Skip to Main Content

If a friend asked you what your work environment was like, chances are, you would think about your everyday experience – conversations with coworkers, day-to-day tasks, things you love to do and things that frustrate you.

We think about our work in terms of small, everyday moments, and these everyday moments are the key to creating and changing company culture.

Like any culture change, creating an inclusive culture requires sustained effort that meets employees where they are, in the tasks they already do. Inclusion and diversity (I&D) must be more than an HR initiative, check-the-box exercise or lunch-and-learn topic. It must be embedded throughout the entire employee experience.

Why do we say “inclusion and diversity”?

While “diversity and inclusion” or “D&I” is the most common terminology, think about placing inclusion first both in your terminology and in the approach you are striving to achieve in building and sustaining an inclusive work environment.
You may have a very diverse population, but that does not mean you are fully benefiting from the differing perspectives, skills and abilities that each one of your associates bring to the table. When you lead with inclusion, you are providing an environment where all people can contribute, progress and thrive – driving higher rates of employee engagement and retention and better business results.

Think about the whole story

An effective I&D strategy impacts all employees at all stages of their career – from hiring to onboarding to development and career progression.

To make sure you’re getting a diverse set of talented employees in the door at your organization, look for possible stumbling blocks diverse applicants may face. A career site that doesn’t highlight your organization’s commitment to diversity, a job description that feels like a laundry list of perfection or an interview process with a panel that doesn’t represent a diverse organization can dissuade candidates from joining your organization. Making sure your organization’s commitment to I&D is well-articulated throughout the hiring process, reviewing your job descriptions for bias or gendered language, and ensuring a diverse interview panel will help you attract a broad slate of candidates.

While I&D starts with attracting and hiring candidates with diverse backgrounds, experiences and expertise, it does not end there. If employees feel like outsiders or believe their contributions are not valued once they join the company, they are less likely to feel engaged in their day-to-day work… and are more likely to leave.

Review your talent management strategy – both the formal and informal touchpoints and processes – to identify gaps and opportunities to be more inclusive. Some questions you may ask in your review include:

  • Does your onboarding process make new employees feel welcome and included, setting the right tone for their experience at the organization?
    A rocky onboarding process can make employees feel unprepared and unengaged – they’re not able to do their best work or share their ideas. It’s a balance of having a conscious, standardized onboarding process with personal attention from a manager and onboarding buddy. This helps your team get to know a newly hired employee, giving them time to settle in and shine before making any judgments on their work or performance.
  • Could your performance review process overlook great employees who are less visible or approach their work differently than their managers?
    Identify possible obstacles for your employees. Do they work part-time or have special technology adaptations or accommodations? Do they work remotely and are less visible to leadership? Do they have a different workstyle than you? Embedding training on identifying unconscious biases into people manager training, with refreshers around key performance management moments, can help support a more inclusive evaluation process.
  • Do all employees have equal opportunities to develop their skills and abilities?
    On your team, ensure you’re not always selecting the same employees for development opportunities or stretch assignments. Give everyone on your team a chance to showcase their skills and ideas.
  • Are your pay processes fair and objective?
    Increasingly, companies are reviewing their compensation data to ensure fair pay for all employees in their organization. Making sure your organization is paying for the job – not the candidate – helps keep within range for similar jobs with similar responsibilities and helps combat bias in the pay decision process.
  • Do your rewards and benefits meet the needs of your diverse employee population?
    Benefits aren’t one size fits all. It’s important to have benefits that will support your diverse employee population. Common examples of areas where companies are expanding or updating their benefits packages for greater inclusivity include:

    • Expanded parental leave policies to include paternity leave, non-birth parental leave, and leave for adoption or placement of foster children
    • LGBT-inclusive health benefits, such as services for transgender employees
    • Financial wellbeing benefits, such as student loan repayment programs

Equip managers and leaders

Even if I&D is embedded into your talent management programs and processes, the responsibility for making it real falls on supervisors and managers. That’s a good thing, because employees will see the most impact when local leaders and managers drive the changes in their day-to-day actions.

Because managers are busy, it’s important to frame I&D as a strategic way of managing people to achieve better business outcomes, not just checking a box to avoid a lawsuit or bad press. It’s also important to provide managers with the tools, training and resources they need to effectively incorporate I&D principles as they hire new talent, complete performance reviews, help employees develop skills and recognize team members.

Giving managers practical tools and easy-to-implement actions helps them bring your I&D strategy to life. You might provide:

  • A playbook with a variety of tips for embedding I&D into key points of contact during the employee lifecycle, such as hiring or performance management
  • Mentor programs that allow managers and employees to connect with people of various backgrounds in other parts of the organization
  • Tools to help managers understand flexible work options for employees who need them
  • Trainings and resources to help managers recognize and combat personal biases, including unconscious bias training or inclusive leadership training

Be flexible

When we think about I&D, we remember that one-size-fits-all is usually not the best approach. It may differ between employees and between different areas of your organization, too. Some areas may already have inclusive cultures, while others may struggle.

When communicating best practices for I&D, give managers room to explore different techniques and processes within their individual teams, instead of prescribing a list of specific actions and requirements. Managers often have the best picture of the unique challenges their team faces, which means they are well equipped to choose the techniques that will have the greatest impact.

Remember, cultures don’t change overnight, so it is important to set both short- and long-term goals so you can track progress along the way. As you build I&D into your talent management strategy, you create a more inclusive culture, one everyday moment at a time.

About the Authors

Andrea Walsh leads Willis Towers Watson Chicago’s Talent Line of Business. She helps organizations embed Inclusion & Diversity into their talent management programs and processes to enhance business results and attract, retain and engage

Alison Thumel is an experienced communication and change management consultant at Willis Towers Watson and is based in Chicago.