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Resource Center / Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Overcoming Inclusion Barriers in the Workplace

Building an inclusive workplace starts with identifying any barriers to inclusion that might exist in your company. Learn about some common barriers and strategies.

The letter "J" for Justworks.
Mar 19, 20217 minutes

There isn’t a one-size-fits all approach to building an inclusive work environment. When you’re seeking to build a more inclusive workplace, start by identifying what barriers to inclusion might be present in your organization. Discover some common barriers to workplace inclusion, along with simple strategies that can help make a difference.

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Leadership Attitudes

Inclusion starts at the top — the attitudes and behaviors of leaders impact organizational culture more than anything else does. If leaders think that inclusion isn’t important or behave in ways that are exclusive, then the culture will struggle to be defined by inclusion.

  • Leaders at the highest levels of the organization must set appropriate examples of inclusion through their own behaviors.

  • They should champion inclusion as an organization-wide strategy, emphasizing its importance just as much as other business strategies. Justworks drives toward this by building diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts into company OKRs, revisiting them often to track progress and identify opportunities for further improvements.

Recruiting Practices

Consider recruiting practices with inclusion in mind. Make sure that the process itself, or criteria used to make hiring decisions, doesn’t inadvertently limit diversity or result in exclusion.

  • Does your company give first priority or bonus points to applicants who went to certain schools? This excludes other applicants who didn’t have the same educational opportunities.

  • Does your company rely solely on resumes as applications? It’s more inclusive to use a screening questionnaire that requires the same information from everyone.

  • Consider posting open jobs on diversity job boards and using professional connections to further open up the opportunity. Justworks, for example, formalized partnerships with Basta, Flatiron School, and Job Target in 2020 to try and cast a more inclusive net.

Consider posting open jobs on diversity job boards and using professional connections to further open up the opportunity.

Inclusion-focused Benefits

Ensure that your firm’s approach to total rewards includes benefits and perks designed to foster an inclusive work environment while meeting the whole-person needs of your employees.

Onboarding Approaches

Take steps to ensure your onboarding practices are developed with inclusion in mind. This includes making it as easy as possible for people to request accommodations or share information that will help make their transition into the team go as smoothly as possible.

  • Prior to the first day of onboarding, send new hires a getting-to-know you questionnaire that includes a few inclusion-focused items, including whether any accommodations might be needed for onboarding sessions or initial training.

  • Before sending out an email introducing new employees to the company, verify the individual’s preferred name and pronouns.

Day-to-Day Inclusion

Every aspect of the work environment impacts whether employees perceive the workplace to be inclusive or not. Even so-called “small” things can send a big message when it comes to inclusion.

  • Vary the times of company meetings and events, rather than always holding employee gatherings after-hours, on weekends, or before work.

  • Record virtual meetings so that people who may not be able to attend live (due to family demands, health appointments, time zone differences, or other factors) can still get the information.

Every aspect of the work environment impacts whether employees perceive the workplace to be inclusive or not.

Workplace Norms

Establish norms within the workplace that are designed to promote inclusivity. Hold team members accountable for adhering to such norms, and ensure there’s a simple way for people to report problems that might arise.

  • Set an expectation of respectful communication for all members of the workplace, regardless of who they are interacting with.

  • Extend the anti-harassment policy beyond protected characteristics to include bullying behaviors and/or other exclusive behaviors.

Opportunities to Engage

Provide employees with opportunities to engage with others. Regardless if they’re connecting with coworkers who are similar or different, they can learn more about various dimensions of diversity or how to become an ally to other individuals or groups.

  • Establish employee resource groups to foster inclusion and impact your company in positive ways. These groups provide a great way for employees to bond while also boosting belonging and understanding. At Justworks, we currently have nine ERGs that aim to provide many of our employees a space for valuable connection and continued learning.

  • Create a shared list of inclusion and social justice resources that employees can easily add to or access (such as Google Docs). Include local and virtual cultural or activism-focused groups or events that employees may be interested in.

Inclusion-focused Training

Provide employees with training designed to boost their ability to contribute positively to an inclusive work environment.

  • Expand your training program to include timely diversity, equity, and inclusion topics such as anti-racism, unconscious bias, and cultural competence. Justworks, for example, includes anti-racism courses in addition to the other training courses made available to employees.

  • Add other topics based on your firm’s unique challenges. For example, if employees are arguing about politics, consider offering training on how government works (basic civics), as well as how to develop skills for respectful communication.

Inclusion-focused Team Bonding

When scheduling team bonding activities, do so with inclusion in mind. Offer a variety of activities, with different ways to engage.

  • Include options for activities. Not everyone can participate in sports or after-hours activities. It’s fine to keep those things as long as those who can’t (or don’t want to) participate aren’t disadvantaged and that other bonding options are available.

  • When scheduling team bonding outings, consider funding team-member visits to cultural exhibits or civil rights museums. Follow-up with team or company-wide discussions or lunch-and-learn sessions.

Include local and virtual cultural or activism-focused groups or events that employees may be interested in.

Holiday Observances and Celebrations

It’s important to recognize that not everyone celebrates the same holidays. When it seems like the company recognizes some holidays as acceptable to observe while others are not, that sends an exclusive message.

  • Make your holiday policy more inclusive by allowing for some floating holidays rather than dictating the same company holidays for all team members.

  • Rather than having one person in charge of all holiday celebrations, get employees involved in selecting holidays they’d like to see observed. Set aside a budget for each one and let employees sign up to manage the celebration details.

Workplace Food Considerations

Food is an important part of the culture in many workplaces. From including free snacks as a perk, to feeding employees during meetings, companies often spend quite a bit of money on food for employees. Unfortunately, this is sometimes done in a way that’s exclusive.

  • If your company provides break room snacks as a workplace perk, include a wide variety of items that include traditional snacks as well as vegan, sugar-free, grain-free, and fresh options.

  • When bringing in meals for team members, let people choose from a menu or pre-order a wide variety of foods to allow for all ways of eating. If you periodically surprise workplace employees with meals at home, ask dietary questions on your new hire questionnaire and ask team members to keep the information current.

Building an Inclusive Workplace

These are just a few ideas that can help overcome inclusion barriers in the workplace. Providing true equal employment opportunity may start with company policies and hiring practices, but building an inclusive culture involves more than just those things.

Inclusion requires building a business where everyone can fully integrate into the work environment in an equitable way, regardless of individual differences. Focus on building a workplace where people are accepted and welcomed for who they are, so they can truly and fully belong — that’s the real key to overcoming barriers to inclusion.

This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.