Written by Mathula Chandramohan and Erin Shepherd
In a competitive talent landscape, inclusive onboarding both improves the employee experience and helps the organization become an employer of choice. Every onboarding program has an opportunity to be more inclusive.
Why should organizations focus on inclusive onboarding?
Onboarding includes many of the first interactions between a new hire and the organization. Beyond meeting minimum legislative requirements, a thoughtful onboarding approach ensures all new hires feel valued, respected, and supported. It is important that new hires feel assured that they have made the right decision. If new hires don’t feel included right from the start, it sends a message that in practice, diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not a priority – even if it’s been verbally identified as one. If incoming employees feel cared for and connected to the organization, the whole employment relationship is set up for success.
The risk of not prioritizing inclusion in onboarding is exclusion – here, you risk losing talent and miss out on the benefit from their contribution to the team.
Whose responsibility is it to ensure onboarding is inclusive?
As the typical designer of onboarding programs, HR has the responsibility to ensure inclusion is embedded into these programs. However, implementing inclusive onboarding practices, modeling inclusive behaviors, and ensuring momentum is sustained is every manager and team member's responsibility.
There may be times when HR is unsure how to accommodate a new hire – and there is no shame in that. What’s important is that HR models responding with empathy. Establish a process to understand, provide, and make decisions about the accommodations incoming employees will need ahead of their tenure. After meaningful consultation with impacted groups on what appropriate solutions are, HR can reinforce a culture of inclusivity by committing to being solutions-oriented in these situations.
It is especially important to build a psychologically safe environment where incoming employees feel safe to openly communicate their needs (see McLean & Company’s Introduction to Psychological Safety for HR research for more information).
How can people responsible for onboarding programs make sure that the process accounts for new employees' diverse needs?
Understand that inclusive onboarding is more than accommodating physical disabilities. It considers a full spectrum of practices to address potential barriers to belonging that new hires tend to experience. For example, organizations can assist new hires in socializing proper pronunciation of their names. Incorporating small tweaks like this demonstrates the organization’s appreciation for employees at an individual level.
Use multiple listening mechanisms or forums to collect feedback from employees as it relates to inclusion at every stage in onboarding. Incorporating feedback directly from employees gives organizations the opportunity to be proactive about onboarding programs. Use anonymous or semi-anonymous forum surveys as a mechanism to collect feedback, as not everyone will be comfortable with sharing directly with their managers. Segment information on semi-anonymous forums by demographic and department or work unit to identify where exclusion is happening throughout onboarding and to show the extent of inclusion groups of people experience in comparison to others.
Leverage the Inclusive Work Practices Template to examine the current onboarding practice to uncover gaps due to biases and systematic barriers and then determine what changes are required.
What actions can we take to incorporate inclusion into onboarding?
Ensure workplaces are accessible:
- Provide coverage of home office and work expenses for virtual new hires.
- Offer multiple spaces in-office for employees to work (e.g. not everyone will thrive in an open-concept workspace).
- In hybrid environments, coordinate in-office time for in-person interactions and events.
Build the foundation to foster trust:
- Get consent from new hires prior to sharing personal information related to their identity or needs with the team (e.g. sexual orientation, gender identity).
- Incorporate name pronunciation technologies into the onboarding process or provide phonetic pronunciations to names (e.g. in intake forms or email signatures).
- Include employee pronouns in new hire packages when they are comfortable (e.g. have managers include pronouns in their introductions to signal that they are a safe place to share).
- Take time to allow new hires to feel comfortable in the organization without rushing them to productivity. For example, follow the sentiment: “Here are our expectations for your first 30/60/90 days, and here is how we will help you get there.”
- Practice open communication to signal to new employees that they too can be open and honest about what they need.
Navigate team dynamics:
- Ensure managers are supported in making new team members feel included in the working environment (e.g. provide managers with checklists, templates, and welcome packages).
- Introduce new employees to other new employees (e.g. cohorts) to support relationship building from the onset of employment.
- Introduce employee resource groups (ERGs) to new hires to provide a welcoming space along their DEI journey (see McLean & Company’s Create a Pathway for ERGs to Connect to Organizational Support research for more information).
Proactively collect feedback:
- Seek out feedback from new hires and use that for continuous improvement (use McLean & Company’s New Hire Survey to collect new hire feedback).
- Address feedback in real-time when the situation requires (i.e. providing stress toys or noise-canceling headphones to neurodivergent employees who report feeling overstimulated in the work environment).
Go beyond the golden rule to the platinum rule: “Treat others the way they need to be treated.” We only have our own experience. Inclusion is about taking a step outside of ourselves and seeing that other people have needs that are just as important as our own.