How to build inclusive culture

Nicole Sanchez
4 min readAug 20, 2017
Photo Courtesy #WOCinTech

The question I’ve been asked more than any other over the years is “How can I make my company’s culture inclusive?”

It’s always difficult to answer because, at the root of it, is how your company views employees. Like “theories of change” and “management theories,” every organization must develop a well-articulated employment theory. I do not mean this in Keynesian economic terms, but instead in terms of defining your company’s relationship to the humans who perform the work.

Instead of links to articles and examples, I am sharing language from my own company, Vaya Consulting, below. It is for new employees from me, the CEO. I hope that it sparks discussion wherever you work.

This company employees people. Every person is an ecosystem. It is the company’s responsibility to have a healthy relationship with every employee’s ecosystem.

We are legally responsible for your time while at work and for compensating you for your contributions to the company. However, we recognize that this job is only one of many roles you play in your life. Our goal is to develop a healthy relationship with every employee as it relates to work and to life outside work — to your entire ecosystem. With this in mind, every employee should know the following about working here:

1) You are trusted from day one. Because we envision a world where people can rely on and trust each other, we expect that you will live up to this vision of the future. Trust does not need to be “earned,” but can be lost. The good thing about working with people who believe in a shared mission is that there is always a pathway for redemption.

2) Life is happening while we are at work. Our kids get sick, partners need support, our parents live on a different schedule. Whatever it is, from a flat tire to a barfing dog, it’s out of your control. Worrying about losing your job should not be on the list of things occupying your mind while life’s challenges are getting sorted out. Your responsibility as an employee is to communicate with your manager so they can make adjustments. No apologies necessary.

3) Bringing your lived experience to bear is part of the job. This is one of the fundamental benefits of building diverse teams. In order to do that well, we all need to be comfortable talking about our lives, past experiences, personal values, and the like. This doesn’t mean you are expected to spill details about your life you aren’t comfortable sharing. It does mean, though, that there are plenty of examples of companies that made costly mistakes which could have been prevented by a diverse team comfortable with speaking from their own experiences.

Believe it or not, we also just like you and want to know more about you.

4) You are expected to take time off. In an ongoing effort to promote mental and physical well-being, we expect you to take PTO in a manner that best suits you. This is also an effort to prevent resentment and burnout. Team captains are responsible for keeping track of PTO for each member of the team and reporting on it regularly. While some may worry that colleagues will abuse this system, remember #1 on this list first. If a captain is concerned by how much PTO is being taken, they can reach out for support and a check on this system.

5) Expect more information about the inner workings of the company than you’ve likely had at other companies. This effort at radical transparency is a commitment the company makes to you. In return, we trust that you will use this information well, with a strong moral compass, and that you can extend the reciprocal trust to the people around you.

That’s the whole basis for inclusive culture, from which programs, trainings and initiatives can follow:

  1. Mutual trust that is granted upon arrival.
  2. A recognition of each other’s full, complicated lives.
  3. An expectation that you will share wisdom from your lived experiences.
  4. Individual and collective responsibility for self-care.
  5. Radical transparency.

I hope that many of you recognize these principles from your places of work. If not, perhaps it’s time for a candid discussion with colleagues. How far are you from these notions? What are the blockers? Have you experienced something more effective in a workplace?

I’d love to hear your thoughts either in the comments or on Twitter where you can find me @nmsanchez.



Nicole Sanchez

30 years of constructing, deconstructing, fixing and studying organizations