Creating an inclusive workplace

Diversity doesn’t stick without inclusion1. What does it mean to have an inclusive workplace and how do you create one?

An inclusive workplace is a welcoming culture where employees are treated with dignity and respect and feel valued. The workforce anticipates being representative of the local community or customers (or if not, under-represented groups are encouraged to apply) and the senior management support plans to improve the culture. The following measures suggest how you can make your workplace more inclusive.

Team structure and composition

Effective teams indicate inclusive work culture. What makes a cohesive and operative team?

In 2016, Google analysed more than 100 teams to find the answer: effective team performance correlates to the group’s average level of emotional intelligence and a high degree of communication between members2. In other words, an individual’s personality affects team performance, and in particular:

  • What role you have within the team
  • How you interact with the rest of the team
  • Whether your values (core beliefs) align with the team’s3

More effective teams feature a mix of skills and personalities (a balance between functional roles – based on formal position and technical skill – and psychological roles – based on personality). To determine the kind of person each team member is, choose one test (or both) for the team to take, individually:

  • The Belbin Team Inventory

    (behavioral test)
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

    (introspective self-report questionnaire)

”The real change [for D&I] has to be comprehensive. It has to include everyone — not just women. When you are only including one group, that’s not real inclusion. It’s not the one-off checkbox activities — it’s making inclusion part of your culture, part of everything you do, and making everybody feel like they’re included and that they belong.4

Ellen Pao

CEO of Project Include

Personal plans and feedback systems

Personal development plan (PDP)

The primary aims of a personal development plan (PDP) are:

  • To give direction for individuals towards the achievement of their short-term or long-term goals by looking at their behaviours, attitudes and results;
  • To allow individuals to learn more about themselves, their strengths and weaknesses, and how they can be managed for self-benefit.

For mid- to large-size companies, line managers will most likely be in charge of PDPs, and a yearly check-in should be sufficient. However, consider bi-annual PDPs for junior hires to make sure they have the chance to clearly develop steps in their career progression.

Arrange to speak with line managers if you think PDPs do not ask important questions regarding employees’ perceptions of your D&I strategy (i.e. how an employee feels about the D&I strategy, how it affects their sense of inclusion and their level of comfort at work). PDPs can offer valuable insights into how an individual’s career progression correlates to their sense of inclusion at work.

”Some of our roles lend themselves to allowing people to work remotely, and are fully supported. This works not only for parents, but also for people with other commitments (carers) and those with limited mobility.”

Tom Blomfield

Tom Blomfield

CEO and Co-Founder, Monzo

Wellbeing and Mental Health

It’s important to make sure that a feedback system regarding wellbeing and mental health is available for employees. Mental health and wellbeing are two of the least discussed barriers in the workplace, and yet one in six of people at work have symptoms of a mental health condition.5 The relationship between employee wellbeing and engagement is crucial and necessitates investment: a healthy and happy employee means a more productive and engaged employee Create a simple, online questionnaire to capture current health behaviors of employees.

Working environment

The space in which you work also contributes to the company’s diverse and inclusive culture. Consider how the design of your office(s) provides and accommodates the needs of employees and customers alike. Try to remove barriers by reflecting on the following examples of inclusive features:

  • Gender neutral toilets
  • Induction Loop for hearing impaired users
  • Quiet spaces for coding
  • Prayer room
  • Wheelchair accessible entrances

Human Resources

Staff handbook

Consider providing (and regularly auditing) a staff handbook, available to all employees. This resource is contains key sections which include the company’s mission statement and information on the company’s culture, policies and procedures, as well as contact details for optimizing communication between departments and offices (if your company has more than one office).


Policies and formal practices set out behaviors you expect in the workplace and concern human rights, equality and inclusion. Your organisation may have sector-specific standards and legal requirements with which you need to comply, but beyond what is legally mandated (for example, the Equality Act 2010), which policies help to create a welcoming environment? Consider the following policies for a fairer, and more representative workforce (if you don’t already have them):

Your company policy

This statement can emphasize your stance on the importance of a diverse workforce at should complement the legally required equal employment policy.

Inclusion Clause

A procedure that ensures at least one member of a population currently underrepresented within the company is formally interviewed for any open executive position.6

Flexible Working Policy

Procedures that offer flexible and remote working options in a fair and objective manner.

Procedures for Parents, Carers and Expectant Parents 

This includes topics such as parental leave, adoption leave, time off for dependents, parental pay and whether you provide over the statutory minimum.

Code of Conduct (Anti-Discrimination, Bullying and Harassment)

Procedures that clearly set out behavioural standards that are expected in the workplace, and the consequences of unacceptable behaviour. Each firm should have someone responsible for dealing with complaints when they occur. Everyone at the firm should be aware of who this person is, and how to approach them with an issue.

Consider whether you could also create an external Buddy System outside the firm but within the industry, where founders and employees can freely ask the question “is this behaviour normal?”

Training and Development

Procedures to ensure all employees have access to regular training on equality, human rights and bias.


Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are both celebrated and criticised7. However, the business benefits of ERGs outweigh the negatives. These groups (or forums) provide spaces for discussing community-specific needs and opportunities. ERGs facilitate feedback from employees to decision-makers and serve as points of contacts for engaging allies in D&I efforts. Well-functioning ERGs therefore have the potential to:

  • Improve customer insights
  • Increase employee engagement
  • Supporting talent development8

Although ERGs sometimes fail to progress organisational inclusion efforts, this is due to design and execution – not to the underlying logic.

Informal Networking Events (Work Functions and Socials)

Even with the best intentions, what sounds like a fun, informal networking event (or social) at your company may be an example of bias that excludes certain employees from their company’s culture9. To ensuring the next work function is a party for everyone, consider these top tips for managers in charge of organising the event:

  1. Learn about employee preferences (via an organisation-wide anonymous survey) and provide options for:
    • Food
    • Drink
    • Activities
  2. Plan a greater variety of events that
    • Don’t feature alcohol
    • Happen during the day (for those who are carers or have child-care responsibilities)
    • Scheduled days of no events/parties in respect of religious holidays
    • Are group activity-based (for example: potlucks, community volunteering)
  3. Audit number of attendees and frequency of attendance and ask for feedback after events.

”There is an ever growing array of tools to help manage individuality in organisations. It starts with hiring – ensuring you see a diverse set of candidates and an interview process that is inclusive of diverse and properly trained interviewers. Also, understand any individual hire’s needs and circumstances and create a more customised work environment. This is hard to do as an organisation scales, but extremely important in getting the best out of individuals and teams. ”

Reshma Sohoni

Founding Partner, Seedcamp

  1. Sherbin, L and Rashid, R. Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion. HBR, February 01, 2017
  2. Winsborough, D and Chamarro-Premuzic, T. Great Teams Are About Personalities, Not Just Skills. HBR, January 25, 2017.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Reese, H. Ellen Pao worries that tech’s diversity problem is stuck in ‘raising awareness’. Vox (online): Accessed October 01, 2018.
  5. BBC News, Mental Health: Firms Ask PM to Deliver on Pledge, <a href=”″ target=”_blank”></a>
  6. Mark Suster, Both Sides of the Table, The VC Inclusion Clause, 8th March 2018, the-vc-inclusion-clause-movingforward-c5e21e61820, accessed on October 01, 2018.
  7. Green, J. Deloitte Thinks Diversity Groups Are Passé. Bloomberg Business Week, July 17th, 2017 (online) 01, 2018.
  8. Emerson, J. Colourblind Diversity Efforts Don’T Work. HBR: September 11, 2017 (online)
  9. Tulshyan, R. How Managers Can Make Casual Networking Events More Inclusive. HBR, October 22, 2018 (online)