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How to Build a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion in Your Workplace

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Read Time: 11 min
This post is part of a series called How to Improve Diversity in Your Business (Essential Guide).
How to Ensure Diversity in Your Recruiting and Hiring Practices
What Your Business Can Do to Support Spirit Day
This post is part of a series called The Complete Small Business Human Resources (HR) Guide.
How to Hire Your First Employees
How to Write an Employee Handbook (For Your Small Business)

As we saw right at the beginning of this series, diversity can bring great benefits to your business—everything from more innovation and better decision-making to a healthier bottom line.

But those benefits don't come automatically. Even if you’ve followed all the steps in our hiring tutorial and have started recruiting a more diverse set of employees, you won’t get the benefits unless you manage the process carefully so that, when they join the company, all your employees feel included and respected and can perform to the best of their ability.

Building a culture of diversity and inclusion in your workplaceBuilding a culture of diversity and inclusion in your workplaceBuilding a culture of diversity and inclusion in your workplace
Are you building a culture of diversity and inclusion in your workplace? (photo source)

So in this tutorial we’ll look at how to build a culture of diversity and inclusion in your workplace. You’ll learn what structures to put in place, some best practices around communication and training, how to deal with benefits packages, and much more.

1. Create a Structure

If you want to move from a homogeneous workplace to a diverse one, that will involve making some changes to the way you do things. So someone needs to be responsible for doing this.

The structure you use depends on the size of the company, but you'll need to have something in place. For example, Envato, the parent company of Tuts+, appointed a Diversity & Inclusion Advisor who is responsible for leading all the efforts to improve diversity across the company.

Larger companies will probably need an entire department dedicated to diversity; for smaller startups, maybe it’s just part of the responsibilities of the owner or a key employee. The point is to make a commitment and dedicate time and resources to effecting change, so that your diversity policy goes beyond paper and becomes reality. We’ll look at what some of those changes could look like in the rest of this tutorial.

2. Choose Your Focus

As we mentioned in an earlier tutorial, there are many different dimensions of diversity. Do you plan to work on all of them at once, or to handle them one at a time so that you have more focus?

A large company like Microsoft has a broad approach, with seven major employee groups and over 40 employee networks working on different areas.

At Envato, the focus is on four themes to begin with:

  1. Gender
  2. LGBTI
  3. Mental health
  4. Unconscious bias

There are other areas where the company wants to make progress, of course, but the goal for now is to see a significant impact in those four.

“It’s about striking the right balance,” says Abbie Burgess, Envato’s Diversity & Inclusion Advisor. “We could have made a decision to focus on more themes, but maybe then we wouldn’t see the same measurable success. We want to make a real difference with the resources we have.”

The themes at Envato grew out of work that was already being done by employees who had self-organised before a formal program was put in place. Their passion in particular areas was clear, and they have been driven to make change. 

For your own business, you could set your own areas of focus based on a similar process. Make decisions based on what’s important to you, your customers, and your employees.

Then set objectives in each area. How will you measure success? Some examples could be:

  • Retention rates
  • Employee survey results
  • The percentage of different groups represented in your business
  • Results of industry-wide equality and inclusion surveys

There are other metrics you could use, too. The important thing is to have a goal to work towards. We’ll talk more about measuring progress at the end.

3. Build Networks

The best way to help people overcome differences is to encourage them to mix in an informal or social setting. And sometimes people can benefit from specific groups to help them connect with each other and share experiences.

Many large companies have dedicated groups for different employee segments. Consulting firm Accenture, for example, has hundreds of Employee Resource Groups in 120 offices around the world.

“We bring together individuals with common needs or interests ranging from ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, gender identity or expression to faith or religion, ability and career paths, and more.”

Setting up ways for employees to connect with each other can help in many ways. As well as groups, you could look at informal buddy systems or more formal mentoring programs. These can help employees feel comfortable in the company, talk about any issues and problems they encounter, and find the best way to be successful.

Mentoring programs can also lead to another benefit: internal promotion. In a study of the mentoring program at Sun Microsystems, employees in the mentoring program were promoted more than twice as often as other employees.

If you want your diversity initiatives to be successful, you’ll need not just to hire a diverse group of employees but to give them a clear, realistic career path to the higher levels of the organization. Mentoring is a great way to encourage this upward mobility, ensuring that diversity flows right through to the leadership team and also contributing to pay equality—an important issue that we looked at in an earlier tutorial:

4. Have Clear Anti-Discrimination Policies, and Enforce Them

OK, this one is a no-brainer. Every company should have a policy informing employees of their right to be free from workplace discrimination. In many places, it’s a legal requirement.

But if you are truly committed to a diverse workplace, you’ll want to go further. As part of the induction process for new employees, set very clear guidelines around what sort of behavior is OK and not OK, so that everyone understands what’s expected of them and what sort of support they can expect from you.

And it’s also important to take firm action if people behave in ways that don’t match your company’s values. If you’ve managed diversity well and have a healthy, inclusive workplace culture, then these incidents should be rare. But they will occur, and when they do, you need to ensure that you take them seriously—it’s a crucial part of ensuring that everyone feels safe and supported and can work without harassment or discrimination.

5. Get Everyone on Board

For a commitment to diversity and inclusion to really take root in your organization, you’ll need to get the majority of your employees on board.

Try to communicate the benefit of diversity to the company and employees as a whole, to counteract the notion that it’s only aimed at helping certain groups. You could use some of the research we looked at earlier in the series on how it will give your company an advantage, or communicate the importance of diversity in terms of alignment with the company’s values.

Good communication goes both ways, of course. As well as talking to your employees, also listen to them. Even though you’re committed to diversity and inclusion, people could have legitimate concerns about the way in which you’re doing it. Listen to those concerns and have a genuine, open conversation. You may learn something and improve the program.

Training can also help your employees to get a better understanding of the topic. You can find some resources online, such as this eLesson on unconscious bias provided free by Microsoft, or Project Implicit’s free online tests of implicit attitudes. The results can be fascinating, and you can arrange more training to help people understand what to do with the results and how they can counteract any biases in their day-to-day work.

6. Be Fair With Benefits

Are your employee benefits packages fair to everyone? For example, if you offer health insurance or other benefits to employees' spouses, does that include same-sex partners? Do you give your employees enough flexibility, parental leave, and childcare support to enable them to balance their work with raising a family?

Go back to all the dimensions of diversity that we looked at in a previous example, and reassess all your employee benefits with those areas in mind (or your chosen areas of focus, if you’re starting off with a more targeted focus). What would different types of employees need from a company benefits plan? If you don’t know, run surveys or do other research to find out.

7. Accommodate Everyone's Needs

Educate yourself about any special requirements particular groups might have, and then provide what they need. For example, people with disabilities may need special computer equipment to help them do their jobs. Some companies go even further to provide equal access to jobs: Walgreens has outfitted a couple of its warehouses and distribution centers with disability-friendly equipment, and in one of them, roughly half of the staff has a disability.

Envato now has specially trained Mental Health First Aid Officers in the workplace. They’re similar to the physical first aiders you’re probably familiar with, but in the field of mental health—whilst they are not qualified counsellors or psychologists, they’re trained to spot the first signs of health problems and be a first point of contact to talk, provide support, and connect employees to the resources they need.

Other accommodations could include a prayer and meditation room, language training for people of different nationalities, time off on important religious holidays, or a multitude of other things. Listen to your employees and prospective employees, keep up to date with what other companies are doing, and try to create a workplace that provides for everyone.

8. Welcome Difference

Diversity is not about having a certain number of people from a certain group. It's about really listening to their different perspectives, valuing them, and benefiting from them. It's about achieving a new way of thinking.

Sometimes that can involve conflict or disagreements, and rethinking your own views, so you’ll need to be willing to do that to achieve true inclusion.

A study of 450 U.S. bank branches by academics at Harvard Business School found that organizations had three different perspectives on diversity:

  1. Discrimination and fairness perspective. The work groups aspire to being color blind, so conversations around race are limited.
  2. Access and legitimacy perspective. There is diversity only in certain parts of the organization. People are effectively shunted onto segregated career tracks and told, "This is what you're good at."
  3. Integration and learning perspective. Group members are encouraged to bring all relevant insights and perspectives to bear on their work.

Only the third perspective led to sustained performance gains; the other two led to employees feeling like “cogs in a wheel”.

The difference in the third perspective is that the groups had open discussions about their differences and learned from them. To achieve that, you’ll need not only to take all the steps we’ve discussed in this tutorial, but also to have a genuine openness to change and having difficult conversations, and you’ll need to encourage those traits in your employees too.

9. Measure and Monitor

The success of any project depends on measuring progress. So the last step is to monitor the success of your diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Employee surveys are a great way to do this. The Society for Human Resource Management offers a useful sample diversity survey. You can adapt these generic questions to your own needs, adding questions on specific projects or areas of focus that you want to track. Or work with a consulting firm to design and administer a survey.

If you repeat the survey at regular intervals with the same core set of questions, you’ll soon start to see patterns that can help you improve and learn.

Also consider participating in wider industry surveys, which can help you get an external benchmark on how you’re doing compared to other companies in your country or your industry. Envato participates in the Australian Workplace Equality Index, for example. There are many similar surveys in different countries that can help you get an impartial view of your progress.

There are many other ways to measure success, and many other metrics you can use. Which ones you use will be driven by the objectives you set, but whichever methods you use, make regular monitoring a part of the process, and use the results to improve your diversity initiatives.


In this tutorial, you’ve learned about building a culture of inclusion and diversity in your workplace. You’ve seen some concrete strategies you can use and some examples of how that’s worked at Envato and other companies.

It’s a large topic, however, so consider this your introduction. To be successful, you’ll need to commit significant resources over a long period of time. It may not always be a smooth process, but it will be rewarding. As Envato’s Abbie Burgess says:

“Diversity and inclusion is not one of those things that we’ll be able to tick a box on one day and say we’ve done it. It’s an ongoing commitment that we’ll always be working on.”

If you’d like to learn more on the subject, please check the earlier tutorials in the series if you haven’t read them already:


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