Empower Transformation: Building Inclusive Communities Within Companies

Inclusive communities in the workplace are more vital than ever. While many companies have expanded diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) initiatives, only 41% of employees feel comfortable being themselves at work. 

To shed light on this topic, Marco chatted with Arthur Woods, Partner at Plenty Search: an executive search firm for venture-backed startups focused on diversity. He’s also a Co-Founder of Out in Tech and Mathison, as well as author of the national bestseller Hiring for Diversity



On a self-described mission to “make work better for people,” Arthur knows firsthand how a lack of belonging undermines an otherwise healthy workplace. 

Together, we dug into his wealth of career experience to break down key insights, such as: 

  1. How fear and distrust keep workplaces from thriving
  2. Using the concept of Ikigai to help team members feel like they belong
  3. Why building an inclusive workplace requires vulnerable leaders

“We're entering a new era of work. Companies that invest in employee well-being will create the greatest loyalty, output, and long-term relationships with their people.”

Distrust and fear are common blockers to belonging in the workplace 

To its own detriment, the modern workplace often reinforces a fear-based environment of what Arthur calls command and control. The shift to hybrid and remote work particularly highlights the difference between: 

  1. Micromanaging (often overbearing) leaders
  2. Leaders who trust their employees — no matter where they work

With 10+ years of experience as a SaaS entrepreneur in the HR space, Arthur is all too familiar with the issues preventing companies from building positive cultures. As he covered in his popular TEDx Talk and discussed with us: 

“When we’re kids, one of the beautiful things is we don’t wake up every day thinking about scarcity, fear, responsibilities. Once we enter adulthood, many people operate from fear and not possibility.”

Arthur argues that the shift to remote work created extraordinary accessibility, where employees can prioritize families, pets, and home maintenance throughout the workday. But, simultaneously, “It left us transacting more than transforming.” 

The remote workplace may be more efficient with fitting meetings in our day, but the focus is on getting things done instead of building a genuine community. 

The difference is intentionality: Companies must name the need for stronger team bonds and take action accordingly. By blocking time for shared experiences that aren’t focused on work, they can build interpersonal connections based on trust and vulnerability — not productivity.

“Work hasn’t been optimized for creativity or human flourishing, but instead, for getting the most out of people and inherently not trusting them. The way we’ve defined most of the metrics in the workplace has been from a position of: ‘Our people are likely not working, so let’s make sure they are.”

To feel belonging in the workplace, employees must understand their purpose at work

For your workplace to be an inclusive community, every employee must feel they truly belong to the team — as a valuable contributor to its overarching mission and success. 

Without this motivation to make an impact and keep improving one’s work, employees can’t thrive. 

Arthur mirrors this with the concept of Ikigai, a Japanese idea for finding one’s purpose in life. The process of discovering your Ikigai requires answering four questions: 

  1. What do you love? 
  2. What are you good at? 
  3. What can you be paid for? 
  4. What does the world need? 

In Arthur’s own experience, he was thrilled to enter a workplace like Google with a world-class employee experience. Yet, after six months, he didn’t feel meaningful fulfillment. The environment alone couldn’t seed purpose, which led to him feeling detached from his contributions. 

Talking with a mentor helped Arthur see there were areas outside of his job description where he was skilled and could make a much-needed impact. This inspired him to volunteer on educational, schools-focused content for YouTube — eventually leading to the creation of the YouTube Education department and his promotion to Head of Operations. 

“You can bring the mindset of an entrepreneur wherever you are — even if you’re in a big corporation. You shouldn’t have to leave your job to experience that sense of purpose and contribution.” 

Building an inclusive workplace starts by leading with vulnerability 

Going from an evangelical childhood environment to coming out as LGBTQ+ during college reinforced Arthur’s desire to find belonging in a community. After graduating and entering the corporate workforce, that need for genuine connection led to a culture shock. As he put it:

“Work is not a place where most people feel a sense of belonging — or even psychologically safe, let alone thriving.” 

To that end, Arthur views the broader understanding of psychological safety at work in 2023 as a big win for DEIB efforts. For example: 

  • Practices like self-advocacy and concepts like employee well-being help employees bring their more vulnerable, personal selves to work. 
  • Having candid talks with team members who carry distrustful habits from fear-based environments enables a space where everyone can belong and grow. 

While there’s still plenty of work to do on the DEIB front, Arthur is thrilled that he regularly sees leaders who believe people are the greatest resource and asset you can have. 

Another commonality among these effective leaders? They understand vulnerability is crucial to an inclusive work community and make sure to lead by example. This means showing up as a human with a personal life and the occasional off day — not just as a manager. 

When employees experience this and realize they can do the same, that’s the start of building a psychologically safe (and thus inclusive) workplace. Employees feel they can bring their whole selves to work because they’re not just productivity machines. They feel seen by their leaders and co-workers as complete human beings. 

When we show up vulnerably, we signal to the people around us that they can be vulnerable, that it’s safe, and that you’re real. I’m amazed by the profound impact vulnerability can have in any relationship and community you’re building.” 

The Future of Culture in your Inbox