An introduction to inclusion

Understand why and how to create an inclusive culture

What is inclusion?

Inclusion is intricately linked to diversity, equity, accessibility, and belonging. You’ll often see them listed together as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) or Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) or Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Accessibility, and Belonging (DEIAB).

A diverse, equitable, inclusive, and accessible culture:

  • Seeks to create a culture with a mix of people from different backgrounds of all types (races, sexes, religions, national origins, physical disabilities, sexual orientation and gender expression, size, and age).
  • Commits to fair treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people.
  • Values every employee and their unique approach to the work.
  • Optimizes for all people, including people with disabilities, to fully and independently collaborate and work successfully.

The inclusion part of this grouping of concepts addresses how well people feel incorporated into a culture, workplace, or other setting. Do people feel accepted for who they are there? Do they feel that their contributions are valued? Do they feel like they belong?

Why is inclusion important?

An inclusive culture helps all members of a workplace contribute to a sense of belonging and community, promotes a healthier and more empowering work environment and teams, respects differences, and optimizes for equal opportunities. This type of culture will also share power within teams—and with the public, who our work ultimately benefits.

If you don’t feel safe enough to bring your whole self — what makes you truly you — your colleagues and your work products can’t benefit from your unique experiences, nor your unique thoughts, both of which are essential to support the whole of our country in the work that we do.

How to contribute to an inclusive workplace culture

At the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), we believe there are at least four levels of inclusiveness at every organization, each of which contributes to and is partially responsible for a workplace’s culture:

  1. Organization: Practices and activities that contribute to, or detract from, an inclusive organization
  2. Management: Support you receive from your managers — this includes program managers, leads, and/or supervisors
  3. Work group or team: Day-to-day interpersonal relationships and the team climate
  4. Individual: Contributions you make that affect inclusion and awareness of diversity

While not an exhaustive list, ways to be more inclusive include:

  • Share decision-making power with, and be sure to give credit to, your colleagues
  • Advocate for those who are overlooked or interrupted
  • Work to further understand unintentional discrimination, and actively work to avoid doing it yourself
  • Be mindful of your actions and words, and their impact on others; be aware that you may not always realize the impact that you have on others
  • Approach problems with curious empathy, and try to understand where someone else is coming from; their perspective
  • Recognize that it’s okay to disagree with others, but be respectful
  • Show up to events and trainings where different perspectives are presented; even your presence and active listening can demonstrate an effort to be inclusive
  • Forgive yourself, apologize, and grow

Case study: TTS Values

At Technology Transformation Services (TTS), inclusion is key to our values. We believe that DEIA is vital to a successful organization and that we must reflect the diversity of the public we serve.

We work to increase inclusivity through efforts such as:

Note that inclusion may look different at your agency, depending on your values.

What can I do next?

As the design system team at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) said,

Before we’re able to design equitable and inclusive products for the people and communities we serve, we must first turn our attention to the ways in which we work.

Check out the CFPB guidelines for equity-centered design. These guidelines include several activities that you and your team can use to build a greater understanding of who you’re working with and how they experience the situation you’re addressing.

For example, it’s important to use bias-free, person-centered language that’s free of stereotypes and generalizations. Our words matter, whether we’re addressing the general public or a fellow team member. Use the CFPB activity to set intentional language, to come to a shared understanding of language to use.