How to Create an Inclusive Work Culture

Improve the well-being of your employees—here are the tools to make it happen.

Jena Booher is a strategic work-culture consultant on a mission to improve gender diversity in large corporations. With a master's in mental health counseling and currently pursuing a PhD in psychology, she hopes to “keep women in the workforce, especially in the midst of difficult life transitions, so companies can save millions of dollars by retaining and promoting female talent.”

Also the founder of Babies on the Brain, an organization working against the motherhood bias, she's already well on her way. She gives companies the tools they need to keep moms on the job and improve employees’ overall well-being. That includes unconscious bias training, research on teams that support family life and one-on-one coaching for managers and employees that preps parents for leave and a successful return back. 

After spending eight years as a sales trader on Wall Street, Jena saw how flawed cultures negatively impacted employees’ mental health. According to Jena, companies were far from being inclusive to underrepresented groups like women, people of color and new parents, so she decided to devote herself to improving company cultures nationwide. 

Here are her seven tips for creating an inclusive environment at your office:

Establish safety within the organization

Don’t tolerate bad behavior even if the perpetrator is your top sales performer. If it’s tolerated, leadership sends a signal that it’s okay, for example, to harass employees. If people don’t feel safe, they can’t work. The effect on your work culture will be disastrous and, more importantly, you’ll put the mental health and well-being of your people at risk.  

Communicate correctly

Companies strongly influence culture through their behaviors, the messages they send, the questions they ask and the relationships they form within the organization. Is your décor, external messaging, how you reward/promote employees representative of your company values? Do you have a performance-based culture or do you reward individuals who are friends with leadership? This type of evaluation requires a consultant or someone who’s not already entrenched in the weeds of the organization to look at it with clear eyes. Communication is everything—make sure your explicit and implicit messages are the right ones.

Break the club culture

If your business is not meritocratic, you may end up losing your top talent. Instead, weed out your underperformers regardless of the personal relationships you have with them. Have HR develop a set of performance rubrics that details the requirements of the job and what it takes to meet and exceed expectations. That way, it’s clear when someone's missing the mark.

Have adequate demographic representation

Anyone looking to have a more diverse culture has to first run an analysis and gather data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Benchmark yourself against other companies in your industry and/or your top competitors on where you fall on EEO data. Then, create specific goals to move the needle. Some of these can include changing where you recruit candidates, developing partnerships with organizations with more diverse audiences and de-biasing your interview process.

Build trust

Many times, people in leadership positions don’t trust each other and the employees below them feel that lack of trust everyday. To remedy this, leadership teams need to work on building trust with each other via off-sites, group coaching and training. Sometimes, leadership also assumes what their people care about. If you want to build trust, don’t assume—just ask. Once you learn what your people care about, your behaviors will demonstrate that you take their concerns seriously and they will feel you have their backs. 

Introduce flexible work hours

Flexible work hours and the ability to work remotely are great when implemented correctly. They create the structural conditions for people to thrive (mainly parents). New mothers and fathers get the opportunity to work from home when a child is sick or daycare is closed while still continuing on an upward trajectory of career success. Many times, specific people will be given flexible work arrangements as a means to retain talent. When implementing flexible work arrangements, it should be made very clear to the individual, manager, HR and team what the arrangement looks like and how other people can be up for eligibility.

Stand for equal pay

Equal pay gaps are pervasive. Bias creeps in as early as when an offer is extended, and it's not uncommon to see women and people of color be anchored much lower than their white male counterparts. Companies who want to close the gap should conduct an internal wage audit. Pull all compensation data for every employee in the company. Break it out by salary and incentive compensation (if your firm offers incentive). Then, use Payscale or another salary data tool to pull in salary bands per title. Next, stratify the employees' positions as best as possible. Once you have bucketed people across all levels of the organization, compare their salaries against the compensation bands you pulled and filter for gender and race. If 50% of your female talent falls "below the band,” for example, you’ll have to fix the problem.

Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo.