What is an inclusive workplace?

What is an inclusive workplace?, coworkers shaking hands at work

At a glance

  • An inclusive workplace welcomes and supports people with all kinds of differences. 

  • The goal is to make employees feel comfortable asking for what they need. 

  • An inclusive workplace understands that people have different ways of processing information, interacting with others, and achieving goals.

An inclusive workplace welcomes and supports people with all kinds of differences. It doesn’t just include people who are neurodivergent or who have a disability. It ensures equal opportunities for everyone to succeed. 

Many workplaces devote resources to diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB). And a big part of disability inclusion is encouraging employees to ask for support. Another important part is helping managers be flexible about how work gets done. 

Explore six ways an inclusive workplace benefits all employees, not just people with disabilities. 

1. An inclusive workplace embraces flexibility.

An inclusive workplace holds everyone to the same standards. But the focus is on outcomes, not on how those outcomes are achieved. This means understanding and supporting the different ways that people think and process information, interact with others, and achieve their goals. 

Inclusive workplaces support neurodiversity in ways that go beyond what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires. Proactive policies can support:

  • People with disabilities that are easy to notice, like using a wheelchair or a cane

  • People with “invisible disabilities” that can be harder to notice, like having ADHD or anxiety

  • People who choose not to disclose that they have a disability

A flexible workplace can support people with temporary or permanent disabilities. It can also support anyone who might develop a disability. That includes everyone.

2. An inclusive workplace encourages people to ask for support.

An inclusive workplace encourages people to access the supports they need to do their jobs, regardless of whether they choose to disclose a disability. Examples include:

  • Making resources available to any employee to use on their own, from low-tech tools like checklists to high-tech software that transcribes what people say in meetings

  • Training managers on how to have proactive conversations about workplace supports

  • Sharing widely what the company’s process is to request a workplace accommodation 

The goal is to make employees feel comfortable asking for what they need. 

It’s also worth noting that many workplace supports are free or low-cost. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Job Accommodation Network (JAN), the majority of accommodations cost nothing, and the rest have an average cost of $500. 

3. An inclusive workplace welcomes everyone and removes barriers to participation.

Inclusive workplaces develop processes that welcome differences and remove barriers to participation. Examples include:

  • Proactively offering accommodations so applicants can fully participate in job interviews

  • Making workspaces and social events accessible to all, including features like wheelchair ramps and quiet spaces for employees who are sensitive to noise

  • Making digital spaces accessible to all, such as using closed captions in every videoconference

4. An inclusive workplace shares its commitment to disability inclusion.

A workplace can make sure all employees know about its disability inclusion efforts. Examples include: 

  • Connecting the company’s mission or values to its commitment to inclusion and diversity 

  • Telling success stories of current employees with disabilities who are willing to share their story 

  • Creating a clear accommodations policy and making it easy to find and use

  • Training all employees on disability awareness and etiquette to help build knowledge and a culture of support

  • Being explicit in job postings that divergent candidates are encouraged to apply

For example, job postings at Understood include this sentence: “Understood encourages individuals of all learning styles, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds, including those whose life experiences may include the challenge of access due to a disability, to apply for this position.”

5. An inclusive workplace encourages ongoing conversations about differences. 

Workplaces can create a climate where people feel comfortable talking about differences and disabilities. One way to do this is for a company leader to open up about their own challenges: “I have a learning disability. Having dyslexia has been part of my journey. I want to know what your journey has been like.”

Larger companies may have an employee resource group (ERG) where people with disabilities can share their experiences, host events, and raise awareness about issues.

For example, ERG members may reach out to company leadership to discuss ways that the interviewing process could be improved for people with disabilities. The ERG can also include allies who don’t have a disability themselves but who have an interest in or personal experience with disabilities. These allies can help further the mission of the ERG.

6. An inclusive workplace recognizes that inclusion is good for business.

There is clear evidence that workplaces benefit from an inclusive culture. Those benefits include lower turnover, higher rates of productivity, better safety records, and improved morale. 

A 2018 study by Accenture found that companies that adopt best practices for hiring and supporting people with disabilities outperform their peers. On average, these companies achieved 28 percent higher revenue, double the net income, and 30 percent higher economic profit margins. 

Creating an inclusive culture takes time and effort. But with the right resources, you can help make it happen.


Explore related topics

Read next