Every company culture is unique. It is the heartbeat of an organization and is fueled by employees’ actions, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes.
Companies that actively work to build an inclusive company culture recruit better talent, see increased employee engagement and productivity, have lower turnover rates, and fewer safety incidents.1 But too often companies take a passive approach to company culture, allowing it to form naturally based on the values of the majority group. This approach often leaves employees who are not part of the majority group feeling like outsiders – unheard and undervalued.
So, how do you build inclusive cultures that ensure every employee feels valued?
It starts with leadership.
Employees look to company leaders for cues on what types of behaviors are appropriate. How leaders communicate company values, make decisions, recognize employee contributions, communicate and reinforce certain beliefs or perceptions, and seek out and value input from employees or colleagues heavily influences how employees feel about the company they work for and the level of trust they have in leadership. Company leaders need to understand the importance of modeling inclusive behaviors and reinforcing company values.
It is not enough to simply state what you want your culture to be. Those expectations need to be backed by clear policies. Start by developing workplace policies that value thoughtful participation, encourage new ideas, set behavioral expectations, and reinforce the company’s stated mission and values. Be transparent about where you currently are as a company, where you aspire to be, and how you intend to get there.
Building an inclusive culture takes effort. Writing a diversity, equity and inclusion statement and placing it in an employee handbook or on the company website is not enough. Constant visual and verbal reminders of the cultural and behavior expectation is key to sustaining an inclusive workplace culture. Look for opportunities to embed inclusive behavior expectations in written communications, meetings, workplace signage, company policies, education and training, onboarding efforts, and performance reviews.
Don’t compromise your values.
Maintain a zero tolerance policy for unacceptable workplace behavior. Too often companies tolerate inappropriate behavior from employees who are deemed “good at their job” out of fear of having to replace them.
“The Culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”2
But, that inappropriate behavior erodes company culture by reducing morale, affecting employee productivity and, ultimately, increasing employee turnover, which can cost a company with just 100 employees hundreds of thousands of dollars.1
Don’t give up.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. Building an inclusive culture takes a committed, sustained effort to create lasting change. But, it is worth the effort. Companies that make a genuine commitment to create a culture of belonging see happier and more productive employees, better incoming talent, and less turnover that leads to a more profitable company.
Unsure where to begin?
Visit AGC’s Culture of CARE program and make a commitment to build an inclusive workplace culture. Learn more at www.BuildCulture.org.
1 AGC of America, The Business Case for Diversity & Inclusion in the Construction Industry, (2018)
2 Steve Gruenert and Todd Whitaker, School Culture Rewired, ch. 3 (2015)