8 Ways to Create an Inclusive Workplace through Policies

By: Emma Hickey

It’s incredibly important to create an inclusive workplace environment. Employees reach their maximum potential when they feel comfortable and are able to be themselves, and on a human level, people are happier and have a better quality of life when they can be themselves. As an employer, there are many ways to approach this topic, but one tactic that must not be overlooked is through policies. Developing policies may not be as interesting as developing trainings or events, but it’s necessary. Inclusive policies bake inclusivity into the framework of your office. It’s not enough to create policies without supporting them or living them, of course, but it’s a good jumping off point. Creating inclusive policies is a serious step towards ensuring an inclusive workplace. Below are 8 policies to start with:

1. Parental Leave Policy

Inclusive Parental Leave policies include both birthing and non-birthing parents, cover adoptive parents, and use gender-neutral language (meaning it’s not referred to as Maternity Leave). According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “The United States remains the only country in the developed world that does not mandate employers offer paid leave for new mothers.” The Family and Medical Leave Act allows mothers to take off up to 12 weeks when they give birth, but many employees don’t actually meet the qualifications for FMLA. It’s also unpaid. You can do better than that. Some of the best Parental Leave policies in the US include Netflix, which allows birthing and non-birthing parents to take as much paid time off as they need during their child’s first year, Etsy, which allows birthing and non-birthing parents to take up to 26 paid weeks, and Microsoft, which allows all parents to take 12 paid weeks and birthing parents to take an additional 8 paid weeks. Model your Parental Leave policy off of these companies rather than abiding by the gendered, restrictive policy of the FMLA. 

2. Acknowledge All Religious Holidays

Make sure your workplace is inclusive of all religions by acknowledging them. Even the smallest of gestures, from wishing your Muslim colleagues a Ramadan Mubarak, to providing a separate microwave for Kosher food, will go far in creating an atmosphere of inclusivity.

3. Bathrooms

This May, the state of Vermont passed an act requiring all single-user bathrooms in public places to be gender neutral. In New York City, it’s been illegal “to discriminate against an individual on the basis of gender identity or expression, including denying access to bathrooms, since 2002.” Because not all people are men, and not all people are women, it’s time to follow Vermont and New York City’s leads and create a gender neutral bathroom in your workplace. Not only will this make your office more inclusive, it will ensure that all your employees have safe and equal access to a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Another elegant way of creating gender neutral bathrooms in the office is to simply label the doors “Stalls” and “Urinals” rather than associating them with gender. This way, your employees can choose whichever option makes them the most comfortable.

4. Inclusive Health Insurance

Healthcare is just one of the many ways in which the transgender community is routinely discriminated against. As an inclusive company, you must offer benefits that recognize the medical necessity of hormones and surgeries needed by the trans community. The health insurance you offer needs to cover these things, or you’re essentially prohibiting transgender people from being able to work at your company. Your health insurance options should also use gender neutral language, cover all definitions of family, and cover mental health services. Not only is it important to offer this coverage to members of your team, it’s important to help normalize this type of coverage in the business world.  

5. Use Gender-Neutral Language

Slowly but surely, we’re moving away from gendered titles in the workplace. Hardly anyone says “comedienne” to describe a female comedian anymore, “actress” is almost completely phased out, and “firefighter” is much more common than “fireman.” Still, we’re not quite there as a society when it comes to using gender-neutral language beyond job titles. We need to be better when it comes to written policies, addressing groups and referencing individuals.  Create a gender-neutral language policy in your office. Check your employee handbook and make sure it uses the neutral “they” rather than “he” and “she.” Try to avoid addressing groups as “guys”—”folks” is a handy replacement. Use people’s preferred pronouns rather than making assumptions. Staying aware of gender neutral language will help your company move beyond a binary way of thinking and avoid the sexism that’s innate to our language.

6. Provide Lactation Rooms

A lactation room is a room in the office without windows and that contains a refrigerator, where women and birthing parents can go to pump breast milk. A lactation room must only be bookable for this purpose. It’s also nice if you can provide a sink in your lactation room, though it’s not a requirement. New York City actually mandates that “the room for lactation provided by an employer to pump breast milk cannot be a restroom or toilet stall.” In order for your workplace to be inclusive of women and birthing parents, you have to provide them with a lactation room that makes them feel supported and welcomed in the office.

7. De-center Alcohol

Whether it’s for religious reasons, health reasons, or personal reason that are just none of your business, not everyone drinks alcohol. You can be inclusive of your non-drinking colleagues by de-centering alcohol at work events and implementing a policy to always provide an alternative. Read more about this very topic in a Poros blog here

8. ADA-Friendly Office

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires business to “make reasonable accommodations” for people with disabilities. To ensure an inclusive workplace, go beyond making reasonable accommodations and make an effort to make employees with disabilities feel safe, equal, and respected at work. Make accommodations for employees who might be hearing-impaired or deaf, or visually impaired or blind. Make sure that not only do you have a wheelchair-accessible bathroom, the design of your office is easy for a wheelchair-user to navigate. Create policies that go out of their way to consider and account people with disabilities, rather than allowing a problem to arise down the line. 

Again, it takes more than simply implementing policies to create an inclusive workplace environment. You should also invest in diversity and inclusion training for your team, hire widely and diversely, and above all else, practice what you preach and live the value of inclusivity in your day to day life. Your office, your team, and even you, will be better for it. 

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