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7 Ways to Improve Workplace Diversity and Inclusion

Updated Nov 02, 2023

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Skye Schooley
Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations at business.com
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Diversity and inclusion have never been more critical in the workplace, and businesses are reviewing their internal processes to see where they can improve. Although many companies have released corporate statements on the topic, workplace diversity and inclusion require more than a simple declaration. We reached out to small business owners to see what fundamental changes they’ve made to improve their organizations’ diversity and inclusion, and we found seven examples of significant initiatives.

What is diversity and inclusion? 

graphic of office workers sitting in chairs

A diverse and inclusive workplace not only represents a variety of workers from different backgrounds, but also provides the support they need to help them perform their best. Creating a diverse workforce starts with recruitment. Your hiring team should focus on a candidate’s ability to perform a job, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, gender, national origin or other protected category.

An inclusive workplace starts at the top and echoes throughout your company. As a business owner, you are responsible for fostering a company culture that is accepting and inclusive of all employees. Educate your team on acceptable and inclusive behavior, and have strict policies in place for compliance with your diversity and inclusion initiatives. Creating a workplace where employees feel safe and accepted is essential for a successful business.

FYIDid you know

A diverse and inclusive culture starts with the recruitment process and should be echoed from all levels and departments within the company.

How important is diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Employers are starting to recognize that creating a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only the morally right thing to do, but also great for business. For example, diverse and inclusive workplaces attract and retain top talent. In the era of globalization and technology, the best candidate may be located across the world. If you restrict your hiring criteria to make your company more accessible to one specific gender, race, nationality or other category, you significantly reduce your ability to find qualified candidates.

A diverse and inclusive culture means employees are supported, accepted, respected and safe at work. This type of environment boosts employee morale and performance, improves your company’s reputation, and increases employee engagement, productivity, creativity, innovation and retention.

How companies prioritize diversity and inclusion

It’s all too easy to hitch on to the diversity bandwagon and send out a corporate statement about how your company supports employees from diverse backgrounds — but that is not enough. Some organizations are making real changes to improve diversity and inclusion initiatives in the workplace.

For example, we frequently hear about large organizations like Accenture, Starbucks and Visa that have gone to great lengths to ensure their employees are listened to and respected. They have clearly defined diversity policies that reverberate through every aspect of their organizations, and they provide access to special resources for internal and external use. 

Although these companies are doing diversity right, we wanted to take a closer look at what small businesses are doing to create diverse and inclusive workplaces. Learn at what these small businesses have done to get ideas for steps your business can take. 

1. Celebrate diverse holidays as a team.

Graphic of office workers holding a pride flag and wearing rainbow pride shirts

One way to show your employees that you care about their cultural events, holidays and movements is to celebrate as a team. Whether this means giving your employees the day off or celebrating in the office, it is essential to acknowledge and respect the traditions and celebrations of employees from various backgrounds. Ask your team what holidays are important to them and how you can help them celebrate. This can also be a way to increase awareness and educate yourself and your team about celebrations you may not have otherwise known about. [Read related article: The Pros and Cons of Flexible Benefits]

“We always celebrate, as much as we can, different holidays that show that we support gender equality, like Gay Rights Parade or Women’s Day, and we also celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day to show that we respect different races, especially African Americans. We come together as a team and celebrate these special occasions to show that we support our employees.” — John Howard, founder and CEO of Coupon Lawn

2. Create a peer-to-peer buddy system.

Another great way to facilitate an inclusive environment is to use a buddy system. Pair up employees from different backgrounds to foster closer connections and a better understanding of other cultures. A team that understands each other builds the foundation for a positive company culture. This activity will also show areas where employees can improve and where they may need additional training.

“A great strategy in fostering diversity and inclusion is the buddy system. This is where tenured employees guide the onboarding employees for a specific number of days or months. They walk through the company process together, and they even eat together during lunch breaks. I personally implemented this approach in my business. This is to test the maturity of both employees (tenured and onboarding) in adapting to changes.” — Karl Armstrong, founder of EpicWin App

FYIDid you know

Assigning a buddy to new hires is not only great for DEI, but it can also enhance your overall onboarding process.

3. Incorporate your team’s diversity into your product.  

If you can find a way to incorporate your employees’ unique backgrounds and experiences to enhance your product, your business will be better for it. Diverse perspectives are essential for innovation and creativity. One business doing this well is Hummii, a chickpea ice cream startup. The company uses its team’s diverse backgrounds to its advantage by drawing on its cultural diversity to inspire new flavors.

“One initiative we plan to roll out as we grow is to have each team member share and create their own flavor and workout that represents their background. We then will all share in completing that workout and follow it up with a taste testing of that flavor.” — Tyler Phillips, founder of Hummii Snacks

4. Elicit feedback from diverse employees and make recommended changes.

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A seemingly simple but highly effective method is to listen to your diverse employees to see what changes (both big and small) they think need to be made within your organization. Your employees are the lifeblood of your company, and they will know better than anyone what needs to change. Set up one-on-one time between employees and upper management to elicit constructive feedback on what diversity issues can be improved. Listen with intent, and ensure that each member feels safe and comfortable talking about their different perspectives, without fear of being reprimanded or judged.

“We’ve made diversity and inclusion one of our primary company objectives, with the goal of long-term sustainable change. We are setting time aside so that members of leadership are able to meet with our diverse team members one-on-one in order to listen to how they feel and get feedback on how we can make improvements to our company culture. We are also looking to diversify the models and influencers that we work with in an effort to represent all backgrounds.” — Brian Lim, CEO of iHeartRaves

5. Use anonymous recruiting.

Your team may have internal biases that they are unaware of. You can work to remove these unconscious biases from your hiring process by facilitating anonymous recruiting. When you assess candidate applications, remove any information that may provoke bias (e.g., photos, names, gender) and compare applicants purely on their experience and credentials. This will help you choose the best candidate, while also teaching you about your own unconscious biases.

“I’ve been experimenting with a new way of recruiting. Every resume we receive is rendered anonymous. We cover up photos, ages, genders, names — anything that can give away their identity. That way, we can make a truly unbiased choice for the best of the best employees. It has taught us a lot about internalized biases we don’t even know we have.” — Nelson Sherwin, manager of PEO Companies

Did You Know?Did you know

Research from the United Nations found that nearly 90 percent of men and women have fundamental biases against women, and gender bias can sabotage recruitment.

6. Invest in training and development for diverse employees.

Your employees are the future of your business, so it is vital that you invest in them. Train your team on cultural sensitivity and inclusion so they understand how to respect and support each other’s differences. Implicit bias training, cultural competence workshops and workshops on addressing microaggressions are all examples of training that can foster a more inclusive workplace.

It is also important for workers to be trained and developed professionally. Talk to each employee to map out their career path, and provide the adequate training, development programs and support they need to reach their goals. Ensure that each employee has equal support and the resources necessary to excel. 

“Diversity and inclusion are cultural shifts that require commitment and a lot of patience. Our leaders make sure that they are properly engaged with their employees and continuously identify ways to enhance their good experiences throughout the organization. We invest in diversity strategies like talent development, their learning, performance management, and strategies to retain the top talent, leading them to [be] future leaders in the organization. We give them training from time to time to better implement cultural sensitivity that is important for both employers and the employees. On a lighter note, we have hired people from different backgrounds that have different rituals and faith, and we make sure every one of them feels respected. We celebrate their days together and never make them feel that they are different from others. We focus on diligence instead of their caste, creed or color.” — Nicholas Holmes, founder of The Product Reviewer

7. Reprogram any biased AI algorithms.

graphic of a person in front of a board

Humans are not the only ones with bias — sometimes technology is biased too. If you use software in your recruiting and development strategy, reassess the programming to ensure it removes all bias. This is just one additional step you can take to ensure that your organization is diverse and inclusive.

“We trained our artificial intelligence algorithms without the ‘personal information’ section. Our HR representatives noticed that selection algorithms sometimes shortlist the CVs of candidates based on personal data. For example, if some department is female-dominant, it will prefer the CVs of female candidates. So, we have finished this portion from the algorithm’s training.” — Rolf Bax, CMO at Resume.io

How do you promote diversity and inclusion at work?

The best way to promote diversity and inclusion at work is through a multifaceted process. In addition to the tips listed above, here are a few other steps you can take to work towards a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

  • Establish and enforce strict policies: Once you create diversity and inclusion initiatives, implement strict no-tolerance policies for those who are noncompliant. Enforce your policies fairly across the board.
  • Foster inclusive leadership: Leaders play a crucial role in modeling inclusive behavior, setting the tone for the company culture, and driving organizational change. Train your leaders to set an example for a culture of tolerance and acceptance.
  •  Engage external stakeholders: DEI doesn’t just happen within your organization. It’s important to also engage with external stakeholders. Businesses can partner with diverse suppliers, support community initiatives and engage in broader diversity efforts beyond their organization.
  • Measure and track results: It’s important to measure and track the progress of DEI initiatives. Many organizations use metrics and data to assess their diversity efforts, identify improvement areas and measure their initiatives’ impact. Keep in mind, meaningful change often takes time, and it’s crucial to continue your DEI efforts beyond initial initiatives to create lasting impact.

A diverse workforce that embraces and encourages each other’s differences puts your business in the best position for long-term success. Don’t think of this as an obstacle to overcome, even if there are several areas your business needs to improve — think of it as a way to enhance your business, gain a competitive advantage, and grow an organization that is respected internally and externally. 

Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Skye Schooley
Senior Lead Analyst & Expert on Business Operations at business.com
Skye Schooley is a human resources writer at business.com and Business News Daily, where she has researched and written more than 300 articles on HR-focused topics including human resources operations, management leadership, and HR technology. In addition to researching and analyzing products and services that help business owners run a smoother human resources department, such as HR software, PEOs, HROs, employee monitoring software and time and attendance systems, Skye investigates and writes on topics aimed at building better professional culture, like protecting employee privacy, managing human capital, improving communication, and fostering workplace diversity and culture.
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