aspect of identity. The objective is to eliminate any barriers to full participation and, therefore, ensure that everyone has access to the same opportunities. Inclusion involves everything from inclusive recruitment practices and bias-free promotion processes to flexible working arrangements and supportive workplace environments.

How does inclusion in the workplace benefit businesses?

From a business operations perspective, inclusion is a crucial driver of organizational performance. Companies that excel in creating inclusive cultures benefit from a broader range of ideas, perspectives and approaches, which leads to better decision making, faster problem-solving and more innovative products and services. Also, inclusion in the workplace improves employee engagement. Moreover, inclusive workplaces are more likely to attract and retain top talent, as employees are more likely to be satisfied when they feel respected and valued for their unique contributions.

What does 'good' or 'true' inclusion look like?

A beneficial inclusive environment exhibits intentional, thoughtful practices and interactions that affirm the value of every employee, fostering a culture of belonging and respect. For example, when employees arrive at the office, they are greeted by a workplace design that is accessible and considerate of diverse needs, including quiet spaces for focused work and prayer rooms for religious observances. Team meetings begin with inclusive practices encouraging all members to participate, including remote employees. These organizations also provide time and opportunity for employees to participate in company-sponsored affinity groups, such as business resource groups (BRGs). There is also a culture of celebrating diversity for occasions such as Women's History Month, Black History Month and LGBTQ+ Pride Month.

What are some examples of poor inclusion?

There are examples of practices that are exclusive in nature. Most professionals can easily identify cases of overt exclusion. However, subtle forms of exclusion can sometimes be more harmful, as they can go undetected. For example, certain groups of employees, often those sharing similar backgrounds or interests outside of work, form tight-knit circles that exclude others who do not fit into their social or professional molds. These exclusive groups tend to share information, opportunities and support among themselves, creating an uneven playing field for professional development and advancement. Despite having comparable or superior skills and contributions, employees outside these circles may find it difficult to access critical information, receive less visibility for their achievements and are often overlooked for projects or promotions.

Inclusion vs. diversity: What's the difference?

Inclusion is not a synonym for diversity; it is the active, intentional, ongoing engagement with diversity. While diversity focuses on the mix of people, including their backgrounds, identities and experiences, inclusion is about making the mix work. It means fostering a culture where differences are not just present but are celebrated, where every employee is provided an opportunity to participate fully in creating business success.

How do you get started with inclusion?

For organizations starting their inclusion journeys, here are some examples of early steps they can take:

  • Provide inclusive leadership training to assist leaders in understanding new and specific ways to motivate team members.
  • Establish and empower BRGs to provide an expanded voice to historically underrepresented groups (URGs).
  • Develop and implement an explicit DE&I or inclusion, diversity, equity and belonging (IDEB) policy.

Start or enhance your journey today. Visit ADP's DE&I Resource Center.