Start with an IDEA: A Roadmap to Inclusion

Nia Darville

The need for diversity in all facets of society is clear, yet organizations continue to struggle to foster inclusive workplaces. Perhaps that’s because it requires a mindset shift. While leaders can mandate diversity-improving practices, we must cultivate inclusion. To do that, we must scope inclusion, clarifying what it means for teams, and then begin having meaningful conversations about how to make it happen.

Start with an IDEA

At Greenhouse, we’ve transitioned from using the familiar “DEI” term—diversity, equity, and inclusion, and toward the concept of IDEA—inclusion, diversity, equity, and allyship. This is a fundamental shift in the approach to achieving inclusion because it elevates the importance of allyship in achieving meaningful change. The root word of allyship is “all.” True allyship means inviting, engaging, empowering, and championing every part of every person. As a recent article in the Harvard Business Review put it, allyship is about progress, not perfection. It’s a process of building supportive and understanding relationships between all people, but especially ensuring those from marginalized or underrepresented groups feel fully included. A culture of genuine empathy and respect empowers all people to be their authentic selves and do their best work. It’s an achievable goal if you know the path forward. 

How to cultivate inclusion

Inclusion is a natural byproduct of diversity, equity, and allyship. So how do we get there? Begin by focusing on three key steps: evaluate, elevate, and evolve.


As with everything in business, data is your friend. It shows where you’re succeeding and where you need to do better. The same applies to how you manage your culture, processes, and people. Create an ongoing measurement calendar to ensure you’re continuously connecting with your people. Know what they think and feel—qualitatively, and add quantitative data to get a comprehensive picture. Inclusion surveys show how your employees are feeling about what’s going on in their day to day, giving them the opportunity to share feedback not collected elsewhere. Leaders can then combine those findings with data from their human resources information system (HRIS), hiring, and applicant tracking systems. Also, be sure to reference industry hiring trends to put your internal data in context. Together, these help document where you are with your workforce diversity goals at any given point in time. 

When collecting employee data, it’s crucial that surveys are non-attributed. Employees must know they’re safe responding freely. You can only make change if you get a true pulse of where you stand, so protecting privacy is a must. If deeper insights are needed, such as from focus groups or additional surveys, soliciting volunteers from Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) is an excellent way to ensure marginalized voices are heard and their concerns are addressed. 


The second step is elevating. Everyone in your organization should know the story your data is telling. What is your DEI story, past and present? What do you want it to be and how will you get there? Developing a narrative around these questions will provide clarity for everyone in the organization about company goals. Another important aspect of this conversation is the vocabulary you use. Words matter. You must have a shared language across the organization to make sure everyone keeps diversity, equity, and allyship top of mind. Doing so makes it easier for your team to understand its role in contributing to furthering inclusion at your organization.


Oftentimes, when leaders think about diversity and inclusion, they assume initiatives require new policies and procedures developed completely from scratch. That’s not necessarily the case. It can be as simple as reviewing current policies and looking deeper into the purpose behind those systems, along with the impact they have on your people. Always be mindful of how policies impact people with different intersectionalities and evolve them to be more inclusive for all people. It’s a constant evaluation and education for policy makers, who must accept the reality that certain policies and procedures may inadvertently cause barriers for people from diverse backgrounds. If (or when) you find problematic policies, take a look and determine how you can embed equity. For example, you can use technology to take bias out of hiring processes that too often introduce barriers to diversity (more on this later, so keep reading!). By boosting diversity, equity, and allyship, you’ll cultivate inclusion. 

Follow your DEI data

Effective DEI teams dig into data to identify patterns and find opportunities. Troubling patterns can help you focus your efforts. For instance, at Greenhouse we noticed that BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) customer-facing team members received a higher average number of escalations from customers. These were cases where issues were elevated to managers after an initial customer contact by a BIPOC employee. In response, customer-facing departments created a “Tiger Team” to investigate and train managers on how to best support BIPOC employees based on the experiences they had with customers. 

Encourage organic inclusion

True progress happens when individuals have such a personal investment in inclusion that they take proactive steps to champion it—without formal programs or prompting from the IDEA team. I love finding these instances at Greenhouse. Recent ones included:

  • Mouseless Mondays: Research and development team members navigate our product without using a mouse to test keyboard accessibility. 
  • Inclusive Communications Guide: Marketing employees worked with our ERGs to collect the most inclusive language for talking about the identities our communities represent.
  • Data Science Ethics Committee: Committee work monitors and mitigates potential threats to DEI from artificial intelligence (AI) in the industry.

Activate your inclusion program

The unique innovation of IDEA is a deeper focus on allyship and action. When planing activation activities, there are four dimensions to address when skill-building:

  • Inviting: Creating intentional inroads into communities, teams, companies—and planning structural safety for connection.
  • Engaging: Designing processes, experiences, and feedback loops that empower all people to flourish.
  • Empowering: Enhancing in-the-moment connections by equipping employees with tools that drive heightened emotional intelligence and shared language 
  • Championing: Centering on people-first values in all decisions and advocating for others from all communities.

While important for inclusion, these skills and behaviors won’t develop in a vacuum. That’s why you need proactive employee engagement to forge authentic connections. As the Senior Manager of IDEA Activations, I spend my time putting a keen focus on creating fun, engaging, connective experiences that equip and reinforce each of these four allyship competencies. 

To ensure each skillset is addressed, we align our events and activities with intention. For example our BranchOut sessions provide a safe forum for sharing, using quick, structured conversations to build “Invite” skills. Our Gather@ experiences empower our people to dig deeper through vulnerable storytelling and active listening to reinforce Engage skills. Empower skills are enhanced through our Tablefor10 sessions which embed EQ (emotional intelligence) tools and shared language in our company culture to enhance in-the-moment connections through facilitated conversations. 

We know these programs resonate with our people because post-activation feedback showed an average 32% increase in employee’s connection to our company, and an 108% increase in employee’s connection to each other. Data shows the power of taking activation seriously by dedicating sufficient resources to make it successful. 

Creating safe Arbors

We call our ERGs “Arbors.” And just like trees purify the environment by producing oxygen, our Arbors infuse the organization with inclusion, diversity, equity, and allyship to create optimal conditions for employees to grow.

Arbors aim to create community and support for individuals with shared identities, support our business initiatives, and promote our company as a place where IDEA happens. The beauty of this approach is that everyone can be an ally (recall the root of ally is “all”). Including everyone can be challenging as our workforce norms adapt to remote work. Colleagues separated by technology, time zones, and separate work spaces, makes forging connections more difficult. Companies must, therefore, continue to invest in infrastructure that enables connections in a virtual environment. 

Weeding out bias in hiring

To cultivate a thriving culture of inclusivity, begin by hiring employees who share your company values. This doesn’t give license to narrowly hire people just like you. It means reframing expectations of the “right fit” by embracing structured hiring, which focuses on attributes and skills instead of shared identities. A skills-based approach levels the playing field for candidates, leveraging scorecards that impartially grade applicants on set criteria. Technology has the power to reduce bias from candidate screening, interviewing, and hiring, leading to a workforce that’s diverse from the start.

The takeaway

Evaluate your company performance, gathering qualitative and quantitative feedback from employees and ERG members. Then pair that with data from your internal business systems and external industry benchmarks. If you already have processes and procedures around IDEA, make sure they’re inclusive for people from all intersectionalities. 

Cultivating inclusion begins by elevating; set clear goals for DEI and know where you are on the roadmap—and make sure that everyone understands and is aligned on the language. (Remember: words are powerful.) Then, evolve your processes to embed equity and make them inclusive for all. 

Encourage organic inclusion, so employees have a personal stake in IDEA goals. Then, activate your team with activities that reinforce skills across the invite, engage, empower, and champion dimensions of allyship. ERGs can be important partners in this work, which all begins with unbiased hiring so you have a diverse team in place to drive your business forward.

Nia Darville is an empathetic innovator at the intersection of employee experience and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Currently serving as an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Allyship (IDEA) Senior Program Manager at Greenhouse Software, Nia has a rich background in inclusive communication, diversity in tech, and creating connective experiences.
Back to top