What it takes to be an inclusive organization

What it takes to be an inclusive organization

 14 Jun 2019

Anthony J. Schulzetenberg

Joe Colihan

Happy Pride Month! It’s that time of the year when the nation celebrates our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, and overall “queer” family, friends, and coworkers.  This is an ideal opportunity to showcase an organization that takes their diversity and inclusion (D&I) seriously and is setting a new standard in how organizations help can create an equitable workplace.

Kraft Heinz Co. recently made a valiant push to improve their cooperate policies and practices for LGBTQ inclusion (Colletta, 2019).  Their new practices earned them a perfect score (100/100) on the Corporate Equality Index produced by Human Rights Campaign—the largest LGBTQ-rights organization in the country.  The index score is based on the organization’s nondiscrimination policies, corporate social responsibility, benefits, and organizational competency in LGBTQ inclusion.   

To earn this esteemed achievement, Kraft Heinz Co. worked two-and-a-half years to develop and implement company-wide changes, including gender-neutral restrooms, LGBTQ philanthropic work, and guidelines for employees going through a gender transition.  They even revamped their statement on how they expect their suppliers to value LGBTQ employees (Colletta, 2019).

While changes by the larger organization, such as those mentioned above, are important to improve workplace inclusion, most I-O psychologists endorse a two-pronged approach to achieve sustainable change.  Kraft Heinz Co.’s top-down approach broadcasts to the public and their employees, what the company values.  This helps set the climate of the workplace, however, it can only do so much.  Employee behaviors also need to change.  A bottom-up approach to improve inclusion, such as trainings to change employee behavior, can augment top-down initiatives.  Workplace trainings, when done right, can help companies address issues such as inclusion, sexual harassment, and bullying—all critical issues that affect the overall workplace climate.

A recent article by Medeiros and Griffith (2018) does a great job discussing how the environment in the workplace can impact attitudinal or behavioral change targeted by workplace trainings.  Too often, organizations mandate employee trainings for D&I or sexual harassment/assault with little regard to how the organization’s culture can facilitate transfer of the newly acquired knowledge and skills to the work environment.  Evidence of the long-term effects of trainings suggest there are attitudinal changes immediately after, but a regression to the pre-training levels over time (Brecklin & Forde, 2001).  Focusing solely on the training intervention, therefore, is shortsighted.

Medeiros and Griffith (2018) suggest focusing on ways to promote transfer of the training material to everyday interactions and settings.  This includes addressing environmental factors that are related to training transfer: climate, leader support, peer support, and opportunity to perform (Burke and Hutchins, 2007).  These factors can help solidify the training content:  

  • A positive climate can encourage employees to practice their newly learned skills and provide a safe environment for them to receive feedback.

  • Leaders can directly influence employee behavior by role modeling actions introduced in the trainings; their behaviors shape an organization’s culture.

  • Peer support, such as regular meetings to discuss training content, can support employees in applying their new skills.

  • Formal opportunities for employees to practice their newly learned skills and knowledge can help solidify the information and desired behaviors.  This could include guided discussions or activities for leaders to engage with their employees, which continues the conversation and allows them to practice in their day-to-day work environment (Medeiros and Griffith, 2018). 

Colihan & Schulzetenberg (2019) describe relationships among these organizational health issues and Well-Being at Work (WBW).  Well-Being at Work scores from 2018 and 2019 show an interesting pattern across industries.  The best showing was found among those in Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services.  The weakest industries for WBW included Accommodation and Food Services, Wholesale Trade, and Management of Companies and Enterprises.

Interesting differences in WBW also emerge across US states.  The best WBW scores are found in Maryland, Louisiana, and Minnesota, while the lowest WBW scores are found in Colorado, Kansas, and Arkansas.  Perhaps most central to the idea of inclusion in the workplace is the degree to which employees feel comfortable being their true self at work.  Overall True Self scores average 76, indicating that on average, most agree they can bring their true selves to work.  However, by level, differences show a straight linear trend from Contractors (down 4 points) to Professionals (average) to Executives (up 4 points).  Like anything else, even when top management drinks the Inclusion Kool-Aid, it takes a while to filter down to the rest of the workforce, and it may never reach all the way down to contractors. 

The reality is, recognizing and working towards inclusion and equity in the workplace should not be limited to one month of the year.  During Pride month, organizations can reassess how they are helping their LGBTQ employees (current and future) feel welcome and able to be their true self at work—but inclusion and equity work can’t be accomplished after one training, month, or policy.  Even Kraft Heinz Co., after receiving their recent accolades, acknowledges that improving on inclusion is a continuous process.  Inclusion, therefore, is not a score to accomplish, but rather a commitment to uphold.


Brecklin, L. R., & Forde, D. R. (2001). A meta-analysis of rape education programs. Violence and victims16(3), 303.

Burke, L. A., & Hutchins, H. M. (2007). Training transfer: An integrative literature review. Human resource development review6(3), 263-296.

Colihan, J., & Schulzetenberg, A.J.  (2019), The key to organizational health: Assessing workplace well-being.  Research Corner, www.colihanconsulting.com.

Colletta, J. (2019). How one company got top marks for inclusion. Human Resource Executive. http://hrexecutive.com/how-one-company-got-top-marks-for-inclusion/

Medeiros, K., & Griffith, J. (2019). #Ustoo: How I-O psychologists can extend the conversation on sexual harassment and sexual assault through workplace training. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 12(1), 1-19. doi:10.1017/iop.2018.155