Women Leaders on How to Build an Inclusive Team Culture (at Any Company Size)

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Whether you are a small business owner or work alongside thousands of others at a large corporation, building an inclusive culture is a non-negotiable to ensure all employees have the opportunity to thrive in their careers. But, creating an inclusive workplace will never be a one-and-done task. Rather, the work requires a long-term commitment to learning and a willingness to go the extra mile. 

The following 12 women leaders have made inspiring strides in ensuring they meet the diverse needs within their teams, ultimately setting an example of upfront and ongoing effort. 

In fact, their commitment to diversity and inclusivity extends far beyond the teams they’re currently leading. Their trailblazing impacts have the power to permeate to the future of their companies and those who aspire to create similar work cultures—hopefully leading to a more diverse and inclusive world as a whole.

 

Mandy Bynum McLaughlin

Co-Founder and CEO at Race Equ(al)ity Project, an inclusive design studio with a mission to drive accountability for racial equity through data.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: I am always working to lead by example. The tactical things alone aren’t what have made me successful in my career. More importantly, I am always centering an adaptive and personal leadership mentality. I am constantly working to lead from the inside out, use difference as a creative resource, emphasize self-reflection, choose the appropriate energy state, focus on myself first, and commit to learning, growing and becoming better every day.  

The Results I’ve Seen: As we work to unlearn the prioritization and urgency for revenue based results, we are persistent in pausing and making the time to have the conversations needed for the best possible outcome. When we’ve had to make quick decisions without the right perspectives in the room, we end up holding ourselves back in the long run. So we take the time on the front end to incorporate as many different perspectives as possible, and use the diversity of our team to fill in each other’s blind spots.

 

Martha Segovia

Project Manager at Starbucks, a multinational chain of coffeehouses and roastery reserves.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: First, we make the uncomfortable conversations normal by providing safe spaces for people to share and learn other perspectives. It takes time for people to get comfortable in having these discussions to listen and learn. The more we talk about it, the less it’s a taboo and people can bring their full selves to work. Secondly, we operationalize our diversity and inclusion initiatives by inviting curiosity into how we could be even more inclusive—from how we treat our people, and community, to how we think about innovation. Daily actions matter more than big statements. 

The Results I’ve Seen: Our learning journey gives me hope for healing as a country. We have had many courageous and vulnerable discussions in the last couple of years that have led us to be in a place where we can operationalize diversity and inclusion. A few ongoing methods we’ve implemented to ensure we remain inclusive include the chief diversity officer reporting directly to the CEO, operationalizing our crisis communication process to be thoughtful and inclusive, and intentionally thinking about accessibility in every new change we make in our stores. I’m personally excited to test Spanish menus in our stores that have a large Latinx population.

 

Jessica Karr

General Partner at Coyote Ventures, a new $10M venture fund that invests in seed-stage companies innovating in women’s health.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: We are a remote team and believe in sharing key information such as strategic decisions and team formation with everyone. Most of our remote communications, shared working docs, and company information is available to our whole team. As former operators and employees, we know how it feels to be in the dark. We want to keep our team informed. We’re in constant communication with the team on Slack and in Zoom meetings, and make sure they have the space to speak their thoughts and ideas.

The Results I’ve Seen: We’ve seen that when our team feels informed, they are more incentivized to help where they can, because they can see all the work we’re doing and where they can really dive in and add value. We operationalize transparency and make sure we’re listening to the team.

 

Jolene Delisle

Founder and Head of Brand Creative at The Working Assembly, a branding agency working with emerging and evolving brands.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: The key step to building an inclusive team for us has been leading with our purpose and values. I started the company with the original intent of working with marginalized founders, women, and BIPOC entrepreneurs who statistically have a harder time raising capital. The power of clear brand articulation, strategy, and visual identity has helped many of the emerging brands we work with contribute to their significant fundraising. 

The Results I’ve Seen: Though our team is larger than when we first started and we have diversified to work with evolving established brands, we still ensure that we are always balancing projects for the fast-growth startups we were inspired by to create our company. I think leading with this vision has naturally attracted diverse and exceptional talent to our organization—over half of our team identifies as BIPOC, with over 75 percent of our team identifying as female. It’s also created an authentic alignment with our clients, as they are excited by our passion and eagerness to work with them toward their success.

 

Dr. Jill Goldenziel

Professor at Command and Staff College, a program for majors, lieutenant commanders, and U.S. government civilian professionals at Marine Corps University.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: I work to change the dialogue surrounding leadership to one that is focused on what makes good leaders great rather than adversarial dialogue about men’s leadership and women’s leadership. I discourage talking about “white male privilege” and talk instead about team building and inclusive leadership. I encourage my students to talk openly about their backgrounds and discrimination they have faced, and to understand their classmates’ point of view. I also participate in team building exercises, from obstacle courses to powerlifting, to lead by example and show my students that part of leadership is being unafraid to fail. 

The Results I’ve Seen: My students are the strongest academic class I’ve ever had. We will continue to have hard conversations, which most service members shy away from.

 

Kellie Wagner

CEO and Founder at Collective, a DEI consultancy on a mission to make the workplace a better place.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: As the founder and CEO of a fast-growing diversity, equity, and inclusion consultancy, I had to quickly decide what to do when I, and we, make mistakes. For the sake of our collective psychological safety and sense of inclusion, I made the decision to resist perfectionism and instead embrace vulnerability and accountability. This looks like “owning” the time I accidentally screen-shared something embarrassing with a client. It looks like holding space for team members’ growth and development when we lost a client. Ultimately, it looks like modeling the kind of humanity that I always wished I had in a workplace, which, as it turns out, is an incredibly impactful way to cultivate inclusion.

The Results I’ve Seen: We’ve been able to scale the company five times over seven months with our culture intact. We are now in a period of stabilization, and have high employee happiness scores—including a 93 percent average approval rate of our leadership team. Some might fear that giving abundant permission for mental health days, sick days, paid time off, and work/life balance would lessen productivity, but we’ve found the exact opposite to be true. Our team is engaged, dedicated, passionate, and incredibly supportive of one another. We’ve had so many employees say, “this is the first workplace I’ve ever felt psychologically safe.” This comment is heartbreaking and propels us to keep doing this work.

 

Brooke Taylor

Founder and Executive Coach at Brooke Taylor Coaching, a company that helps ambitious women advance in leadership, and advises ambitious businesses that want to advance diverse leaders. 

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: As a coach to female leaders and consultant to businesses that want to advance female leaders and people of color, I encourage my clients to build allyship and sponsorship into their model for what a great leader is. Sponsorship is what actually moves the needle for women and people of color to step into positions they might not ordinarily. It makes a measurable, human difference to sponsorship and allyship into how you operate as a leader, as well as your expectations for leaders at your company.

The Results I’ve Seen: As a solopreneur operating a truly global business, I bring in a lot of contractors and collaborators from diverse backgrounds to inform how my company services its global and diverse clients. Additionally, my payment structure for career coaching is a sliding scale because I want to ensure that people can access quality coaching who don’t have as much access to resources due to patriarchal and white systems of oppression.

 

Ada Chen

Founder and CEO at Chuan Skincare, an affordable, hand-crafted skincare line made from all natural ingredients.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: Coming from years of working in tech, where inclusive culture isn’t always a given, I knew that I wanted to build inclusivity into my business and brand from the start, even before I hired a team. I always encourage other leaders to do this as well, whenever they are starting a new business or a new project. Start by educating yourself on diversity, equity, and inclusion, and then take action to build these values into your company culture. Building a publicly available DEI policy is a good first step, but you also need to continue educating yourself and update your business’ practices and policies. 

The Results I’ve Seen: Feedback on my DEI policy has been positive, and I’ve even been able to update it since launching and sharing it. I also recently shared the outcome of my first quarterly donation to support social justice and anti-racist groups, as well as the next organization my business will be donating to. I recommend setting deadlines like these and checking in with your team regularly on progress toward inclusivity. Diversity, equity, and inclusion is not something you can check off once and be done with—it’s something you need to constantly work on.

 

Marissa Badgley

Founder and CEO at Reloveution, LLC, a consulting and professional development services provider that transforms organizational culture, leadership, and systems with heart. 

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: I teach the companies I work with that they must integrate values of HEART—humanity, empathy, authenticity, relationships, and trust. It’s not enough for people to have a seat at the table. Employees at all levels and from all backgrounds must feel like they can show up to the table as their most authentic selves. They must feel truly seen, heard, and known, not just for what they do, but for who they are. To do this, leaders should prioritize relationship-building across departments and hierarchy, and create intentional spaces for human connection. 

The Results I’ve Seen: When I’ve seen workplaces effectively integrate values of HEART, employees feel more psychologically safe, which directly translates to increased productivity, efficiency, collaboration, and innovation. Inclusion is a journey, not a destination. We continuously need to check in with our people—especially those from traditionally marginalized identities—to ensure that we are meeting their needs. By communicating regularly and asking the hard questions, it is easier to identify blind spots and recalibrate in real time. 

 

Kimone Napier

Founder and Head of Talent Strategy at Kimone Napier Consulting, a company that helps business owners hire and retain their team members to achieve scalable growth.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: Leading with solidarity is a key step to building an inclusive culture. Often we can let our own unconscious biases dictate who we hire and promote. Building your own awareness as a leader is crucial to becoming an ally and understanding your employees’ needs. This awareness will help you foster and build an inclusive team that values mutual respect. 

The Results I’ve Seen: I’ve seen a number of teams shift from high turnover to high engagement. When employees feel included, they’re more engaged. In my own team, we make up a variety of races, gender, education, and age, which has made the company feel close-knit, almost like family. We are able to leverage each other to drive thought leadership and innovative ideas. This has created a ripple effect on profitability, team morale, and trust. That’s powerful considering everything that is happening around us.

 

Lexi Aiassa

Founder and CEO at The Confidence Co., a digestive wellness company focused on de-stigmatize gut related issues through education and tactful supplementation.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: At The Confidence Co., authenticity is extremely important to our culture. Giving our employees and consultants permission to own their schedule and the work they do has been essential for their happiness and growth. To remain connected, we have our employees share weekly wins outside and inside of the workplace. 

The Results I’ve Seen: Implementing weekly wins has given our employees the opportunity to engage with one another on topics and hobbies outside of work. As a team, we support one another in all areas of life.

 

Brooke Markevicius

Founder and CEO at Allobee, a one stop virtual business solution for entrepreneurs and small business owners.

How I’ve Built an Inclusive Culture: We have created a Hive of experts who support, build, and grow together through regular trainings and open communication avenues. One of our key initiatives has been to provide weekly trainings on a variety of topics, which are hosted by women within our workforce. All of our experts have the opportunity to help our Hive learn and develop skills, and receive insight from diversified backgrounds, expertise, and experiences.

The Results I’ve Seen: We have seen positive support from all of our experts by providing them with the opportunity to step into a leadership position and enrich our community with weekly trainings. Our experts are highly active participants in the growth of our company and the community they are creating for each other. We have seen high productivity from our experts as well as continued positive response from our clients.


All individuals featured in this article are members of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.