3 Ways Your Organization Can Foster A More Inclusive Workplace


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5 years ago, I began sharing my thoughts on International Women’s Day by writing a letter to my children reflecting on how far women have come in the workforce compared to my mother’s generation and the advances I hope we will make by the time my children enter the workforce. While I remain optimistic about gender equality in their time, these past 5 years have presented their fair share of challenges – from a global epidemic which set women in the workplace back by a decade to geopolitical tensions to a loss of women’s reproductive rights, there have been countless setbacks women have had to endure.

This year’s theme, “Inspire Inclusion” highlights the critical role of inclusion in the journey towards gender equality. It urges us to take steps to dismantle barriers, challenge stereotypes and foster environments where every woman is valued, calling on each of us to embrace and celebrate the diverse viewpoints and unique contributions of women from every background, particularly those who have been historically marginalized.

But achieving inclusion isn’t straightforward. Unlike diversity which can be quantified, inclusion is less tangible. It involves a sense of belonging and having one’s voice acknowledged, which can’t easily be measured.

What is Inclusion?

Now more than ever, it is crucial to understand that inclusion isn’t just an action item that organizations check off a list, but a fundamental driver for achieving success. In short, inclusion is a commitment to embracing differences and ensuring everyone feels safe, valued and respected. Going beyond representation, genuine inclusion is about a “one human being” experience, irrespective of not only gender, but also race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and other identifiers. With respect to women, by fostering inclusive environments, we create spaces where women are not only welcomed but empowered to participate fully and contribute their unique perspectives and talents.

The benefits of fostering an inclusive work environment are indisputable, some examples being increased engagement, improved innovation and an enhanced ability to attract and retain top talent. Organizations that prioritize inclusion cultivate a sense of belonging and community, and when employees believe their perspectives are being heard, they are more engaged in their work. Further, innovation is fostered when employees know their ideas are celebrated. Inclusive workplaces attract and retain top talent more effectively because jobseekers are drawn to inclusive organizations and employees are more likely to stay in environments where they feel supported and respected.

What is the Current State?

According to McKinsey’s latest Women in the Workplace report, women have seen some encouraging gains in senior leadership, currently the highest it’s ever been. Since 2015, the number of women in the C-Suite has increased from 17-28%, and organizations have also seen a substantial increase in female representation at the executive levels (Vice President and Senior Vice President.) For the first time, more than 10% of Fortune 500 companies are run by women, 3 of which are women of colour.

While exciting and worth celebrating, progress has been significantly slower at the manager and director levels, growing only 3% and 4% respectively, creating a bottleneck in the pipeline for senior leadership. For the ninth consecutive year, women face their biggest hurdle at the first promotion to manager. In 2023, for every 100 men promoted to manager, 87 women were promoted. This, in combination with the “Great Breakup” – the fact that director-level women are leaving organizations at a higher rate than previous years and at a notably higher rate than men at the same level – mean there are fewer women in line for senior leadership positions. These challenges are only amplified when considering women of colour who are persistently underrepresented at nearly every level of seniority relative to white women and to men of the same race or ethnicity.

3 Ways Your Organization Can Create a More Gender Inclusive Workplace

Organizations can take action by putting practices into place that promote inclusivity in order to make meaningful and sustainable progress towards gender equality.

1. Empower Inclusive Leadership

Given McKinsey’s survey data that feelings of inclusion stem from inclusive leadership, it is critical that leaders demonstrate inclusive behaviors. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Women@Work report, women who work for inclusive leaders are more engaged and have higher levels of well-being and job satisfaction. Not only are they more likely to benefit from high levels of support and better hybrid work experiences, they also report feeling more connected to their employer and more motivated and productive at work.

Empowering inclusive leadership within an organization requires a multifaceted approach that begins with fostering a culture of respect, openness and collaboration. First and foremost, leaders must lead by example, demonstrating inclusive behaviors in their actions, decisions and interactions. They should actively seek out diverse perspectives, encourage participation from all team members and create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard. Some additional actions the McKinsey report suggests leaders take include participating in “allies” programs that support underrepresented groups and acting as a sponsor to top talent from these groups, ensuring awareness of and access to professional advancement opportunities.

Providing ongoing training and education on unconscious bias, cultural competence and inclusive communication is essential to equip leaders with the necessary skills and awareness to effectively champion inclusivity. Additionally, implementing policies and practices that promote diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the organization, from recruitment to promotion and development opportunities is critical. By nurturing inclusive leadership at all levels, organizations can foster innovation, creativity and resilience while cultivating a more inclusive and equitable workplace.

2. Address Microaggressions Head On

Addressing microaggressions in the workplace requires a proactive and comprehensive approach that prioritizes education, communication and accountability. Microaggressions are defined as “the everyday, subtle, intentional – and oftentimes unintentional – interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.” Years of data show that women experience microaggressions at a significantly higher rate than men. For example, they are twice as likely to be mistaken for someone junior and hear comments on their emotional state. Further, 78% of women who face microaggressions adjust the way they look or act in an effort to protect themselves which contributes to decreased feelings of inclusion. In good news, while a substantial amount of microaggressions still go unreported, reporting has improved in recent years – in 2023, 44% of women reported that they experienced microaggressions from their employer – a notable increase from 23% in 2022.

In order to effectively combat this, organizations must establish clear guidelines and policies that define and address microaggressions, ensuring that all employees understand what constitutes inappropriate behavior and the consequences for engaging in such actions. Training programs must be implemented to raise awareness about microaggressions, unconscious bias and the impact of such behaviors on individuals and the work environment. Additionally, creating channels for reporting and addressing microaggressions can empower employees to speak up and seek support. Finally, it is essential that leaders model inclusive behavior and quickly intervene when they observe or receive reports of microaggressions, demonstrating a commitment to fostering a respectful and equitable workplace for everyone.

3. Create Psychological Safety in the Workplace

Creating psychological safety in the workplace is paramount for fostering a culture of trust, collaboration and innovation. Psychological safety, the ability to speak up without fear, reprimand or humiliation at work, is critical to helping teams build better relationships, make smart decisions, innovate and execute tasks. Extensive research shows that psychological safety is consistently one of the strongest predictors of team performance, productivity, quality, safety, creativity and innovation. Unfortunately, psychological safety is not the norm in most teams. In fact, a McKinsey Global Survey conducted during the pandemic indicated that the behaviors that create a psychologically safe environment are few and far between in leadership teams and organizations more broadly. And while many assume that the major benefit of hybrid or remote work is flexibility, there are additional benefits for women – when women work remotely, they face fewer microaggressions and report higher levels of psychological safety. This is only amplified for women of colour: a 2022 report from Black Women Thriving highlights that a whopping 66% of Black women report not feeling emotionally safe at work.

Leaders play a crucial role in establishing psychological safety for their teams and organizations. According to the Harvard Business Review, establishing psychological safety involves letting your team make mistakes, avoiding blame culture and recognizing and celebrating people. Further, a McKinsey study found that a positive team climate is the most important driver of psychological safety and is most likely to occur when leaders demonstrate supportive, consultative behaviors, then begin to challenge their teams. Yet just 43 percent of all respondents in that study reported a positive climate within their team, demonstrating a significant opportunity.

Leaders can establish psychological safety by openly communicating and demonstrating vulnerability, encouraging employees to express their ideas, concerns and feedback without fear of reprisal. Establishing clear expectations, providing constructive feedback and recognizing and valuing diverse perspectives are essential components of building psychological safety. Team-building activities, regular check-ins and opportunities for open dialogue strengthen relationships and create a sense of belonging among employees. Further, promoting a growth mindset where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities can empower individuals to take risks and contribute their best work. By prioritizing psychological safety, organizations can unlock the full potential of their teams, leading to greater creativity, productivity and overall well-being in the workplace.


There is no question we have made significant progress, but if we truly want to #InspireInclusion, we still have a long road ahead. While this article focused primarily on gender, I would be remiss if I did not address other groups who are also striving towards inclusion in the workplace and who just as urgently need our commitment and support breaking the barriers they currently experience based on neurodivergence, race, socioeconomic status, age, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity etc.

The bottom line? Embracing inclusion in our workplaces, policies and communities is not only a matter of fairness or being ‘good for business’, it is essential to creating sustainable and thriving organizations and communities where all feel valued. When everyone is included, we move closer to a place where gender does not limit one’s potential or opportunities, but rather serves as a source of strength. I am hopeful that as a society, we are working towards a future where, by the time my children enter the workforce, the need for inclusion won’t be a topic of discussion, because it will be the norm.