How to Start an Inclusive Business in 2021

Getting inclusivity right is difficult, but it’s the right thing to do — and it can make your business more profitable.

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Inclusivity is about ensuring that everyone on the team feels included

Inclusivity isn’t just a fad. More companies are taking steps to bring on people with diverse backgrounds and establish policies to make them feel included.

Whether you’re starting a business now or sometime soon, you’ll want to start thinking about inclusivity from the start. Research shows that inclusive organizations are 6 times more likely to be innovative and 2 times more likely to meet their financial targets.

In this article, we’ll look at what an inclusive business is and why it matters. We’ll also cover the steps you need to take to get started.

What are diversity and inclusion, and why should you care?

While diversity and inclusivity (D&I) influence each other, they differ in a number of ways. Let’s take a look at how in more detail.

Diversity means your company has a diverse workforce with people from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. It also includes people of varying ages, genders, sexual orientations, and other defining attributes.

Companies with above-average diversity scores generated 19% more revenue than companies that scored lower on diversity.

Data suggests a strong correlation between diversity and innovation. Companies with above-average diversity scores generated 19% more revenue than companies that scored lower on diversity.

Diverse teams can bring unique perspectives and insights — exactly the kind that companies need to innovate and meet their customers’ needs. So does that mean all you have to do is simply hire a diverse workforce to grow your bottom line?

Not exactly.

As you can probably guess, diversity is just one part of the D&I picture. To create a business where people feel comfortable enough to voice their opinions, you need to get inclusion right.

Psychological safety

An inclusive business is one where employees feel included. It involves creating policies and procedures to ensure all team members feel welcome. In other words, inclusive workplaces increase psychological safety — when team members can freely speak up with questions or concerns. They feel they can share their thoughts without fear of any backlash or negative consequences. Employees who feel psychologically safe don’t just bring new insights. They’re also less likely to quit, which means lower turnover rates (and costs) for your business.

Respondents who felt comfortable approaching their manager for help were less likely to leave their place of employment.

When employees feel included, it creates a sense of belonging in the workplace. This delivers long-term growth for your business.

Now that you have a better understanding of what an inclusive business is and why it needs to be more of a priority let’s look at how you can get started.

How to start an inclusive business

Taking steps to become more inclusive is by no means easy. But as we’ve seen, it can help your business innovate and gain a competitive advantage. Follow these steps to start an inclusive business.

1. Establish a diversity council

Building an inclusive business starts from the time of business incorporation. Bring on partners, board members, and executive-level employees from diverse backgrounds.

A good place to start is by establishing a diversity council — a group of people whose responsibilities include crafting and implementing D&I agendas. This group will be critical in helping your business attract diverse talent and become more inclusive.

According to data from LinkedIn, the number of people working in diversity and inclusion roles grew 71% from 2015 to 2020.

The number of people working in diversity and inclusion roles grew 71% from 2015 to 2020.

This figure will only continue to rise as more organizations prioritize diversity and inclusivity.

Heading this council will be your Chief Diversity Officer.

This individual is responsible for but not limited to:

  • Developing programs that support inclusion initiatives
  • Collaborating with other departments to identify new inclusion opportunities
  • Addressing discrimination in the workplace and preventing future occurrences
  • Monitoring the performance of new initiatives and reporting on the results
  • Identifying and building relationships with key vendors and suppliers

The Chief Diversity Officer plays an important role as they’ll be responsible for keeping your D&I initiatives on the right track. They should have relevant experience with diversity and inclusion in past workplaces.

Of course, you can’t expect your Chief Diversity Officer to do everything without help. Be sure to bring on people with different backgrounds to join the council. You can ask for example your CRO, CFO, or CMO to be members of your council. Each member will support current initiatives and share their own perspective with what they know of their domains.

2. Cultivate an inclusive workplace

Employees’ sense of inclusion affects their overall well-being and engagement. If employees don’t feel included or welcome, they’ll likely look for opportunities elsewhere. Make sure that you take steps to cultivate a more inclusive workplace.

Some examples can include:

  • Creating safe spaces where employees are free to voice their opinions
  • Expanding your company calendar to celebrate holidays that represent various beliefs
  • Donating to local groups that support diversity and inclusion initiatives
  • Conducting anonymous surveys where employees can provide honest feedback

It’s also important that company leaders understand and get behind any inclusion initiatives you have in place. This might include revamping your training materials.

3. Prioritize working with diverse suppliers

Inclusion goes beyond hiring a diverse staff and investing in inclusion programs. Another way to become more inclusive is to work with diverse suppliers.

Diverse suppliers are companies owned by women, minorities, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQIA community, and military veterans.

Suppliers in the U.S. can qualify for the following diversity certifications:

  • Disability:IN
  • National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC)
  • Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)
  • National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC)
  • National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC)

Each program has its own set of requirements. For example, to get certified by the WBENC, a company has to be at least 51% owned by a woman. Working with companies certified by the organizations above allows you to diversify your supply chain and demonstrate that your business is more inclusive.

Publicizing those details can even help your business attract and retain talent. A Deloitte survey found that Millennial and Gen Z workers are more likely to stay with companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion.

Of course, you don’t have to strictly limit yourself to certified diverse suppliers. If you need to work with contractors or freelancers, consider choosing individuals with diverse backgrounds.

4. Keep a diversity scorecard

Tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) helps you measure progress toward a goal and gauge performance over time. They help you make more informed business decisions.

Similarly, you need a way to measure your D&I efforts. This is where a diversity scorecard comes in handy, as you can track metrics like diversified vendors and engagement levels in inclusion programs.

Sodexo, a food services and facilities management company, developed a diversity scorecard that’s divided into 2 sections:

  1. Quantitative: This includes the number of positions that are filled by people with diverse backgrounds, as well as retention rates by group (e.g., women vs. males).
  2. Qualitative: This includes engagement data on diversity training and other areas that are relevant to inclusion. Gather this data through interviews and surveys.

Sodexo combines results into one overall score and measures progress over time to track D&I efforts.

Keep a diversity scorecard and measure similar metrics related to D&I. Then use any insights you gain to inform your strategies. For example, if Asian-Americans leave at a higher rate than other groups, consider taking a closer look at your inclusion initiatives to find out why.

5. Make your products or services inclusive

Inclusivity in business extends to both your employees and your customers.

Earlybird, an app that enables families to invest for the children in their lives, is on a mission to improve financial literacy in kids. This inclusive business model aims to reach children and adults. Financial literacy is scarce in disadvantaged communities, and Earlybird is working to change that and level the investing playing field.

Another example comes from Microsoft, a company that developed the Adaptive Controller for its Xbox console. The controller makes gaming more accessible to those with limited mobility.

Work with your diversity council to think of ways you can make your products or services more inclusive. Then get the rest of the team on board to turn those ideas into reality.


Inclusion matters more than ever in today’s competitive marketplace. Companies that prioritize diversity and make employees feel welcome are likely to reap more benefits.

Start by establishing a diversity council to help you put together and implement inclusion initiatives. Then cultivate an inclusive workplace that values employee contributions.

But don’t just stop there. Consider also working with certified suppliers and finding ways to make your products or services more inclusive. By taking these steps, you can start a more inclusive business and give yourself a leg up over the competition.

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