How to Create a More Inclusive Workplace

The most successful workplaces are as diverse as they are inclusive. But how can organizations authentically incorporate these values into their DNA? In the FQ Lounge @ SXSW, leaders gathered together to discuss the key ingredients of a culture of care — and why it is so important to every aspect of business.

Shelley Zalis, Gretchen Saegh-Fleming, Tracy King, Amy Hufft, and Stacy Huntoon in the FQ Lounge at SWSX

Shelley Zalis, Gretchen Saegh-Fleming, Tracy King, Amy Hufft, and Stacy Huntoon in the FQ Lounge

Inclusivity isn’t a “one size fits all” scenario.
In a 2017 Deloitte survey, respondents voted that “an environment that makes me feel comfortable being myself” was the most valued aspect of workplace culture. In addition, 72% reported they would consider leaving an organization for one they thought was more inclusive.
But a sense of belonging isn’t prescriptive. People come from different backgrounds and have unique lived experiences, and it’s important to create a space where everyone is celebrated. To drive this, Tracy King, Vice President of Public Affairs at AT&T, recommends that leaders don’t shy away from asking the tough questions. She uses the “talk me through it” approach to kick off what might otherwise be a difficult or awkward conversation; this invites people to take the stage and share their perspectives. In turn, this helps leaders understand different viewpoints and learn more about the people around them. Tracy notes: “If you don’t ask that question—if you don’t make that investigation—you can never understand where people are coming from.”
A culture of care isn’t just an HR priority: it’s a business priority.
A diverse and inclusive workplace is good for business. To illustrate the impact, just turn to the results of a 2018 Fast Company study, which found that companies with higher-than-average gender diversity and employee engagement also had 46 to 58% better financial performance than companies below the median.
Shopify is taking this best practice to heart. The e-commerce platform is used by 800,000 merchants across 175 countries, and Amy Hufft, Head Of Brand and Communications, highlights the company’s goal: “to make commerce better for everyone, not some people.” She notes that, in order to do achieve this, Shopify’s employee base needs to reflect its diversity of merchants. Amy stresses that the focus on diversity and inclusion isn’t just an HR strategy. It’s a business strategy. “If we don’t understand the needs of our merchants, we can’t build our best product, because we’re not bringing all of their perspectives together.” By creating a workplace community that reflects its customers, Shopify is tying values of diversity to its bottom line.
Successful organizations look outward and inward.
Diversity can take two forms: It can be inherent (traits you are born with) or acquired (traits you gain from experience). Both forms are critical to an authentically diverse workplace and customer base: according to an HBR study, companies with both inherent and acquired diversity are 70% more likely to capture a new market.
Fostering diversity, inclusivity, and empathy shouldn’t just be inward-facing, either. Just ask Gretchen Saegh-Fleming, Chief Marketing Officer, L’Oreal USA. She reflected that her company began the All-Around Empathy Program after employees working at beauty counters realized they needed to be more empathetic when talking with their customers about self-care. The program was a success, and L’Oreal now implements a version of it internally, too. When priming her team to lead with empathy, Gretchen lives by three golden rules: “First, we need to be active listeners. Second, we need to ask questions. And third, we need to be comfortable asking the uncomfortable questions — and to show up with humility to try to understand different people’s perspectives.”
Women wearing jackets that say Chief Troublemaker in the FQ Lounge at SXSW

Chief Troublemakers in the FQ Lounge at SXSW

A strong support system is at the core of an inclusive workplace.
Differences are good. And authentic, visible support is key to fostering diversity in the workplace. Stacy Huntoon, an Audit Partner at PwC, urges people to consider how they show up as allies for their colleagues: “Ask yourself: who are the supporters? How do we understand diversity of experience and diversity of thought in our workplace?” Core to fostering inclusion is creating a space where people can be unapologetically themselves. It’s good for workplace morale and innovation: a Catalyst report found that feeling included contributed to a 71% increase in team citizenship — going above and beyond the call of duty to support colleagues — and as much as a 78% boost in innovation.
After synthesizing 50 years of research on diverse teams, Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Margaret A. Neale noted: “The worst kind of group for an organization that wants to be innovative and creative is one in which everyone is alike and gets along too well.” Diversity isn’t just a reality: it’s a healthy reality. And the workplaces that recognize this are the ones that win.
You can watch the full video on our Facebook page. For more career advice, check out:
Male Champions on How to Make Workplaces Better for Women
It’s Time To Change What It Means To Be a Good Leader
8 Ways to Create a Culture of Care Where All Workers Feel Like They Belong