While so much uncertainty continues when it comes to COVID-19, one thing is more important now than ever: As we continue to examine what it means to value and care for others, there’s a call for a greater focus on inclusion. We hear the terms “diversity, equity, and inclusion” in our everyday lives, but these ideas are far more than buzzwords or tasks to check off a to-do list.

I recently wrote about how diversity and equity are evolving in the workplace and how leaders can engage in DEI efforts. Now I’ll turn my focus to inclusion, or how we make others feel comfortable and free to be themselves, wholly and unapologetically. It’s about creating space for others to thrive exactly as they are and giving them equal opportunities and resources to be successful. Inclusion isn’t about us all being the same; in fact, it is actually about celebrating who we are as individuals, what we each bring, and how this makes the team even stronger.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion are often considered to be synonymous, but there are distinct differences between these concepts. Diversity brings together all possible viewpoints, equity gives everyone a seat at the table, and inclusion ensures that all feel safe and comfortable expressing their views and ideas freely.

An inclusive workplace is built around a culture that respects and honors all facets of the human experience—such as race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, age, geography and the experiences that makes us who we are—while fostering an environment that helps all team members realize their full potential.

The right thing to do for your people and your business

Creating an inclusive workplace helps employees feel more engaged, creates space for open discussion, fuels collaboration and innovation, and accelerates business outcomes—allowing us to solve problems and drive better results. A recent Deloitte study surveyed more than 50 companies across the globe and found that organizations with inclusive cultures were:

  •  2 times as likely to meet or exceed financial targets
  • 3 times as likely to be high performing
  • 6 times more likely to be innovative and agile
  • 8 times more likely to achieve better business outcomes

Deloitte’s study also reported significant correlations between inclusive leadership and strong team performance. When working for leaders they consider to be inclusive, survey participants reported:

  •  17% increase in team performance
  •  20% increase in decision making quality
  • 29% increase in team collaboration

Being an inclusive leader and colleague

Inclusion happens at the individual level and is only truly successful when each individual feels valued, respected, and safe. The McChrystal group recently shared insights on environments that sustain inclusion, citing the importance of four factors: fairness, integration, information and decision-making.

  • Fairness means all groups are equally supported and have equal access to benefits.

  • Integration means bringing together and valuing each person’s unique contributions and viewing differences as beneficial.

  • Additionally, information flow is essential to inclusion, so it’s important to ensure there is diversity in the people who control this information.

  • Finally, it’s key that all groups of people have a seat at the table when your company makes decisions.

As a leader, you have an important role in setting the tone for your team. Your leadership on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion will demonstrate your expectations of others and lay the foundation for a thoughtful, considerate, inclusive culture in which your team can thrive. Let’s look at some ways you can create a more inclusive work environment.

Listen first Being truly inclusive starts with understanding the values, preferences, and aspirations of those who are different from you. Invite your team to engage in conversations and listen to others without interrupting, interjecting, or redirecting. Share your desire to learn and be open to challenging your own assumptions.

Seek out diverse perspectives Be purposeful in creating a team with diverse experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. Encourage complex discussions and create a space where all team members can share their thoughts and opinions freely. Learn from one another and tap into those various points of view to develop strategies, solutions, and products that reflect the diverse needs of your customers. Take all ideas into consideration when you’re making decisions.

Commit to ongoing education Many organizations now offer anti-bias training but consider ways to bring that training to life within your team, including this free assessment from Harvard’s Project Implicit. Ask clarifying questions, communicate helpful tips and information, facilitate mentorship opportunities, and most importantly, invite people to share their stories.

There is always more we can do to make people feel included, and to ensure they are actually included. As a leader and a colleague, you can take the first step to ensure those in your sphere of influence feel connected, heard, and valued. Take time each day to talk with others, listen to their ideas, learn from their experiences, and find ways to help them contribute to your team’s success. What are you doing to create a more inclusive environment?