For more information please call  800.727.2766


Creating an Inclusive Workplace: Focus on Open Communication

This is the first in a series of articles focused on practical strategies to create more inclusive workspaces. This article is focused on creating a culture where open communication is valued.

Creating a More Inclusive Workplace: Focus on Open Communication

Inclusion is a measure of how an individual perceives their work environment: do they feel valued, heard, respected, and have a sense of belonging? An inclusive organization is one where individuals feel comfortable openly sharing their perspectives related to both their substantive work and environment. This type of “speak up culture” has been defined as a “healthy, supportive environment, where team members feel free to share their ideas, opinions and concerns, without fear of retaliation or penalty.”[1] Cultivating this type of culture benefits the individual and the organization, leading to greater collaboration, innovation, organizational effectiveness, and engagement.[2]

Common Barriers: Reasons Employees May Not Speak Up

Studies consistently show that employees are reluctant to raise concerns in the workplace due to a fear of retaliation, among other reasons.[3] Each year, retaliation remains the most frequently filed charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). In 2020, it made up 55.8 percent of all charges filed with the EEOC, the highest it had been in over ten years.[4] This reflects a perception in workplaces that employees are “punished” for raising concerns, which in turn may further contribute to their reluctance to do so.

Employees may not feel comfortable sharing concerns for other reasons. They may not believe leadership is receptive to change or to hearing differing opinions, and, importantly, no one may have solicited their feedback.[5] Personal stories shared during training sessions by employees (including managers) reflect that the reluctance to raise concerns remains a persistent issue in many workplaces. This reluctance stems from a variety of reasons including fear of retaliation, being perceived as too sensitive, and lack of trust that any changes will take place or that their ideas will be heard.[6]

This hesitation to raise concerns not only is counter to achieving a more inclusive organization but also serves to maintain the status quo. Simply stated, organizations cannot work toward becoming more inclusive without gaining an understanding of concerns employees may have with respect to the workplace.

Practical Strategies: How to Begin to Create More Open Communication  

A 2021 report titled, “Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion” identified five strategies needed to achieve “DEI Excellence.”[7] The first strategy was: “Listen, hear, and act.” The report found that “active listening” followed by “action” was the “top driver” of  diversity, inclusion and belonging. The report elaborated that when “leaders listen frequently to employees, hear what they say about barriers to DEI, and then act on these insights, they can collaborate to create an inclusive environment.”

Another recent study found that employees both want and expect more conversations in the workplace about DEI related issues. Indeed, the study found that 60 percent of the employees surveyed “expect” their leaders to talk about “controversial social and political issues.”[8]

So how do organizations begin to achieve this seemingly straightforward goal of listen, hear, and act?

Create spaces to have these conversations

Create spaces for employees to be able to freely express concerns without fear of repercussions. Leaders need to set the tone, encourage feedback, and demonstrate a commitment to hearing employee’s concerns. 

Actively solicit employee feedback

There are several ways this can be accomplished, ranging from conducting broad climate assessments to focused small group listening sessions. Climate assessments can be a useful first step in gathering data anonymously about how employees feel about the workplace (including whether they are comfortable raising concerns) and any broad concerns they may have with respect to their work environment. Climate surveys can be followed by a more focused environmental assessment where employees are asked specific questions regarding their work experiences or by listening sessions. The goal is to get both feedback from the employees about their experiences and any input they have for making the environment more inclusive.

Take Action: Build Trust

To build trust, after information is gathered, employers must act on what they learn and be transparent about what steps they can or cannot take based on the feedback received. Such action could include focused training sessions, ensuring through a neutral, unbiased investigation process that employee concerns are promptly addressed, and evaluating current policies and systems to assess whether they are not disproportionally impacting certain individuals.

Bottom Line

Open communication is necessary to create more inclusive workplaces and drive change. At EPS, we are here to collaborate with employers wherever they may be on their DEI journey.


[1] See, Finnie, Tanya, Understanding “Speak Up” Culture and How It Can Benefit the Workplace (September 2021), LinkedIn,

[2] See, Westover, Jonathan, The Benefits of Creating a Speak-up Culture at Work (November 2020), Forbes, and Steven Mintz, What is the “Speak Up” Culture in the Workplace? (July 2021), Workplace Ethics Advice,

[3] See, Zheng, Lily, Do Your Employees Feel Safe Reporting Abuse and Discrimination? (October 2020), Harvard Business Review, and studies cited therein.

[4] See, EEOC statistics, As of time of publication, the EEOC’s 2021 statistics have not been released.

[5] See, Hurt and Dye, The Main Reasons Employees Don’t Speak Their Mind At Work (July 2020),

[6] In more extreme cases, “toxic company cultures” impacts the reporting of concerns. One study found that 53% of employees cited “hostile work environment” as a reason for not sharing concerns. See, Lily Zheng, Do Your Employees Feel Safe Reporting Abuse and Discrimination? (October 2020), Harvard Business Review, and studies cited therein.

[7] See, Bersin, Josh, Elevating Equity: The Real Story of Diversity and Inclusion (2021),

[8] See, Gonzales, Matt, Workers Expect More Conversations on DE&I Issues, Study Finds (January 2022), SHRM,