How to create an inclusive workplace environment?

As a business owner, your goal should be to create a workplace where employees from all walks of life feel valued, and have a sense of purpose and inclusion. But the dynamism inherent in business, especially in the start-up culture, also needs a diverse and dynamic team, with a mix of ideas and experience that can foster innovation and tackle changing and broader markets.

The business case for diversity and inclusiveness
Every member of your workforce must be treated equally and have an equal opportunity to succeed. Equality has also proven to be good business. According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, advancing women’s equality in the workplace could add US$12tn to global GDP by 2025.
Similarly, another McKinsey report (2010) found that companies with the greatest share of women on their executive committees outperformed those with all-male committees by 41% when it came to return on equity, and 56% for operating results.
Pay workers equally for equal work. Make a point of asking opinions of those who are less talkative in meetings, and make sure to listen and acknowledge their contributions.

Educate employees
Spend time educating employees on the benefits of a diverse environment. Lead by example. Visible leadership is irreplaceable when trying to educate employees. Learn about the different cultures in your workplace, say good morning in an employee’s native language, recognise religious holidays – employees look to their higher-ups for queues on how to act. Likewise, after-work activities can foster a healthy work culture and build connections that might not arise as people focus on reaching deadlines.
Justene Smith, a disability specialist at Progression, advised that “Regardless of the size of your business, it is important to consider a long-term solution to inclusion in the workplace. This requires thoughtful and sensitive education around disability which can assist in breaking the prejudice and stigma often associated with it. Ultimately, in order to create a truly inclusive environment… disability needs to be approached with a ‘business-as-usual attitude’, looking at the skills and potential of the person first, before their condition.

Widen your hiring horizon
If you want a diverse, inclusive workforce, you need to hire one. Remember that not having gone to the best school is not an indicator of someone’s ability – consider the disadvantages that a prospective employee may have had to overcome. Some of these will have taught them lessons that may mean they bring something extra to the role.
Employers should tap into the knowledge of their marketing professionals who analyse markets based on market segments. They should then create specific and targeted employee segments – e.g. employees of different races, religions, gender, cultures, ages, languages, etc. – and then create inclusive workplaces addressing the needs of these diverse employee segments,” says Marius Meyer, the CEO of SA Board for People Practices.

Open your lines of communication
Allow up and down communication in all aspects and divisions of your business. Employees need to be able to air concerns. Communicate to employees that discrimination is not tolerated and action, disciplinary if necessary, will be taken if discriminatory acts continue.
To avoid conflict, seek out employee feedback – anonymous if helpful – on what the work environment is like. Even issues such as working late or sending emails on weekends can affect certain groups – single parents, for example – more acutely than others.
Kgomotso Ramoenyane, the executive general manager for human resources at Business Partners suggested communicating what the company’s vision is in order to create an inclusive work environment: “Small business owners should consciously build an inclusive work culture by defining and sharing their business vision, goals and targets with staff.  When this takes place, staff members will feel valued and be free to put forward ideas and support the growth of the business. They will go beyond their contractually required output.