Creating an inclusive workplace significantly contributes to a company’s ability to recruit and retain the best talent. Believe it or not, this applies across all generations of employees, from baby boomers to Generation X to millennials to Generation Y. In today’s article, I’ll go through some fundamentals and best practices for ensuring your organization is inclusion-minded.

Differentiating Diversity from Inclusion

One common misconception around inclusion is that ties directly to diversity. Diverse organizations can still lack an inclusive culture, and vice versa.

Diversity, while important, isn’t the full picture. Creating an inclusive culture requires a level of effort beyond just hiring diverse employees. It takes a sincere focus on creating a culture where people feel respected and appreciated. Hiring requires a huge investment, so it makes good business sense to ensure our employees feel happy, motivated and valued. This is one benefit of getting inclusion right.

Various demographic differences contribute to creating a diverse workforce, but the actions, behaviors and gestures of each employee make up your company culture, and ultimately, set the stage for inclusion. In this sense, diversity explains the “who” within your organization, but inclusion gets to the “how.” How do you welcome employees? How do you make them feel included on your team?

What can you do to kickstart D&I initiatives? Talk to employees about more than just diversity — get into the heart of inclusion. Create a space where both leaders and employees can ask questions and learn. Take time to determine what resources to use to help transform your culture. And, as a leadership team, always solicit feedback from employees. How do they feel about inclusion at the organization? Do they feel a sense of belonging?

Connect Inclusion to Business Objectives

As a leader, your two biggest internal resources for creating an inclusive workplace are the marketing and human resource departments. Take time to evaluate your internal and external communication and messaging through an inclusion lens. Is inclusive language used? Is sharing unique or different perspectives highlighted as a business priority?

More importantly, you should have a means to bridge diversity and inclusion to your organization’s mission or core values. Having inclusion tied into the company’s direction at such a strategic level demonstrates commitment and dedication. It also identifies inclusion as a fundamental component of what the company strives to be.

Avoiding Tolerance

In some cases, employees may feel an expectation to go along with diversity and inclusion initiatives, but they might not buy into them or truly accept them. This attitude of doing something because you must do it doesn’t embody the culture of inclusion you want to create. To get around this challenge and drive real inclusion, pursue ways to make people feel heard and valued. Showing employees how this benefits them (and the organization) is crucial.

Remember that inclusion is strategic, and driven internally by your desire to make the workplace more open and accepting to everyone. While diversity focuses on what makes individuals different and unique, inclusion focuses on the things that bond us together. Driving this mindset takes a culture shift internally and it requires that you target every single employee.

The Journey to Inclusion

Take the first step on a journey toward inclusion by creating a sense of belonging. This allows people to bring their best self forward and gives them a connection to a group of people that appreciate who they truly are. Doing this satisfies an employee’s psychological need for acceptance.

As a leader, make the inclusion story personal by explaining to employees why inclusion matters and why they should care.

Secondly, everyone must buy into the value of inclusion, across the organization. One group or department does not exclusively own it. As a leader, make the inclusion story personal by explaining to employees why inclusion matters and why they should care. Strive for commitment, not compliance, from employees. Encourage everyone to recognize and appreciate our differences and how they make us stronger as a team. This doesn’t come naturally for everyone, so keep in mind that it might require a significant shift in behaviors and attitudes.

Next, create opportunities for conversation. We never stop learning. Employees may have strong relationships with some coworkers, but not all. Making opportunities for those employees to collaborate and work together, perhaps for cross-team activities, happy hours or team lunches, can create an opportunity for them to learn and foster a greater appreciation for each other.

Creating a more inclusive culture doesn’t happen overnight. It takes dedication and a continuous strategy to succeed. These fundamentals can provide a stepping-stone for your organization in the journey toward inclusion.