An Inclusive Environment Is Critical for Workplaces — Here Are the 7 Signs Yours Isn't

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By Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, CEC

READ MORE: Diversity, Company culture, Workplace

Do you work for a diverse company? Many organizations today are attempting to diversify their workforce because an inclusive work environment is important for fostering creativity and innovation. 

In fact, many companies that are committed to improving their workplace culture publish their diversity statistics each year. But the numbers don’t always tell the whole story.

For example, some companies profess to have a diverse culture. Amazon’s website states the following: "We believe that diversity and inclusion are good for our business, but our commitment is based on something more fundamental than that. It's simply right. Amazon has always been, and always will be, committed to tolerance and diversity." Yet we now know that the workplace culture at Amazon is brutal. It is not an inclusive environment.

Determining a company’s culture can be challenging because they may actually be diverse with regard to gender, age and race, but not inclusive. An inclusive culture acknowledges the unique experiences and perspectives each individual brings to the table. Each employee is respected and given equal opportunity to succeed.

A company is not diverse and inclusive if you see any of the following five red flags:

1. Everyone looks the same. This is fairly easy to determine through simple observation, although there may be differences by department. If you can’t find a company’s diversity statistics online, ask to see them. Has there been any progress in the past couple of years? What are the company’s diversity initiatives?

2. Everyone has similar backgrounds in education, work history and experience. This is less obvious. Employees may look diverse but might be recruited from the same schools and companies. This contributes to a lack of diverse thinking. People think the same and draw from similar work experiences. It limits innovation and creativity.

3. There are few women in leadership positions. Look at the organization chart. What is the percentage of women in leadership? Have these women been promoted from within? Is the company focused on advancing women? Are there initiatives in place to support their advancement or is the company paying lip service to gender diversity?

4. Sponsorship programs do not include women. Sponsorship has been proven to help women move into leadership positions. But often sponsorship is not available to women. This puts high-achieving women at a disadvantage compared to their male counterparts and the result is that more men are promoted than women.

5. There is no encouragement to share ideas and opinions. Or perhaps only men are encouraged. An inclusive culture is collaborative and provides a safe environment for everyone to speak their point of view and brainstorm with each other. Everyone counts and everyone is respected for their thoughts.

6. Assumptions aren’t challenged. Leaders believe they have all the answers and do not provide an opportunity for open communication and debate. This can lead to a toxic culture where the only employees who get promoted are those who agree with leadership positions, right or wrong.

7. Affinity groups lack support. Often affinity groups are formed with company approval but they have no platform to share their ideas about how to improve the workplace culture. Very often these groups also lack resources and a budget to accomplish anything. They lack executive sponsorship.

Many companies, especially public companies, are under increasing pressure from society to demonstrate a commitment to better represent the population. It takes time to bring about this type of change. But as companies are addressing their recruitment and hiring practices to diversify, they also need to pay attention to whether or not their workplace culture is inclusive. Providing an environment in which each individual acknowledged and that is safe to share ideas and opinions is perhaps a greater challenge.

Plus, diversity and inclusion needs to be expressed in both a verbal and non-verbal way to make turn organization culture into a truly inclusive workplace. An inclusive workplace accepts and advocates for all people regardless of socio-economic status, sexual orientation, abilities or disabilities, race, age, gender and more. If you start learning that your work environment is not culturally inclusive, you may want to reach out to HR to discuss your issues with the organization culture. If nothing is done to better the work environment to make it more culturally inclusive, you might want to consider finding a new job.

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Bonnie Marcus, M.Ed, is an executive coach, author and keynote speaker focused on women's advancement in the workplace. A former corporate executive and CEO, Bonnie is the author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead, and co-author of Lost Leaders in the Pipeline: Capitalizing on Women's Ambition to Offset the Future Leadership Shortage.

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