5 Ways to Create a More Inclusive Work Environment

Maintaining a culture of relentless curiosity, where employees are invited to challenge assumptions, is good for organizations and healthy for people.

Many of us live in silos of our own making. Very often, individuals self-select lives that limit their learning and growth. They surround themselves with people who think like they do, seek out information that aligns with their opinions, or engage in conversations that reinforce what they already believe. This deliberate, but perhaps unconscious, narrowing extends to the schools they choose; the social media channels they follow; the news outlets they read or watch; and the religious and civic institutions they choose to attend.

Despite having many more choices for interacting with others than ever before and the ability to talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time, most of us elect to inhabit these self-erected siloes. 

A siloed life makes it difficult to grow as a person—and consequently, as a society. It sets a standard for complacency and comfort with a static mindset. All living beings, but especially humans, benefit from movement and growth, both mentally and physically. To quote the management guru Marshall Goldsmith, “What got you here won’t get you there.” To grow, you have to break down walls and seek out opinions from people with different experiences and points of view.  

Interestingly, the workplace is now one of the last places where you are compelled to not only be around people who think differently than you do, but also to engage with them in productive ways. That applies to working with colleagues internally as well as interacting with outsiders professionally. 

For many of us, our work environments require us to engage with people that have a wide range of backgrounds, languages, races, ethnicities, genders, skills, capabilities, knowledge, and perhaps most importantly, points of view. 

That’s a very good thing—but it calls for organizational leaders to assess through employee surveys, constituent satisfaction scores and other tools how well they foster a work environment that capitalizes on the power of diverse thinking. 

Together, we are smarter and stronger than any one of us individually. That concept is core to our identity at ICF, a leading global consultancy and digital services provider. Diversity is fundamental to our values and a key to our success. Below are a few specific steps we take to expand opportunities for dialogue and create a more inclusive work environment. These steps can be adapted to fit any organization, regardless of sector, size or location:

  1. Connect inclusivity to an organization's success. Purposefully build diverse teams to help stakeholders solve their most complex challenges, whether those center around public health, disaster management, IT modernization, climate change or some other multi-faceted issue.
  2. Encourage bold and broad thinking. Center the success of your organization around broad thinking, drawing on experts with diverse points of view informed by both work and life experiences. 
  3. Redefine meetings. Work to get the right people in the room to offer new and different ways of thinking to devise the best solutions, not the easiest. 
  4. Lean into all-hands. Analysts, policy specialists and digital strategists should work together with data scientists, developers, and creatives to help stakeholders navigate change, respond to crises and shape their futures. 
  5. Amplify employee voices. Every person, from the newest hire to the longest-tenured subject matter expert to the senior leader, should be empowered to contribute to the organization’s success. 

Celebrating diversity of staff, approaches to business and strategic thinking has served ICF and our clients, very well. But, like many organizations, we have more work to do.

I believe it’s the responsibility of workforce leaders—myself and others—to go beyond “sustaining” an open and inclusive workplace, to driving that concept as fundamental to our organizational culture. Actively creating opportunities for open, honest discourse leads to an expansion of new ideas and their profusion into our organizations, and the organization of those we serve. Ultimately, this paves the way for growth and evolution. 

Maintaining a work culture of relentless curiosity, where employees are invited to challenge assumptions, question the accepted, and bring their passion to interactions is both good for organizations and healthy for people.

John Wasson is the President and CEO of ICF, a global consultancy.