Building a Culture of Inclusion

group hands

Questions to help assess your practice’s DEI progress

By Shannon O’Kelley, MPT

What is meant by “inclusion in the workplace”? What does it mean to you and the people of your organization? According to the Society for Human Resource Management, inclusion can be defined as “the achievement of a work environment in which all individuals are treated fairly and respectfully, have equal access to opportunities and resources, and contribute fully to the organization’s success.”1 I’m sure most of us feel that we agree with this definition, and most of us feel that we live by this definition with our employees.

However, I do think it is always a good and fruitful exercise to ask ourselves, are we living up to this standard? Can we do a better job? Additionally, the most important thing is to ask our employees how they feel.

Here, I will share some thoughts and ideas on how we can evaluate, assess, and practice inclusion in our practices and workplace.


First, start by asking yourself if inclusion is a part of your company’s culture. Laying the foundation at the start of each of your employees’ tenure with you is important, and it begins with embedding these values in your mission, vision, and onboarding process.

  • Is it mentioned anywhere in your mission, vision, and/or values?
  • Is there any conversation about opportunities and resources for employees when they onboard or go through orientation?

Setting the stage during this time can be very powerful and can establish an engaged and committed workforce.

  • Is there an understanding of the vision and goals that your employees share?
  • What are their aspirations, and did you ask about them?

Take a moment to find out with either a conversation or a quick survey.


Engaging your team is essential for ensuring inclusivity and development of all positions. These are some great questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you have a process to follow up with and engage new personnel to promote inclusion?
  • Is someone assigned to and responsible for this check-in?

We all know how easy it is to lose our connection with new employees. Sure, we all get busy, but it is refreshing for anybody to be asked, “How are you doing?” or “How do you feel?” It is important to engage employees in these kinds of questions early and regularly.

  • Do your employees have an avenue to express how they are doing and feeling?

A quick survey can provide valuable insights and help an organization to stay focused and redirect efforts. Surveys also can be more comfortable for some of your employees so they can share their thoughts anonymously — or if you gather their personal information for follow-up, at least with some privacy. In addition, they have been afforded a voice and are being heard.


Since we are clinical people, and we all need our continuing education units (CEUs) for license renewal, we tend to focus more effort on this with the clinical staff, but every position in your organization can grow. Take time to create development opportunities for your whole organization; training and educational programs benefit the whole staff and, in the long run, your business.

  • Are there opportunities for personal and professional development in your organization beyond clinical continuing education?
  • Do you actively develop all roles?

At IRG, we have done educational summits on various topics like leadership, nutrition, public speaking, technology, and more. The engagement and positive energy this creates is immeasurable, and everyone learns and grows together. Have you thought about some type of continuing education budget for nonclinical staff? This is an opportunity to include all staff in continuing education instead of just clinical staff, as is typical.

  • Do your people know what job opportunities exist within your organization?
  • Do you hire from within, or look outside the organization?

Take a moment to look at your present organization and ask how many people have grown with you. How many employees have been with your company for three years? Five? Ten? I’m personally amazed and very proud of how many people have grown and developed with us in our organization at IRG Physical & Hand Therapy. Retaining employees for longer by developing their talents and listening to their needs helps provide an environment of safety, inclusion, growth, and loyalty.


A great way to create ideas and check in with your organization is to create an advisory board made up of people from various positions and disciplines in your organization. You will gain great information and insight from different perspectives and perceptions within your business.

  • Do you have an advisory board or group of employees representing each position to ensure you are meeting the needs of all employees?

We can all become siloed and forget or appreciate what the company looks like through other people’s eyes, so it is increasingly important that we have representation from each corner of the company.


A very powerful way to include your entire organization is through a volunteer activity or by developing programs to give back in your community. There is such a huge need for this in our society today, and it is an activity that will help all people in your organization to feel valued. Giving helps your employees feel more connected to their communities, and it provides a sense of belonging and other psychological benefits. There is power in giving back. Like the old saying goes, you get more when you give.

I hope that these questions and ideas spark your imagination and help you have an honest conversation with yourself and your team about how your company helps people from all walks of life to feel included and represented. 


1Papay M. “What’s Your Inclusion Quotient?” Published December 4, 2019.

Shannon O’Kelley, MPT

Shannon O’Kelley, MPT, is the CEO and president of IRG Physical & Hand Therapy. By combining his compassion for each individual patient and his passion for education, Shannon takes an active approach to his leadership role. He is an expert on performance, personal empowerment, and team synergy.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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