Advancing DEIB

Creating a Culture of Belonging: Strategies for Fostering Inclusivity


February 19, 2024
6 min read

Much has been written about workplace culture in general, and inclusivity in particular. As today’s organizations make strides to improve diversity and inclusion, they also must keep in mind that diversity on its own isn’t a major accomplishment. Achieving diversity without creating a culture of inclusion or a sense of belonging among workforce populations is a hollow victory.


This article will discuss leadership’s role in creating such a culture and fostering a sense of belonging among employees at all levels. We will also discuss different strategies for knocking out unconscious biases and overcoming the challenges that can hamper the advancement of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Understanding Inclusion

Inclusion is one of 3 closely related values – diversity, equity and inclusion – that can be demonstrated by organizations’ support of different groups of individuals. This includes people of different races, ethnicities, religions, genders, ages, sexual orientations, backgrounds and abilities. Inclusion simply refers to how the workforce experiences the work environment. Is the organization dedicated to creating a culture of inclusion, embracing and supporting all employees, or are some made to feel excluded or marginalized? Do all members of the workforce feel as though they are being heard, or that they are able to make meaningful contributions for the betterment of the organization and their own careers?

How are diversity and inclusion related? While diversity can be a way to describe the makeup of an organization along the lines of ethnicity, gender, sexual identity and more at any given time, inclusion gets to the heart of why diversity is a goal worth attaining.

Research shows that individuals of all backgrounds can encounter barriers to feeling included, with additional challenges experienced by women, those identifying as LGBTQ+, and people who are ethnic and racial minorities:

  • Employee engagement is strongly linked to a culture of inclusion. Employees who feel very included are more likely than others to say they feel excited by, and committed to, their organizations.

  • Nearly 40% of respondents to a recent survey say they’ve turned down or chosen not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at an organization.

  • 84% of survey respondents say they’ve experienced microaggressions at work and more than 1 in 4 say they’ve needed to correct others’ assumptions about their personal lives.

According to research from Binghamton University, which analyzed a cycle of poor performance among nonprofit organizations, leaders who seek the input of members from all job positions throughout an organization and encourage everyone to take initiative in work-related processes are more likely to increase feelings of inclusion. This sense of belonging, in turn, can lead to increased innovation and employee job satisfaction, and to the quality of services delivered by organizations in the nonprofit sector.

Building an Inclusive Culture

Organizational leaders can take tangible steps toward creating an environment that champions an inclusive culture, beginning with an honest assessment to help them gain an understanding of where their organization performs well and where it is lacking. Further steps include formulation of a plan to put this information into action, valuing input from all levels of the organization and maintaining open, two-way communication between senior leadership and all employees.

Leadership's role in creating a culture of inclusion

Leadership should be prepared to set the tone for an inclusive culture, starting by recognizing and addressing their own biases then mapping a clear statement of vision and values and demonstrating those values with their actions. Open communication is an effective first step in the process, and the most effective way to gain understanding about what is working for workforce members and what is not. Listening can be conducted in many ways, including one-on-one conversations, workshops and employee surveys.

The goal of any listening session should be to get a clear and unvarnished view of what it’s like to work for the organization.

Employee engagement and participation

Improving employee engagement, satisfaction and participation is crucial in the journey toward creating a culture of inclusion in the workplace. Inclusivity can improve employee engagement, which is a broad term that describes employees who more actively participate – contributing in meetings and brainstorming sessions, completing more work on time, greeting their coworkers and other behaviors that signal belonging.

Inclusivity begins before employees are hired – and must be part of the recruiting and hiring process:

  • Large organizations may want to reexamine the college campuses they recruit from, to see if their student populations are as diverse as the workforce they wish to build. 

  • In job descriptions, state your company’s DEI objectives clearly and avoid gendered language or jargon that could be exclusionary.

  • To attract a more diverse talent pool, get rid of the “just like me” hiring bias that results from managers having the latitude to interview and hire job candidates who look, talk or think like them. 

Fostering a sense of belonging

An inclusive workplace means different things to different people. That’s why creating a sense of belonging is an ongoing and multidimensional process. The celebration of diversity and promotion of cultural awareness in company policies and the physical workspace are essential to getting the job done. It takes a commitment to the treatment of every person as an individual and a dedication to organizational change. Here are a few tangible steps employers can take toward creating a sense of belonging in the workplace:

  • Realize that diversity without inclusion doesn’t work: You may have hired a diverse group of people, but if you fail to treat them as individuals and to be proactive in inviting them into the organization, making the organizational changes that allow them to truly feel welcomed, you haven’t accomplished much.

  • What does inclusion look like at work? Assumptions that are based on your own experiences can impede your progress. Employees should be asked what inclusion looks like to them, through the lens of their experiences and the challenges they face every day.

  • A new approach to meetings: Who’s running the show? To be more inclusive, change the routine by allowing each person a chance to facilitate recurring meetings. Working within an established framework, a diverse group with a rotation of leadership can be a way for different voices to be heard and new solutions to emerge.  

  • Use gender-neutral language in company policies: Employee communications and benefits policies should be written – or rewritten – using gender-neutral language and removing gendered references and phrasing. 

  • Recognize and celebrate religious and cultural holidays: With diversity comes cultural and religious observances that are outside of what many of us would consider the mainstream. Education about these celebrations leads to an understanding of their importance in different cultures, and makes it easier for everyone to welcome them into the fabric of the workplace. 

Employee resource groups (ERGs) and employee networks have been effective in creating more inclusive cultures and have been embraced by 90% of the Fortune 500. These voluntary, employee-led groups are aligned with the company’s mission and provide a safe space for underrepresented employees to bond with each other, stave off feelings of isolation, and get relief from the daily aggressions they may have to endure at work. They also provide support for career development opportunities.  


ERGs are much more than a feelgood policy invention. They can bring tangible benefits by:


  • Increasing employee engagement and retention.

  • Helping to identify and mentor new leaders.

  • Attracting candidates during the recruiting process.

  • Creating a workplace culture that is infused with positivity.

Starting an ERG begins with buy-in from company leadership. Any ERG should be fully supported, funded and endorsed by executive management, with a senior leader as an executive sponsor and full participant in the group.


How do you determine which groups are likely to be successful? Each ERG should be created to solve for a unique need. A good way to secure executive management buy-in is to align the goals of the group with the mission and values of the organization. Begin with an assessment of which groups are underrepresented, or well represented. Which groups might be best served with a bit more investment? Your HR data can provide the answers. And what about goals? Building membership and awareness is an excellent first-year objective, but remember that your overall goal is inclusivity.

Overcoming Challenges

The challenges to new or well-established diversity and inclusion initiatives include unconscious bias, resistance and skepticism, and a lack of understanding of how to measure and evaluate the results of inclusion efforts.

Addressing unconscious biases

Unconscious bias (UB) is a silent killer of inclusivity. Because of its deep-seeded nature, UB is one of the most challenging obstacles facing any inclusivity initiative. The snap judgments powered by unconscious bias reinforce stereotypes and affect a range of decision-making processes in recruiting, employee awards and bonuses, promotions, education benefits, talent succession and other areas.

UB training has been helpful for leaders wanting to make their workplaces more diverse, equitable and inclusive and reduce bias in behaviors at work. The most effective UB training goes beyond awareness, teaching trainees to manage their biases, change their behavior and track their progress.

It’s important for employers to address unconscious bias in recruiting, and how UB may be even more of an issue in a remote recruiting environment. Job descriptions, an element of the hiring process that has always been remote, should be written using inclusive language and tested with a diverse group of people before posting.

Video interviews are another UB-prone area that should be evaluated. Recruiting conversations are happening more frequently on a video conferencing platform these days, with the backdrop most likely being the candidate’s home. Factors like background noise, technical and software incompatibility and the lack of a private space at home may contribute to visuals and noise that are less than ideal. None of these factors affect the candidate’s ability to do the job, so it follows they shouldn’t impact your perspective of them as a candidate.

UB can play a role in the interview process in other ways. In non-standard interviews, candidates don’t have the same opportunity to share their story in a way that demonstrates how they would fit the role. By standardizing the interview process, asking the same set of questions of all candidates in the same order, interviews can be better focused on factors that have a direct impact on job performance. As an alternative to relying upon candidates’ self-assessments, a case-based interview, whereby the candidate is asked to solve a problem similar to one the company might face, could allow hiring managers to evaluate candidates more objectively.

Dealing with resistance and skepticism

Resistance and skepticism are ever-present headwinds blowing against the progress of diversity and inclusion initiatives. To cut through them, the benefits of inclusion must be communicated frequently and consistently. Resources and ongoing support must flow from an organization’s highest levels to be sure the initiative remains an essential part of the organization’s culture.  

Measuring and evaluating inclusivity efforts

When employers have gained a better understanding of what a more diverse and inclusive workplace looks like, they can begin to establish the metrics and benchmarks that allow them to measure the results of their DEI efforts. Regular assessments can then provide the basis for adjustments in an atmosphere of constant improvement.

Here are some important metrics:

  • Diversity of employees vs. the pool of applicants: If your applicants for open roles are extremely diverse but your team is not, that could be an indication of bias in your recruiting process. 

  • Diversity and inclusion across organization levels: An entry-level team that is extremely diverse managed by a leadership that doesn’t reflect diversity could be an area for improvement. Improve the way your organization promotes from within. Measure the percentages of women and minorities in leadership roles independently.

  • Job satisfaction: Although job satisfaction and inclusion are not directly linked, factors like happiness, inter-team relationships and recognition can all be measured through surveys to gauge how employees feel about their jobs. 

  • Job retention: High employee turnover may indicate employees are unhappy or unfulfilled. Who is leaving and who is staying? If you find that a large number of diverse hires are leaving, then you might have an inclusivity problem. 

Connect with us to see how we might help

Chances are we have a program to fit your needs.

Related Content

DeVryWorks Can Help Advance Your DEI Initiatives

DeVryWorks, the workforce solutions partner of DeVry University, can strengthen your diversity and inclusion initiatives with customized learning pathways to upskill and reskill team members, solving for current and predicted talent gaps. We can help you develop a tuition benefits program that is aligned with your DEI policies and refined for increased employee engagement and retention.

Contact us today to discover what DeVryWorks can do for your organization.