Inclusion Training: The Key to a Supportive Workplace

Pink paper dolls holding hands in a circle on blue backdrop

Diversity training and inclusion training may sound like the same thing, but they’re really two distinct approaches to supporting and retaining a diverse workforce.

Diversity, at its root, refers to people’s differences, and diversity training focuses on recognizing and acknowledging differences. Inclusion, on the other hand, implies togetherness, and inclusion training promotes empowerment by utilizing the advantages that come from diversity.

Here’s how to create a supportive professional environment for everyone.

Bring voices together

Employees flourish when they feel welcomed, respected and heard. The Society for Human Resources Management offers a great metaphor about diversity and inclusion (D&I):

Think of diversity as being similar to selecting people for a chorus who have different musical backgrounds, vocal ranges and abilities. The inclusion piece of D&I means making sure that those different voices are heard and valued and that they contribute to the performance.

Inclusive work environments empower employees by building a culture that celebrates the value their differences add to the organization. The “2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey” polled millennials and Gen Z workers and discovered that they feel that a large marker of business success includes “an emphasis on inclusion and diversity in the workplace.”

There’s little risk of anyone feeling excluded when your culture promotes clear communication and an effort is made to facilitate open dialogue—especially from your organization’s leaders.

Be intentional

Inclusion training is designed to promote conversation and open doors to opportunities and support structures within an organization. In addition to training, creating intentional approaches to conversation and collaboration are key.

Listening and asking questions are the only ways you’ll know how people feel. Make sure that you’re accessible and open channels for employees to share. Not only will you learn more about your workforce, you’ll foster inclusion by acknowledging every contributing voice. Everyone should feel like they can ask and share without being judged in any way.

Give everyone a chance to participate in setting the bar for inclusive dialogue. Instead of dictating guidelines for interaction, ask people to work together and establish communication norms and protocols that resonate with them. Only move forward when there is consensus about the proposed terms of inclusive communication.

To ensure every voice is heard, honestly ask yourself and your teams the following questions:

  • How should employees address each other when communicating?
  • What can management do to recognize and resolve disagreements?
  • How can managers include every voice in our decision-making process?
  • Where can employees go if they feel uncomfortable sharing or interacting?

Lead by example

Behaviorally focused inclusion training is good, as long as you lead with your own behavior. Model inclusion by openly vocalizing your own challenges, empathizing and being vulnerable. Instead of asking everyone to leave their assumptions at the door, inclusion training should provide ways for you to recognize and work to address them together.

A culture of inclusion needs to be established at the top. Managers and leaders are responsible for creating a welcoming, supportive workplace where diversity and individuality are valued and celebrated.

Encourage diversity

Knowing what is important to your workforce, both individually and collectively, will provide insight into ways to retain and develop diverse talent. Opening communication channels and listening to what people have to say will promote engagement and commitment to the greater good of the organization. Active listening goes beyond hearing what someone is saying—it requires empathy, consideration and recognition.

Through your words and actions, your message should be clear: “I hear you, I understand you, I relate to you and we’re in this together.”

Inclusion training—an essential part of any diversity initiative—will help you create a workplace where everyone feels like they can be exactly who they are. Your diverse workforce will stick around for a while, and you can continue to enable every single person to contribute in some way, shape or form to the success of the organization.