How HR Leaders Can Cultivate An Inclusive Workplace Culture


In this rapidly changing and increasingly globalized economy, diversity and inclusion is quickly becoming a business imperative and a competitive advantage for organizations.

McKinsey reports that top-quartile companies for cultural diversity among their executives were 33 per cent more likely to have industry-leading profitability.

Customers are now more than ever empowered through technology and have greater expectations for personalized products and services.  Organizations need diverse workforces that reflect their customers and communities, not just in terms of demographics, but also perspectives. This is important for gaining better insights into the needs of diverse client segments and delivering innovative solutions.

Deloitte noted that when both diversity and inclusion were high in organizations, employees reported an 83 per cent increase in ability to innovate and 31 per cent increase in responsiveness to changing customer needs. Companies that embrace diversity have a greater talent pool to choose from, and are more able to attract top talent.

Beyond the numbers, HR leaders know that having high levels of workforce diversity and inclusion is simply the right thing to do. People do their best work when they feel respected, listened to, valued for who they are and the unique skills they bring, and have a sense of belonging – all key elements of inclusion. Under these conditions, employees are more likely to be engaged and contribute more discretionary effort. 

Traditionally, diversity has been defined by “visible” demographics such as age, gender or ethnic background (although characteristics such as gender identity may need confirmation through voluntary self-disclosure). Lately, diversity has been broadened to include cognitive diversity, which incorporates differences in thinking styles, perspectives and experiences.

Diversity is important, but is insufficient by itself. To unleash the potential of a diverse workforce, inclusivity is required.

Start By Assembling A Diverse Workforce 

You can’t create a diverse workforce without a diverse candidate pool. Check your attraction and recruitment practices to ensure you aren’t inadvertently excluding specific groups.

For example, there are tools that assess position postings for appeal to different genders.  We all have deep-seated unconscious biases based on our upbringing and experiences.

We tend to gravitate to people who are like us, and we need to be aware of our biases (there are tools that identify such biases) and work to mitigate against them. For example, in the interview process, involve multiple stakeholders with different perspectives from yours. Proactively seek diverse thinking styles among candidates (for example, pragmatic as well as creative), and assess problem-solving styles through questioning or case studies.   

Much has been written about the importance of hiring for “cultural fit”.  This doesn’t mean hiring people who look and act the same as everyone else – the opposite of diversity which can actually lead to blind spots and group think.  

“Fit” is indeed important – but rather than looking for like-mindedness, look for candidates with diverse perspectives and behaviours, whose values align with the organization’s values. For example, someone who takes personal responsibility for outcomes could fit well in an organization whose values include accountability. When this alignment exists, employees instinctively act with a common purpose, while applying their unique skills and approaches. Further, values alignment ensures employees can bring their whole selves to work – a key aspect of inclusion.

Unleash The Power Of A Diverse Workforce Through Inclusive Leadership

Attracting a diverse workforce is half the battle. Retaining them requires inclusive leadership.

As the custodians of corporate culture, HR leaders play a key role in helping executives to model inclusive behaviours and hold other leaders accountable to do the same.

Inclusive leadership means establishing an environment where employees feel confident and safe to take risks and express their ideas and opinions, especially if their opinion is contrary to others. Here are six leadership behaviours, which help to foster inclusivity:    

  1. Focus on the development of leaders’ Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and relationship skills. As more automation is incorporated into work, those uniquely human skills will become more important to establishing deep, authentic relationships with employees to engender their sense of belonging. In addition to EQ, encourage development of “CQ” –  understanding of cultural differences, values and behaviour norms.
  2. Communicate transparently about business results and challenges This will not only help improve performance (the more employees know about the issues the more they can contribute), but it also fosters a sense of being trusted and valued.
  3. Reconsider the definition of “team”, by creating cross-functional teams with diverse experiences and styles to work across silos to solve problems. For example, a team to create a new intranet could include participants from communications, learning, HR, ITS and the front line; each would have a “collaboration” goal for the project in their performance management objectives and be rewarded for their contributions to the project’s success. Dissolve group thinking by developing team “ground rules.” Ground rules include respectfully challenging of the status quo (and celebrating those who do). Encourage constructive conflict; achieving consensus too early may mean you have left some innovative ideas unexpressed. Encourage “devil’s advocates” to intentionally raise contrary views.
  4. Create an environment that embraces “yes, and” – accepting others’ ideas and building on them. Successful theatre improvisation troupes rely on this as a key to innovation and to participants feeling valued. Inclusive leaders have a growth mindset and believe they can learn from their teams. This is particularly important the more “expert” a leader becomes: their own deep experience may tempt them toward “yes, but” or even “no, because” thinking.
  5. When implementing programs, consider any groups that might be excluded or adversely affected. For example, in an open concept office designed to encourage collaboration, recognize that introverts may need quiet spaces in order to do deep thinking — and build this into the plan. Prior to a meeting, distribute the agenda in advance, in recognition that some employees need time to gather their thoughts. Proactively invite more quiet participants to share their thoughts. If you lead teams in different time zones, consider alternating schedules so that one team doesn’t always get the “undesirable” time for a conference call.
  6. Demonstrate respect for employees both inside and outside of work, through practices that support work-life balance, such as flexible work hours or remote working.

Assess Your Progress

Surveys can be valuable in assessing employees’ feelings of inclusion. For example, do employees feel they can be themselves at work, or do they need to suppress or hide part of themselves?  Do employees feel their opinions are valued? Do they feel their colleagues “have their back”?

Diversity and inclusion have never been more important to an organization’s success. High levels of both can lead to engaged employees who bring their whole selves to work to give an organization a competitive advantage and strong results – a true win for all.



Marni Johnson, CPHR is the Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Corporate Affairs at BlueShore Financial.

Other Articles on Inclusion & Diversity:


How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.


Enter your email address to receive updates each Wednesday.

Privacy guaranteed. We'll never share your info.