Sep 29 / Bianca Chio


In today's competitive business environment, organizations are constantly seeking ways to differentiate and innovate in order to sustain growth. As diversity has been proven to be a key driver of innovation, creating an inclusive work environment has become crucial for businesses looking to tap into the full potential of their diverse workforce.

This article explores the concept of inclusion, its importance in promoting diversity and innovation, and the role of leaders in championing inclusion across organizations. It also discusses practical strategies for involving employees in creating an inclusive workplace and building management capabilities to support this important initiative.  


Although diversity, equality, and inclusion are frequently associated, they are fundamentally different concepts. Equality is about providing equal rights and opportunities to everyone, and it prevents direct or indirect discrimination. Diversity embraces differences between people in a group with respect to their contexts, backgrounds, or demographics. 

At an organizational level, inclusion means that all employees should feel accepted, valued, and supported, regardless of their background or identity. It's about making sure that everyone feels like an important part of the team and that their needs for belongingness and uniqueness are met. Uniqueness is what makes each person different from others in the social context.

The relationship between belonging and uniqueness is often discussed in the literature on inclusion. According to Brewer's Optimal Distinctiveness Theory (ODT) (1991), it suggests that employees can be their true selves (uniqueness) while also feeling a sense of belonging at the same time.

Promote Inclusion

When it comes to how employees feel included at work, several factors come into play. One important factor is the overall work environment, including how fair and diverse it is. Another factor is the leadership style and values of the managers, as well as the strategies and decisions they make. Lastly, there are certain practices in place that help employees feel like they belong and that their unique needs are met. All of these factors have a direct impact on how included employees feel in their groups. And when employees feel included, it has positive effects on their relationships with colleagues and supervisors, their well-being, their creativity, and even their job performance, commitment to the organization, and intention to stay long-term. In short, creating an inclusive environment benefits both employees and the organization as a whole. Here's what we can do:

1. Make inclusion relevant to all employees 

Peers and supervisors play a crucial role in creating a welcoming and inclusive work environment. They are the ones who set the tone of respect and acceptance for everyone in the workplace. From the top-level executives to entry-level employees, it is important for everyone to understand that fostering inclusion is a shared responsibility. Inclusive behavior are the actions and practices that promote a sense of belonging and acceptance within the team. Embracing inclusive behaviors, leads to an environment where everyone feels valued and included.

Belonging to a social group is a fundamental and universal human need thinks Brewer (1991). We naturally tend to gravitate towards familiarity as it makes us feel comfortable, and without realizing we ignore the unfamiliar. We do not naturally relate across boundaries to establish connections, and our first instinct is to stereotype because of biases or lack of awareness. Employees need to be encouraged to understand their role in building inclusive work environments, which means treating colleagues fairly and respectfully and fostering positive relationships with peers across boundaries of any type.

2. Empower leaders to champion inclusion

Leaders play a critical role in setting the tone for what is expected in the workplace regarding inclusion. They translate policies into practice, role model the organization's values, and have the power to improve the employee experience in general. Inclusive leadership is about supporting employees by treating them fairly, involving them in decision-making, and valuing their diverse contributions. When employees are included in decision-making and have access to information, they feel like they are part of the group. Additionally, employees feel respected when their leaders show confidence in them, give them responsibility, recognize their performance, and seek their input for decisions.

The theory of Leader-Member exchange (LMX) suggests that the relationship between a leader and their direct reports has a significant impact on the experience and sense of inclusion felt by employees. By fostering a positive and supportive environment, managers can promote inclusion by encouraging open communication, valuing diverse perspectives, and providing opportunities for team members to contribute, learn, and grow. This inclusive approach not only enhances employee satisfaction but also cultivates a strong and cohesive team dynamic, ultimately leading to improved performance and organizational success.

Employees' role in creating an inclusive work environment

Inclusivity means that we, as employees, make an effort to accept and understand people who are different from us, treating them with respect. Sometimes, we may not even realize that we have biases or blind spots. But we can address them by giving and receiving feedback, having friendly discussions with our colleagues, and speaking up when we see exclusionary behavior. To overcome the fear of the unknown, we can have coaching and exposure to different perspectives through socializing, working groups, and celebrating diversity. This creates a safe space where everyone feels comfortable sharing their experiences and opinions. It's important to have a manager who represents us fairly and values our input, so we feel supported when challenging exclusionary behavior.

Social support at work is a concept that refers to how much individuals feel valued and supported by their bosses, colleagues, and the organization as a whole. It involves positive social interactions that contribute to their overall well-being. When we have a strong support system in the workplace, it can make a significant difference in our happiness and job satisfaction. Knowing that we have the support and encouragement of those around us can help us tackle challenges, feel more motivated, and thrive in our professional lives.

Building management capabilities

None of the points indicated above would be possible without inclusive leadership - one of the factors contributing to inclusion, alongside climate and practices To achieve this, leaders across the organization need to be equipped to support their teams effectively and to recognize everyone’s contribution. They have an essential role in driving the implementation of inclusion by enabling and encouraging all team members to contribute. Ensuring everyone’s participation accommodates the employees' need for uniqueness and belonging in work groups  - which is mainly the role of leaders.

Activities such as employee feedback or reverse coaching, or mentoring must be encouraged. Listening actively and staying open to learning about potential issues create inclusion. On the one hand this enhances employees' perception of inclusion by giving them a voice. On the other hand, it raises awareness of potential issues that could impact the organization. Managers must be aware of how their biases (conscious or not) and “blind spots” can stop them from fairly interacting with their employees or, even worse, from allowing employees fair access to information, promotion, and development opportunities. 

In the current era of high volatility, organizations are compelled to prioritize growth. To achieve this, they must emphasize differentiation and innovation. However, innovation without diversity is challenging. In order to foster diversity, inclusion is indispensable. Inclusion is now seen as an ongoing journey rather than a fixed destination. The path to progress lies in embracing inclusive leadership.

LERNIQ provides valuable opportunities for diversity and inclusion development. Whether you're looking to bring these initiatives to your organization or participate in our engaging online or in-person sessions, feel free to reach out to us at We're here to support you!


Brewer, M. B., 1991. The social self: On being the same and different at the same time.. Persibality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 17(5), pp. 475-482.

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Randel, A. E. et al., 2018. Inclusive leadership: Realizing positive outcomes through belongingness and being valued for uniqueness. Human Resource Management Review, 28(2), pp. 190-203.

Robertson, Q. M., 2006. Disentangling the meanings of diversity and inclusion in organizations. Group and Organization Management, 31(2), pp. 212-236.

Brimhall, K. et al., 2017. Increasing workplace inclusion: the promise of leader-member exchange. Human Service Organizations: Management, Leadership, and Governance, 41(3), pp. 222-239.

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Kossek, E. E., Pichler, S., Bodner, T. & Hammer, L. B., 2011. Workplace social support and work-family conflict: a meta-analysis clarifying the influence of general and work-family - supervisor and organizational support. Personnel Psychology, Volume 64, pp. 289-323.

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Nishii, L. H. & Mayer, D. M., 2009. Do inclusive leaders help to reduce turnover in diverse groups? The moderating role of leader-member exchange in the diversity to turnover relationship. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(6), p. 1412