New Study Analyzes Elements of an Inclusive Work Environment

Summary of:

Razzante, R., “Communicatively co-constituting pathways of an inclusive workplace: A participant-driven methodology” (2020). Dissertation, University of Arizona, 1-162.

Background & Theory:

These days, many organizations are tasked with interlacing diversity and inclusion into their very core. This can be done through a combination of macro-, meso-, and micro-level changes in the organization. One way to facilitate these changes in ways that draw support from employees is to use participatory action research. Participatory action research is a methodology that gathers data from individuals looking to make improvements on specific issues in an environment. This study uses participatory action research to assist an organization named Valley Ridge in unearthing input from its employees on the tenants of an inclusive work environment. Ideally, this will help Valley Ridge use collective employee intelligence in its decision-making.


Research was conducted to answer the following questions:

    1. What pathways do employees at Valley Ridge envision for creating an inclusive workplace?
    2. How might these pathways inform meso- and macro-level planning around inclusion?


All methodological contributions were completed in the context of a case study of Valley Ridge, a medical center which serves as a healthcare system locally and globally. This study utilized Interpretive Structural Modeling (ISM) to produce data through a survey, individual interviews, and focus-group reflections. First, the survey was sent out with the goal of generating desired characteristics of an inclusive workplace. 67 employees were recruited from Valley Ridge employee resource groups and diversity councils to complete this survey, resulting in a list of 255 characteristics of an inclusive workplace. These characteristics were then condensed into 14 categories and named “conditions of inclusion.”

After this, 19 individual interviews were conducted to determine which of these categories positively and significantly supported each other. Each interview lasted an average of 46 minutes with approximately 40-60 questions. Each interview yielded individual ISM structures showing the conditions of inclusion that supported each other. Each individual ISM structure was then synthesized into one theme-based metastructure that encapsulated all interview findings.

Finally, interviewees had a chance to participate in a focus group and offer their reflections on the theme-based metastructure that was created. Analyzation of the data was completed via a mixed-method sequential explanatory data analysis. The interviewee responses for how conditions relate to each other, otherwise known as linkage rationales, were used to explain, illustrate, and clarify the thematic metastructure.


As mentioned above, analyzing the data resulted in a thematic metastructure that encapsulates the thoughts and opinions of employees at Valley Ridge in five elements. These five elements include having a diverse workforce, a receptive organizational climate, a commitment to inclusion, intercultural empathy, and an inclusive organizational infrastructure. This metastructure is progressive, meaning each of the five elements build on each other to create a more inclusive working environment. For example, having a diverse workforce is the foundational building block of which establishing a receptive organizational climate can be more easily attained. In turn, having a receptive organizational climate more easily allows for the organization to foster a commitment to inclusion, which allows for greater intercultural empathy. All of these elements foster an inclusive organizational climate.

Each of the five elements of creating an inclusive work environment are listed below to further define their individual characteristics:

  • Diverse Workforce: Seeking to create a diverse workforce increases the prospect that employees would want to foster an inclusive workplace. Doing this requires the cultivation of intentional hiring practices and intentional effort towards retaining employees. Ultimately, participants voiced that while having a diverse workforce does not intrinsically create an inclusive environment, it is a basic building block for eventual inclusion.
  • Receptive Organizational Climate: Built upon a diverse workforce, a receptive organizational climate is one that fosters respect and trust, allowing employees to feel comfortable asking questions without ridicule, silence, and judgement. This type of climate allows for open conversation and dialogue, leading to collaborative learning and informed decision-making.
  • Commitment to Inclusion: Demonstrating a commitment to inclusion can be done individually and organizationally. On the individual level, it is key to have an open mind to difference from self. On the organizational level, this commitment can be seen through the actions leadership take in committing to inclusion. A visible commitment to inclusion from executive leadership trickles down the corporate ladder, affecting managers, departments, and employees.
  • Intercultural Empathy: A key aspect of intercultural empathy is the ability to listen and perspective-take. Listening to a diverse set of needs from employees allows for the organization to take a learning approach. A learning approach leads to increased awareness which in turn gives leaders the opportunity to respond through programming and policy.
  • Inclusive Organizational Infrastructure: Creating inclusive organizational infrastructure is the process of creating change in policy and programming. While some employees may follow inclusive policies only out of compliance, simply having inclusive policies meets the goal of cultivating an inclusive environment. Additionally, when inclusive organizational infrastructure is implemented, it supports each of the preceding themes.

What We Can Learn:

Looking over this research, we can take away the following key insight:

  • Fostering an inclusive organizational environment requires the organization to first intentionally hire a diverse workforce. This fundamental building block then makes it more likely for a receptive organizational climate to form. A diverse workforce and receptive organizational climate increase the likelihood for a commitment to inclusion to be established, which then increases the likelihood for the presence of intercultural empathy. All of these factors make it more likely for an inclusive organizational infrastructure to be implemented.

Final Takeaways

For Consultants: Organizations that have difficulty implementing an inclusive work environment may want to consider what they may be missing. For example, if an organization is struggling to strongly commit to inclusion but has a diverse workforce, it may be helpful for that organization to focus on building a receptive organizational climate first.

For Everyone: If you are a part of an organization that is struggling to build an inclusive working environment, showing leadership the results of this study may be a helpful guide for working towards inclusivity goals.