What does inclusion mean in the workplace?

AboveBoard | Jan 04, 2023

Uncover the power of diversity and inclusion.

Diversity in the workplace isn't enough. 

Leaders must actively promote the value of diversity in the workplace through the practice of inclusion. Without inclusion, the full impact of diversity—creating change, fostering creativity, and driving innovation—cannot be realized. These two values are inextricably linked. 

To improve inclusion and diversity in the workplace, it’s essential to practice inclusive leadership principles and ensure that other executives, directors, and managers are on board with cultivating an inclusive climate where diversity thrives. 

In this article, we’ll outline what it means to be inclusive in the workplace, why diversity and inclusion is important for organizations today, and steps and strategies you can adopt today to be inclusive at work. Let’s get started.

What does it mean to be inclusive in the workplace?

Harvard Business Review defines inclusion in the workplace as “a work environment where all people feel respected, accepted, supported, and valued, allowing all employees to fully participate in decision-making processes and development opportunities within an organization.”

Research from the journal Group & Organization Management goes even further, defining inclusion as “the degree to which an employee perceives that he or she is an esteemed member of the work group through experiencing treatment that satisfies his or her needs for belongingness and uniqueness.” This definition highlights each person’s innate desire to be both similar and different from others. And the workplace is no exception. 

Inclusion happens when people feel high levels of belonging and uniqueness. Put another way, an inclusive workplace is one in which respect, camaraderie, and teamwork thrive alongside appreciating a diversity of viewpoints, backgrounds, and experiences. In other words, inclusion and diversity naturally go hand-in-hand. 

Researchers with Group & Organization Management go on to outline the connection between belonging and uniqueness through the concepts of assimilation, differentiation, and exclusion. Assimilation occurs when people experience a high sense of belonging and a low sense of uniqueness. Differentiation is the inverse; in this case, people feel a low sense of belonging and a high level of uniqueness. Meanwhile, exclusion is the opposite of inclusion; in exclusive environments, people experience low levels of both belonging and uniqueness. 

Why is diversity and inclusion important for an organization today?

Incorporating diversity and inclusion into the fabric of your organization is about far more than environmental, social, and governance (ESG) appeal. These values offer tangible benefits to work environments and employees, including higher levels of creativity, innovation, and work satisfaction, all factors that are ultimately a boon to business resilience.

Unlock the power of diversity through inclusion

Diversity without inclusion is incomplete. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, “Most leaders understand that it is inclusion that unlocks the potential in a diverse workforce.” Inclusion is what makes diversity come alive; it is hearing, respecting, and incorporating the diverse input and experiences of your team members. The practice of inclusion is what transforms diversity from a target achieved to fuel for the future of your business. 

Support psychological safety, drive employee engagement

Inclusive leaders are proven to contribute to team members’ psychological safety, which is defined by researchers with Group & Organization Management as “facilitat[ing] the willing contribution of ideas and actions to a shared enterprise.”  

“Research suggests that psychological safety fosters voicing ideas for organizational improvements, the sharing of information and knowledge, taking initiative to develop new products and services, and facilitating teams and organizations to learn and to perform,” according to the peer-reviewed journal.

When people feel as though their ideas, and they themselves, are valued, creativity and innovation has space to flourish. Psychological safety is especially salient for marginalized people groups who have historically not had a seat at the table. 

Want to foster or contribute to another person’s psychological safety? Characteristics that can help foster psychological safety include openness, availability, and accessibility.

Reduce turnover, improve work satisfaction

Research shows highest turnover occurs when “only some and not all members of diverse work groups had a high-quality relationship with the manager.” This goes back to the idea of work environments in which people experience assimilation, differentiation, exclusion, or inclusion. Inclusive work environments are marked by “consistently positive relations between the leader and followers in diverse teams.” In other words, inclusive environments are centered on relationships. Building positive connections through inclusive leadership can contribute to what researchers call psychological empowerment—employees’ feelings of meaning, competence, self-determination, and impact.

How to improve inclusion and diversity in the workplace

Leaders at all levels, from executives and directors to managers and team leads, play a formative role in shaping work culture. “Their treatment of individual employees is a signal as to the degree of inclusion afforded,” according to Group & Organization Management. Leading inclusively requires “developing good relationships with followers to create an environment in which employees can share their perspectives, experience psychological safety, and inspire creativity and innovation.”

Here are a few simple, yet strategic steps you can take to start leading inclusively today:

  1. Support team members. Ensure others feel comfortable and that you have their best interests in mind.
  2. Prioritize fair treatment. In this way, all team members will know they are valued and respected.
  3. Engage in shared decision-making. Incorporate shared decision-making as much as is possible. Seek out different points of view, and go out of your way to let others know their contributions are welcome.

Build an inclusive workforce on AboveBoard

Inclusive teams and cultures don’t happen overnight. But with awareness, intentionality, and a willingness to think outside of the box, you can start making progress toward instilling inclusive values into the workplace. Maybe your next step is a diversity and inclusion survey to gauge just how inclusive your workplace is. For other teams, it may be time to start hiring with diversity, inclusion, and equity in mind.

At AboveBoard, inclusivity is at the core of what we do. Our two-sided executive hiring platform empowers historically underrepresented leaders through access and transparency while also delivering a high-quality, efficient, and affordable process to hiring companies. We’re on a mission to diversify the ranks of executive leadership. Will you join us? 

Transparent access to senior leadership and executive roles.

Join today for access to career opportunities and helpful resources.


AboveBoard is an executive hiring platform that connects qualified executives with board and full-time opportunities. We are expanding access for underrepresented groups of executives—particularly Black, Latinx, and women. To join visit

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