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The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and total well-being of their employees first. Register for the 2020 Employee Recommended Workplace Award at: This series of articles supports the award.

More organizations are focusing on and shaping their cultures to become more inclusive of differences. If you were asked to define an inclusive workplace in 10 words or fewer, what would you say?

One definition of an inclusive workplace is one where all employees feel welcomed.

Inclusion is a term often used to advocate the right of persons with physical or psychological disabilities to be properly accommodated in the workplace. In Canada, 6.2 million adults have a disability and 60 per cent of complaints made to the Canadian Human Rights Commission are related to disability issues.

Inclusion is more expansive than disability. It includes all the differences in people who come to the same workplace. Its success is dependent on all employees being open and accepting that their behaviours and interactions with others matter.


For a workplace to be inclusive is not a strategy; it’s a culture that cares and is open to accepting differences without judgment. Inclusion requires that all employees, regardless of their differences – whether disability, nationality, ethnicity, skin colour, age, religion or sexuality – feel psychologically safe and welcomed in the workplace.

Inclusion for me is personal. I believe we have much work to do to close the gap from talking about inclusion to creating inclusion. Living with a learning disability, mental illness and a physical disability due to loss of hearing in my right ear, I am keenly aware of how challenging it is to have a disability in today’s workplace. I observe most days what I call the “inclusion gap,” the chasm between words and actions.


Take a moment and reflect on what inclusion means to you and what you could be doing that could be biased and negatively affects a person who is different than you.

You may be surprised at your own implicit bias. Implicit bias is often outside our conscious mind and affects decisions that we form from life experiences.

If you’re not familiar with this concept, consider taking the Harvard Implicit Association test. You may learn something about your beliefs and about yourself.

Only when every employee is aware of their behaviours and intentions can culture transform to be one that is inclusive: open to differences, accepting of differences and committed to having all employees feel welcomed and psychologically safe.


Each of us is accountable for our behaviour. For a culture to become inclusive requires not just a few but the majority to be engaged. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to be inclusive, only a willingness to be mindful for how our behaviour can have a positive or negative effect on another’s experience. Learning to be open to differences, willing to support and accommodate people with needs is the formula that can help all employees feel welcomed. Words matter, but actions create reality.

  • Adopt an inclusive mindset: Being inclusive requires accepting that your words and behaviours matter. Your attitude toward people who are different influences how comfortable they feel around you. Be committed to treat people how they want to be treated. Don’t assume; be considerate, and when not sure how you can best support a person who is different than you, ask.
  • Become tuned in: Research what, if anything, your organization has in place to promote and support diversity and inclusion. Explore its current goals and what programs and opportunities are available for you to get involved. Getting involved is an excellent way to learn and to influence your peers to become tuned in.
  • Be a student of inclusion: Expanding your thinking and knowledge on inclusion begins with curiosity. This can spark your motivation to become more knowledgeable about the needs of people who are different than you. By being authentic and interested you can expand your knowledge by reading, taking training, and asking those who are different than you what their experiences are like and what coaching they have for you. These interactions can be informative and educational as to how paying attention to others’ needs you can help. For example, if you asked me how to support my hearing loss I would say, “When we meet, do you mind sitting on my left, and in quiet locations where there’s not a lot of background noise?”
  • Be honest: Most organizations are asking their employees to participate in surveys that have more questions around inclusion. Share what you believe your organization and culture do well and where you see need for improvement.
  • Be committed to the long term: There’s no goal line with inclusion. It requires constant learning and commitment to continuous growth and improvement. Accept that as long as you work with people there will be something new to learn, provided you’re open and willing.

Read about the 2019 winners of the award and watch a video from the winners here. You can also purchase the benchmark report that outlines findings from 2019 at this link.

Bill Howatt is the founder of Howatt HR Consulting and a co-creator of the Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

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