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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rosenberg

What is Inclusion?

What is inclusion? Although we each often see it in headlines, on social media, in company mission statements, what does it actually mean? We may have our own definition, and they likely have some commonalities.

Defining Inclusion

1. Provide equal access to opportunities and resources

a. This ensures the needs of historically marginalized people receive equal access.

b. This allows each employee to achieve their full potential

2. Convey respect

3. Convey openness and curiosity about each person’s unique perspectives, life experiences, talents and skills, and that they are valued and utilized in achieving the organization’s goals.

Various definitions may add other elements, or define more specifically the above elements. As a result of the above policies, behavior, and culture, people should then feel valued and included, as well as a sense of psychological safety.

Organizations then must determine how, specifically, to bring about the three critical elements of inclusion for its employees. They need to create a plan tailored to their employees, and then implement that plan.

Two Threads of Implementing Plans for Inclusion

There are two threads to inclusion:

What is communicated to and with employees as it relates to inclusion. Communication includes both words and actions (including non-verbal actions). This thread has two parts:

The organization’s communication. This includes the written policies, procedures, guidelines and statements that relate to or effect the above three elements, as well as related communication from leadership and management. When leaders written and spoken word promote inclusion but their actions are not inclusive, employees quickly learn that their words are woke-washing attempts.

People’s communications with each other. This includes how leaders and managers support people’s efforts for inclusion, how leaders and managers treat each other and the people who work under them. This also includes how individual contributors treat each other as well as leaders and managers.

The extent to which employees feel included. This includes whether employees believe, based on their experience, that they have equal access to opportunities and resources, feel respected, and the people—and the organization as a whole—are open to the myriad of talents, skills, experiences and perspectives each employee brings, and that such characteristics are utilized effectively. That is, that what they bring to work by being themselves is respected and leveraged.

Is the Plan Working?

Part of creating and implementing a plan for inclusion is to assess whether the plan is working. Is the organization, in fact, providing equal access to opportunities and resources? Even with equal access, does everyone know about those opportunities and resources? How will the organization determine whether people are behaving respectfully and people feel they are being treated with respect? How will the organization determine both whether its managers are open to and leveraging employees diverse backgrounds, talents, skills and perspectives? How will they know whether employees—particularly those from historically marginalized groups—feel they are being well-utilized? Whether they feel included?

When Employees Don’t Feel Included

It’s very possible that leaders believe, or have data to indicate, that they have communicated the three inclusion elements well. Nonetheless, employees may not feel included, indicated by formal and/or informal assessment methods. When that happens, it can mean several things, each of which should be followed up:

  • One or more aspects of the plan weren’t a good fit for the organization. (This could happen for many reasons, but those reasons are beyond the scope of this piece.)

  • The plan for inclusion would have been a good fit, but it was implemented poorly, or with little follow through or follow up.

  • The plan was a good fit in theory but other issues, such as a lack of equity, a lack of diversity in hiring, or other issues in culture, lead people not to feel included.

It’s important for the organization to determine why the plan didn’t yield the desired outcome so that they can iterate on the plan and hopefully do better on the next attempt.


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