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4 Tips for Making Employee Onboarding More Inclusive

August 3, 2020
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First impressions are everything. For new hires, those crucial moments come in onboarding. If your company has made diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) a priority moving forward, that’s also a natural place to start.

“DE&I should be part of every process and function that an organization has, especially talent recruitment and onboarding,” said Farzana Nayani, a business coach and diversity consultant. Because new hires are already nervous about starting fresh, making them feel like they belong is essential. Here are some tips for making your onboarding process more inclusive.

1. Share your DE&I goals and company values.

Few companies would admit to not prioritizing DE&I. But goal setting actually holds them accountable to that commitment.

If your company has diversity, equity, and inclusion goals, make those clear from the start. Just as you would give new hires an overview of the state of the business and financial targets, outline how you’re building a more inclusive and equitable workplace. Sharing employee survey results — the good and the bad — will send the message that your company knows there’s work to be done.

“Just as you would discuss with a new hire the expectations that come along with their role, the team they’ll be working with, and company-wide policies and procedures, you should cover the various DE&I programs and initiatives your business carries out. Ensure that all new hires understand the commitment your company has made to DE&I and how that commitment will affect and support them,” said Nerissa Zhang, CEO of The Bright App.

Onboarding is also a great time to explain your company values, which should be written with inclusivity in mind. Have leadership go through these in a way that doesn’t exclude anyone. “Make sure the company goals and values are defined and expressed in a way that is culturally expansive, not just a certain perspective on this value, as performance measurement would be affected,” said Nayani. Because performance reviews often reference values, be clear about what these actually mean.

“For example, if a company has a value of courage, how will this value be demonstrated? What if employees, due to their cultural norms, tend to not speak up — will they be viewed as disengaged?” Clarifying these questions from the onset will stave off hires’ worries that they’ve been set up to fail.

2. Include diverse perspectives.

DE&I is about more than what meets the eye. But for recruits trying to picture themselves succeeding at the company, your training lineup matters. Make sure your instructors come from a broad range of backgrounds.

“If someone new comes into your business and every single person that trains them or that they meet is white, straight, and predominantly men, that won’t give off the best impression...It can be intimidating, alienating, and just uncomfortable,” said Nelson Sherwin, HR Manager at PEO Compare.

But a diverse lineup alone doesn’t make an onboarding program inclusive. Use your lineup as a way of showing that everyone isn’t just welcome, they’re empowered to succeed. Encourage leaders or high-performers to share their perspectives. That might mean inviting the co-chair of an ERG to lead a session on their department — or just someone who has earned the company’s respect as an outstanding manager.

Juan Ramos, Program Manager at Cisco Systems, runs onboarding for his company’s customer experience department. While he doesn’t choose who leads his training sessions based on their age, gender, or ethnicity, he knows there are subtle but powerful ways to show inclusivity simply based on someone’s role or reputation.

“Being an Afro-Latino in a Fortune 500 IT company is tough,” Ramos said. “I don’t let diversity and inclusion dictate who I select as a trainer, but I work harder to show how diversity contributes to our innovation and profits as a global company. I choose a subtle approach to show diversity as a positive. My achievements as a leader in our Latino employee resource organization — Conexión — and wins as a manager serve to show how organic diversity can be. It’s something that doesn’t need to be explained.”

3. Make DE&I part of your curriculum.

Most onboarding programs include presentations from department heads. Like any other business function, experts recommend giving DE&I the same kind of airtime. From an overview of existing ERGs to who employees should contact if they see or experience bias, detail these important resources right out of the gate.

“Make sure to include the organization's diversity and inclusion statements and programs in the content of the onboarding. Share all diversity programs that are available to employees to help them connect with their communities at work and feel like they belong, like employee resource groups,” said Stan Kimer, President of Total Engagement Consulting. “If you have a diversity director or leader in your organization, give them some time to address the onboarding session.”

There are also subtle ways to incorporate DE&I in the technical parts of onboarding. When setting up employee accounts in your HR software, make sure there’s a place for them to self-identify gender identity. Similarly, make sure there’s an option for employees to input their chosen name. Even the seemingly inconsequential act of configuring email signatures can send a message.

“Certain practices like sharing pronouns and listing them in email signatures will be more welcoming of the entire spectrum of gender identity, rather than creating a default assumption that everyone aligns with a binary definition of gender,” Nayani said. 

4. Ask for employee feedback.

It’s not enough to hope employees are comfortable with their responsibilities after a few weeks. You want to make sure they feel like they belong, too. When you conduct new hire surveys after their first 30 days, touch on more than role clarity or tech enablement.

“We all want to make a positive impression when onboarding our new hires,” said Scot J. Chrisman, CEO at The Media House. “The only way for you to improve and innovate the onboarding experience of new hires is to get feedback from them. Let them rate their training and onboarding experience with DE&I in mind.” In practice, that means asking employees to agree or disagree to prompts like:

  • This company is committed to diversity.
  • I feel like I belong in this company.
  • If you make a mistake on this team, it is not held against you.
  • People from all backgrounds have an equal opportunity to succeed here.
  • My manager is supportive of me participating in DE&I activities.
  • This company makes sure that the opinions of individuals from different backgrounds are heard.

While you should survey for belonging regularly, honing in on new hires gives you a point of comparison. What if they have a different take on your company’s DE&I efforts than tenured staff? Looking at your company culture with fresh eyes, new hires’ feedback on how inclusive your company really is might serve as a valuable wakeup call to company leadership.



Starting a job is hard enough. New hires already have anxiety about whether they made the right career move or if they’ll be able to make friends at work. Help ease those worries by fostering an onboarding experience where differences aren’t just accepted, they’re celebrated.

For more tips on promoting DE&I and engaging new hires, subscribe to the weekly I ♡ Humans newsletter.