9 Key Qualities of an Inclusive Workplace

January 14, 2022

There’s no denying that the way we work is rapidly changing. Remote working seems to be here to stay and the need for more flexible, empathetic and inclusive workplaces is evident. The surge in diversity and inclusion roles is proof of the latter: in the UK, there’s been a 58% increase in D&I roles in the last 5 years. Source.

As awareness grows around the need for more inclusive environments, clarity around how to achieve them isn’t as obvious. Inclusive workplace strategies take time and require you to look at your entire organisational structure and employee experience.

If you’ve ever wondered what an inclusive workplace actually looks like, we’ve put together some examples to demonstrate the key characteristics of inclusive workplaces. 

What is an inclusive workplace culture and why does it matter? 

An inclusive workplace is simply one where everyone feels like they belong. Often used alongside ‘diversity’, it’s important to note the distinction between diversity and inclusion. You can have a diverse workforce but not an inclusive one, and vice versa. Diversity is having team members from a variety of backgrounds; inclusion is making sure all of those people feel welcome, respected and valued. For instance, you may have a good mixture of gender diversity on your team, but if the female employees are treated differently than your male employees, then they aren’t going to feel like they belong. Inclusion is important because team members need to feel like they can be themselves in order to thrive in their roles. 

Inclusive workplace benefits

Research from Deloitte found that organisations with inclusive cultures are:

  • 8x more likely to achieve better business outcomes
  • 6x more likely to be innovative and agile
  • 3x as likely to be high-performing
  • 2x as likely to exceed financial targets

Better Up also found that teams with inclusive leadership have a 50% increase in team performance and a 54% lower turnover rate from direct reports. The benefits of prioritising workplace inclusion are colossal. We’ve all heard of the advantages of diverse teams but you’re only going to see those outcomes if the team members feel comfortable enough to own their differences and show up authentically. 

How to create an inclusive environment at work

Here are the key characteristics of an inclusive workplace. 

  1. Inclusive leadership 

Inclusive leadership is a crucial part of any inclusion strategy (in fact you should check out our mini-guide to inclusive leadership here). Your leadership team sets the tone for the rest of your employees; start with them and the culture will follow. Harvard Business Review found that a leader's behaviour can make up to a 70% difference in whether an individual feels included or not. Your senior team should have a commitment to diversity, knowledge of bias, good cultural awareness and strong communication and collaboration skills. If you’re at the beginning of your D&I efforts, we highly recommend starting with your management staff. Investing in their inclusive leadership skills will have a huge knock-on effect for your business.

  1. Inclusion is built into the entire employee experience 

The employee experience starts from when someone applies to work with you until they decide to leave. The time in between those moments are all part of the employee experience journey; the onboarding process, their initial development, ongoing engagement and their growth/progression. An inclusive workplace will have those values embedded at every stage of the journey. Your recruitment process for instance, could be non-exclusionary to certain groups or backgrounds by ‘blind reviewing’ CV’s to avoid bias, having a diverse interviewing panel and tapping into alternative talent channels. Team-building activities could include a variety of options that suit everyone, rather than solely revolving around drinking. Map out your employee’s experience journey and see where there are areas for improvement. 

  1. There’s a D&I strategy in place

Just as you would with any goal, if you want to achieve an inclusive workplace, you’ll need a strategy in place to get you there. Without one, there’ll be no way to track your approach and measure your progress. Try and speak to your current employees to get an insight into how they perceive your inclusion efforts and consult experts if possible to see where you can make an impact. Once you’ve put the strategy together, make sure you have someone overseeing it and sharing progress made with the rest of the team to demonstrate that inclusion is a company priority. 

  1. Differences are celebrated and acknowledged

Acknowledging and celebrating diversity can be the difference between an employee feeling accepted or feeling as though they need to code-switch or hide a part of their identity while they’re at work. A “colour-blind'' approach may be done with good intentions, but it can actually end up being more harmful to diversity efforts by ignoring inequalities and encouraging sameness in the workplace. Something as simple as celebrating Black History Month or acknowledging Eid could make employees from ethnically-diverse backgrounds feel more comfortable being themselves. The costs of code-switching and playing down your identity are high; not only can it take a psychological toll, but it can affect employee engagement, happiness and performance. 

  1. Different types of diversity are understood

Making sure that everyone on your team feels comfortable and accepted, means understanding the broad spectrum of diversity in the workplace. While race and gender are regularly accounted for in inclusion strategies, you should also consider culture, class, physical disabilities, neurodiversity, age and even personality types. Knowing and understanding your team is crucial for creating an inclusive environment so that you can tailor your approach to suit different needs. 

  1. Bias is understood 

Understanding different types of diversity also means knowing the biases and challenges that exist against those groups. Being aware of bias means that you can actively work against it to help your employees thrive. For instance, if you know that women are less likely to speak up in meetings and more likely to be spoken over, you can create space for them to share their thoughts freely. Being aware of biases that exist in the recruitment process also means you can avoid partaking in those behaviours yourself. To create true change and allow everyone to have a seat at the table, you need to know what’s holding others back from getting to that seat. 

  1. Employees are listened to 

An inclusive environment is only possible by actively listening to your employees wants and needs. A ‘top-down’ approach isn’t the best fit for inclusive environments; it discourages sharing honest opinions and can decrease employee engagement through lack of autonomy. Listening to your team members and actually taking their feedback on board, shows that you value and respect their viewpoint, encouraging them to contribute more freely. Remember that inclusive environments encourage collaboration and differences in thought - but that will only happen if they’re being heard. There should be opportunities to provide feedback on the leadership team and the company itself. 

  1. Everyone feels comfortable participating in meetings 

The place where you really want diverse collaboration and opinion-sharing is in your company meetings. And yet meetings often end up maintaining the status-quo, dominated by white males and often favouring those who are more extroverted. To create a more equal and welcoming environment, diverse contributions need to be encouraged and tailored for. Providing the agenda and questions in advance would vastly help introverted employees prepare and bring their best contributions to the meeting. Ensure that all voices are being heard but avoid putting people on the spot. Invite the group to share a perspective that hasn’t been considered yet and stay aware of colleagues that get interrupted. Employees need to feel like it’s a safe space to share thoughts freely without fear of judgement. 

  1. D&I efforts feel authentic 

It’s not uncommon to find companies who put a lot of effort into diverse advertising campaigns - only to look at their team and find it’s mainly white, middle-class, males. Companies who truly want a more equal and diverse future go beyond utilising D&I as a marketing strategy and show their commitment through their internal efforts and actions. Focus on fostering inclusion in your workplace and the results will show in your external efforts anyway; a diverse team who value inclusion and collaboration will automatically produce creative, considerate and high-quality work. 


If you want to arm your team with inclusive leadership skills, you should find out more about our leadership development programme. 

Our ‘Be A Leader, Build A Leader’ programme is designed to provide professionals with coaching skills. It shows them how to ask the right questions, listen actively, lead with empathy and empower their team members. Our unique approach means that they’ll broaden their cultural understanding by working with diverse communities too. Professionals on our programme practice their new skills by coaching and being coached by underrepresented young adults. It’s a unique approach to leadership development that’s been used by the likes of Facebook, Google, Innocent, Uber and many more. Not only will it impact your team, but you get to impact the life of a young Future Leader too. 

Get in touch to discover more about the programme and how it could work for your team.