What Makes an Environment Inclusive?

kaydacode profile image Kim Arnett  ・1 min read

Yup, I'm opening that can of worms. I don't care what your gender, race, orientation, etc, etc is. I want to know what an 'inclusive environment' means to you.

For me:
I like to see women in leadership roles. I like to see that everyone's opinion is valued and that everyone feels welcome to speak up. Even the quiet people. :)

Secondly: What would you do to create a more inclusive environment to your standards?

I'd make sure existing ladies are being promoted as much as their male colleagues. If someone is dictating the conversation during team events or meetings, I'd find a way to get a balance in the room, even if it resorts to something like a speaking stick.


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I want an environment that doesn't think it's "done" with some kind of inclusiveness program. It's an ongoing initiative, and it's everyone's job.

It seems like people stop trying with inclusiveness, either out of success or failure, and things quickly go back to being worse than ever.

The tech industry will spend decades working on a hard technical problem until it works but give up on improving its culture in about five minutes.


The tech industry will spend decades working on a hard technical problem until it works but give up on improving its culture in about five minutes.

I disagree. Big companies and universities alike have promoted diversity and inclusion efforts for years, and when they fail to produce the desired results, we see comments like this that blame a boogey man as opposed to their presuppositions.

If we continue to rely on shallow interpretations of statistics (a la stackoverflow) to frame the problem, we will fail to address actual problems. I think we could start by not sending the message to potential tech enthusiasts that developer culture is a terrible and unwelcoming environment.


But I didn't frame the problem in terms of stats like the SO survey or anything. I agree that cynicism isn't a good recruiting tactic. What I'm describing is an actual addressable problem: The tendency to implement a generic solution, fail (or succeed, even) and move on.

But I didn't frame the problem in terms of stats like the SO survey or anything.

These are the kinds of statistics typically used to make the case that the industry is not being inclusive enough, as was the case with stackoverflow. I apologize if this was reaching.

What I'm describing is an actual addressable problem: The tendency to implement a generic solution, fail (or succeed, even) and move on.

How do we implement a non-generic solution to a very generic problem? How do we make sure that people from all around the world, of various cultures, ethnicity, identity, ideology, and experiences all feel included? Challenging the premise here: Is universal inclusion feasible? Or should we focus more on making sure that nobody is excluded, while offering a hand to disadvantaged people to give them the opportunities that they may otherwise not have?

Is universal inclusion feasible? Or should we focus more on making sure that nobody is excluded

If there is any distinction here, I'm not sure how important it is.

But either way, what I mean is that inclusiveness is a messy problem. It's often addressed with platitudes rather than strategy. What's the strategy? That's really on the org, just like the rest of their work. Smart people figure out solutions to problems that actually fall within the core directives.

Who gets priority between the employee who needs service animal and the employee who is very allergic to dogs? It's probably not a solution that needs to be architected well in advance of the issue coming up. Other potential problems are much more straightforward, but from what I've seen the difference is how bought in the team is to treating inclusiveness like a core issue.

If there is any distinction here, I'm not sure how important it is.

I think there's a huge distinction, especially given how many inclusion efforts in the tech industry have been carried out. In fact, I've published an article on this very site highlighting this!

We've come to a point where terms like "inclusion" and "code-of-conduct" have been tainted in such a way that they are essentially self-defeating. I've seen many instances where people claim to feel excluded if people whom they disagree with are included.


A perfect illustration of what "inclusivity" has come to represent, tweeted 4 hours ago:

Re: Your edit. That tweet is from May of 2018, not from 4 hours ago.

It was from from 4 hours ago in May of 2018, when I made the edit.

Ah my mistake - something's funky with my dev.to feed.


While I do not like people being treated differently based on their color, race, gender, etc; that does not imply that I have to treat all skill levels equally. Some people are better than others at different things, it's just life. I don't particularly enjoy hearing about skillful people not getting hired simply because of a company policy of: "We have to treat everyone equally" The same goes for promotions as well, skill is learned, whereas gender, race, etc. is not learned.

As for creating an "inclusive" environment, I would make sure that everyone knows that they are as much a part of the company/whatever as anyone else, kind of like a well-structured family. Me personally I would not 'make sure' ladies are getting promoted just as much as the men. I do have respect for ladies, don't get me wrong on that ;) however, I would promote based on skill and experience alone and not have gender be in the equation at all.

Thanks for asking a great question and allowing us to answer it!



I would promote based on skill and experience alone and not have gender be in the equation at all.

How it should be -- however fact is that men are being promoted over the ladies because they are more outspoken/ have more opportunities given to them for various reasons etc. If IT WAS based on skill I bet you'd see about 50% for each being promoted :)

Otherwise you can analyze based on skill and ability to get the job done while still having respect for everyone. As it should!

Thanks for your input!


Please don't take this as a push back, but as additional information we all need to know. A FACT that keeps getting overlooked is that only 24% of STEM jobs in the US are held by women. This in itself creates a disproportionate number of men being promoted more than women so it's just not an aggressive thing that gets men promoted, it's also the numbers. Yet when this is brought up many are chastised for making this point.

Through out my 35 years in this industry there have been many changes. One of the best improvements is more women in tech. This gives teams a diverse set of skills and thoughts about solving problems that were not around in the early days. We need more!

If we want to fix this problem we need more young women to get involved in STEM degrees and jobs.


You’re right. Sometimes I forget being on a team with multiple ladies kicking butt. 😊 but change is coming. 🙌🏼


Your welcome!
I do agree with you on this when it comes to mental and some physical things; however, there is a difference for some tasks, like heavy lifting, physical battle, etc. where men have a slight advantage over women because of their biological makeup.

Shouldn’t be having physical battles in the workplace 🤔

lol, I was mostly speaking in a broader sense than just in the workplace.


Inclusive for me is when:

1) Everyone's contributions are welcome and possible. Probably in a way that everyone has a part of the project he or she can be creative in and fully responsible for.
2) Physical work conditions are suitable for everyone, not only for loud extroverts.


For me, an inclusive environment is one where, even if you're the only person of a certain "kind", you feel like you belong.

It expresses itself in different ways to different people. As a gay man I don't like when people assume my partner is a woman. As an Australian I'm OK with lighthearted teasing about Australia... But only if I can do lighthearted teasing of US culture as well.

As a grown adult I like to be able to swear... But I'm sure people of faith would prefer I don't blaspheme. Some people have preferred gender pronouns. People with food intolerances or requirements would like if catered meals were catered with them in mind.

The most challenging thing is that it's an active work. You need to identify the belonging needs of those who you work with and those you don't, and try to make those happen. You also have to deal with people in privileged positions who might interpret attempts to include others as a loss to themselves. You need to keep re-evaluating how you're going and what you can do better.

(Some things I've felt personally excluded by, just to give some concrete info to this post:

  • A plethora of activities held at HQ and almost nothing for remote workers or satellite offices
  • "Family" being used to mean "Parent/s and underaged children" exclusively
  • "We can't implement #{benefit} in #{region} because it'd be hard."
  • Prizes or gifts for competitions/performance with gendered components)

"For me, an inclusive environment is one where, even if you're the only person of a certain "kind", you feel like you belong."

This really resonated with me. I've been an "only" in situations where this was true and not true. Thanks as well for your examples!


I love this. All of it.
I would love to see all these points solved, and I think it can definitely be done with some mindfulness. 💛


Like Kim, if I see women & POC in leadership roles, that's a good sign. Even better if I see a wide variety of ages and experience levels as well.

And I think work/life balance is core to team culture & inclusiveness. Teams that take after-hours work as a given are hard on parents, caregivers, athletes, volunteers, military Reservists, etc.


An inclusive environment, to me, is one that doesn't have an "inclusiveness program" or policy, but rather just treats people like people. Yes, I am a white male of European descent. But I am also Autistic, Bipolar, and have days where I cannot leave my house due to anxiety levels being through the roof. Luckily, I'm a contractor and freelancer so days on the couch crying are okay. But I've worked at several environments where mental health issues were totally understood, but with a deadline in mind.

By that I mean that my colleagues and supervisors, or even the people working under me were really understanding of the fact that the fluorescent lights were making me head feel like it was going to explode. They acted totally okay with the fact that I could tell a high-producing sales person that he and his team wanted in a product was totally irrelevant and he could go back to counting his money and let software people worry about software problems, then be unable to leave my office the next day due to fear that I would somehow be killed in doing so. The problem was, after awhile, the "inclusiveness" and "understanding" went away and my issues became a liability. Suddenly, 5-star reviews turned into the being raked over the coals, even though my productivity couldn't be higher.

Real inclusiveness is being accepting of people in every shape, size, orientation, gender, religion, and mental health status without a deadline in mind. This isn't some effort to generate good PR. The idea of "Look! We promoted a black man!" or "We have engineers who are women that are actually productive!!!" is absolute nonsense because you are bragging about it. Inclusiveness isn't about public relations or a company's image and if it is, it is fake as fake can be. If you accept everybody, you don't need blow a trumpet ahead of yourself for it, you just do it because its the right thing to do.


Very well said! Thank you so much for sharing. I couldn't agree more :)


I would love to see more women in tech. I work in a male dominated office, and the culture and conversations are cringeworthy sometimes.

That being said, it's important to keep hiring and promotion decisions strictly objective. (Not biased towards or against either gender)

Immagine if, in your desire to advance females, you promoted an incompetent female instead of a competent male. Everyone who had to work under or with her would resent your "inclusive agenda". It would start to look a lot like nepotism.

I think some of the ideas Google has worked on in this area is a step in the right direction. Here's a podcast talking about it: youarenotsosmart.com/2015/06/08/ya...

I particularly like applying the strength of the double-blind control method to hiring practices.

So to answer your question, IMO an inclusive environment is one with the brightest people, an open idea space, and a focus on scientific objectivity.

To foster that kind of environment, i have no idea. I'm glad that's not my job.


I'm glad that's not my job.

Same. lol

I agree - conversations can be so messy. Especially with 'locker room talk'. It has no place in the workplace.


Or "locker room smells" ugh


Inclusive to me means:

  • varying the types of company or team events and making sure to have social hours and events that aren't centered on drinking alcohol
  • choosing venues that accommodate nursing mothers and people with disabilities (and considering people's religion whenever food is involved)
  • providing ways for employees to provide feedback anonymously
  • investing in an HR team early on
  • creating an interview rubric that doesn't focus on previous education or open source contributions

I've found Project Include to be incredibly informative and educational when it comes to thinking about what a truly inclusive environment and culture means. I've also learned so much about what inclusion is by working with various engineering teams that focus on it.


Great insight! Thanks so much for the resources also.


My feeling is teamwork, inclusion and success work hand in hand. I simply cannot do things as well as some of my coworkers. I also sometimes prefer to share a problem than tackle it alone. This in turn has created a place where coworkers have also come to me with their challenges.

I have also worked with people who chose to not share their challenges. Instead they were 'competing ' with me and others. I've found these people made it hard for themselves.

I think the secret to this is focusing on the challenge together and supporting people where they are at, not expecting them to change. Instead focusing on how to improve by being a good team member.

This approach has worked for me in some very difficult situations. The sharing piece is incredibly important, but the listening piece is critical.


Having a safe environment where you can share and get real with your team members is where it’s at. Competing with one another is just too exhausting.


Diversity (of various kinds) has been well covered in this topic, so I'll just +1 it. I'd just like to add that I want to see more inclusivity of differing work styles. In software, open floor plans seem to be a given, but I find them difficult to work in. The assumption is that open floor leads to more collaboration, but all I've experienced over the past decade is that they make it more difficult for me to focus whether that be for writing code or even just for discussing possible solutions with teammates. Headphones only help so much, and they do nothing WRT the constant stream of people walking in my field of view.

I'd love to see companies provide quiet/"closed" environments as well as open floors (some companies do). A big part of inclusivity is letting everyone perform up to their potential, and based on past experience, I know I'm not performing up to mine.


First of all, quality question & discussion 🙂 I genuinely believe everyone should strive to make their working environment inclusive and it pays dividends too on a business and community level!

Although an inclusive environment can consist of a broad range of aspects, I think it can summed up in one sentence as:

A positive, non-confrontational and (ideally) friendly environment where everyone has mutual respect for each other and their contributions.

Some practical ideas to help make this happen include:

  • Experienced people: take the time to be open to helping out less experienced people, and by "less experienced" I can also mean senior/lead level people who aren't fully clued up in your project. Also notice I haven't explicitly said developers up to this point as this sort of thing applies for experience non technical people too. However, on a technical front, make more of an effort of helping out than just leaving less experienced developers with just "you should be able to do that" without any pointers.
  • All developers: make an effort to ensure you're polite in reviewing your fellow developers' work and never flame or insult them. Better still, review with an open mind and make the effort to let this reflect in the language you use for your comments - instead of "do that", ask "is there any reason why you did this instead of that?" - and don't be afraid to leave positive comments too, especially if you've learned something new from their work! There's often context in why things are the codebase aren't as ideal as they should be, and sometimes the cost-benefit ratio of improving them isn't worth it, as painful as it can be!
  • Everyone: make an effort to be positive, firm and non-confrontational to your workmates. Also, be welcome listen to any suggestions and don't dismiss them because "things don't work that way here". Finally, practice empathy and take time to understand the whys and wherefores!

Your idea of getting balance in a room is a very interesting one - I admit sometimes I can be completely quiet - sometimes it's because I have very little to contribute, but sometimes something pops into my mind that I'm a bit nervous to say, and by the time I get to say it, the conversation has really moved on. I have a feeling this is where the role of a good leader comes in to play, but any tips for this scenario when the room isn't being led so well are more than welcome 😉.

There's a lot I've missed out and I'm sure I've missed the mark somewhere here! But once again, thank you for the awesome discussion 🤘


Inclusive to me means respecting everyone's contributions and person-hood.

As for the goal of breaking the typical tech monoculture, said monoculture is pretty far removed from some of my experiences, so I don't feel as strongly about this push as many seem to. It is a consideration, certainly.

I have very nearly described my non-typical experiences multiple times in posts like this. But I always cancel posting the comment when I think about how my previous team mates would feel reading it. The team had far too much professionalism for differences along "inclusive" dimensions to affect the work. So it seems unfair to characterize them by such categories even to bolster inclusiveness. They were awesome coworkers, not merely awesome [category adjective] coworkers.


You can always post anonymously by emailing sloan@dev.to 💚👍🏼

Love your insight! Good points


I think your comment about getting balance in the room is an under-appreciated one. Inclusivity is about more than just sex/race/religion/etc. It's also about people's nature i.e. introverts vs. extroverts.

As a way of making sure that the more introvert inclined people can still contribute their valuable insights, I make sure that we circulate topics for a meeting ahead of time. This gives time for the people who think best in a quiet room to do so. Then, I can chair the meeting in such a way as to invite people to speak, so that it's not just the loudest voices who get heard.

Without this, it's easy to end up only hearing from those who are good at thinking on their feet and voicing their opinions. In reality, there are important contributions waiting to be found, and self-confidence to be built.

The loud voices scenario seems to typify the "bro" culture that development can end up being, and that is toxic to all kinds of inclusivity.


My favorite idea around building a team was creating an ecosystem -- you need all kinds of types who rely on each other to make it work. Idea stolen from Kerri Miller -@kerrizor


In- or exclusion has all to do with the goal oriented competitive production environment. There is selection of personel to begin with. I think that we should start with the realisation that exclusion is part of the system. The way to make it more inclusive is to escape the system, not try to patch it. I think the most inclusive system is where people receive mutual support and where organically new initiatives are born and die without frustration jealousy or friction. It is a system where the person and community is more important that production goals.


An inclusive environment, to me, is one that doesn't have an "inclusiveness program" or policy, but rather just treats people like people.

This has been on my mind a lot lately. I think it should speak for itself, as in, if you walked into my workplace, you'd notice the cultural diversity of our teams, women in leadership roles, etc. Or in a perfect world, you wouldn't notice those things; you'd notice people happy in their jobs, comfortable with their colleagues, and driven toward a common mission.

We're a growing organization, but we are geographically located just on the outside ring of the tech companies in D.C. and Baltimore, and we also have to compete with all of the cleared space positions available at the NSA and twenty other government agencies/military contractors in the area. Different industry, but developers and otherwise end up there for various reasons.

I think our work culture and our inclusive environment should help us bring on more great candidates. How will people know about it if we aren't talking about it? How can we talk about it without bragging about it, or making it seem like an underhanded effort to generate good PR? Those are the questions that have been on my mind. I'm a developer, not a recruiter, but my organization is important to me, and I want to work with great people.

Maybe one approach would be to do exactly what I said at the beginning—share our successes and other stories, attach faces to them, and let it speak for itself.

Thanks, @kaydacode , for bringing up this topic!