When I hold learning sessions or training focused on inclusion in the context of work groups, learning goals typically include some or all of the following:

  • To understand what inclusion means in the context of the organization, including the ability to identify specific behaviors that promote inclusion at work.
  • To have greater self-awareness regarding one’s preferred behaviors (i.e., knowing which behaviors on the part of others lead one to experience more inclusion).
  • To understand the ways in which everyday behavior contributes to the experience of inclusion for others.
  • To be able to connect one’s own and others’ behavior to the creation of a stronger culture of inclusion.
  • To identify two or three specific behaviors likely to enhance inclusion that the trainee plans to practice going forward.
  • To learn useful ways of communicating one’s preferences regarding inclusive behavior and to inquire about others’ preferences for inclusive behavior.

Typically, employees (and organizations) have not been sufficiently clear about how inclusion builds on and goes beyond diversity to incorporate specific ways in which behavior affects how much people actually experience inclusion. I define the experience of inclusion as the sense an individual has that he or she is safe, trusted, accepted, respected, supported, valued, fulfilled, engaged, and authentic in his or her working environment, both as an individual and as a member of many identity groups. When someone experiences inclusion, this means that she or he feels fully present and involved, believes that others recognize and appreciate his or her contributions, and feels safe, connected, and open at work. People who feel included will most likely be more committed, satisfied, and productive. Work teams where everyone feels included will be better places to work.

The key to inclusion is learning about one’s own needs and those of others. For example, for some people, it is important to be invited into conversations with fellow employees, or to be asked to give one’s opinion. For other people, it is critical to their experience of inclusion that they receive warm greetings from colleagues.  There are broad categories of behavior that are more likely to result in feelings of inclusion, but ultimately the best way to create inclusion is to check with others regarding what they prefer. In work groups, this can include group conversations as well.

In most cases, everyday behavior goes a long way to building a sense of inclusion in a work group. For this reason, a key focus of inclusion training should be to build a sense of awareness (particularly self-awareness) regarding the connection between specific behavior and inclusion, as well as a commitment to practice new and inclusive behavior with a broader range of people. A final component involves developing the communication skill to permit asking for and receiving input and feedback regarding inclusion. Employees need to be able to check in with colleagues regarding the effect (not just the intent) of their behavior, and to learn to self-regulate so they can increase the frequency of behavior that is experienced as inclusive by others.

In much of my work, I focus on supporting people in bringing their whole self to work. A key part of inclusion training should focus on helping employees learn effective and productive ways of bringing their unique voice, contribution, and talent to work, for the collective benefit of their work group and the organization. The other side of this coin is helping trainees to learn how to encourage and value such contributions from others.

For those who would like to learn more and go deeper, these are some of my essays and articles on inclusion that I hope can be helpful:

Various essays on inclusion: “Inclusion starts with knowing yourself,” “Self-knowledge and inclusive interactions,” “The slippery slope of inclusion,” and “Inclusion and cultural transitions” (published in 2007 in San Diego Psychologist)

Creating and Sustaining Diversity and Inclusion in Organizations: Strategies and Approaches. By E. Holvino, B. M. Ferdman, & D. Merrill-Sands (2004). In P. Stockdale & F. Crosby (Eds.), The Psychology and Management of Workplace Diversity (pp. 245-276). Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Dancing with Resistance: Leadership Challenges in Fostering a Culture of Inclusion. By I. Wasserman, P. V. Gallegos & B. M. Ferdman (2008. In K. M. Thomas (Ed.), Diversity resistance in organizations. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

A matter of difference-Inclusion: What can I and my organization do about it? (By B. M. Ferdman & M. N. Davidson; in The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 39 (4), 80-85.)


-Bernardo M. Ferdman, Ph.D., San Diego, CA

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