• Hour glass icon54 minutes : 12 minutes reading | 42 minutes video

Creating inclusive environments

To help postdocs to thrive in their roles, it is important to create a culturally inclusive environment that recognises and supports the diversity of postdocs. Creating such an environment will make it easier to engage your postdocs in more regular career conversations, more effectively use the diverse range of skills within your research team and create a sense of purpose and belonging within your research group.

The University of the Sunshine Coast defines a culturally inclusive environment in the following way:

“A culturally inclusive environment requires mutual respect, effective relationships, clear communication, explicit understandings about expectations and critical self-reflection. In an inclusive environment, people of all cultural orientations can:

  • freely express who they are, their own opinions and points of view
  • fully participate in teaching, learning, work and social activities
  • feel safe from abuse, harassment or unfair criticism”

Inclusive environments and supporting the career development of researchers

As a manager of researchers, it is important to discuss career development with your postdocs. In the video below, Professor Bavik Patel discusses the approach that he takes in having these conversations, ensuring that this is an ongoing discussion.

Professor Bavik Patel video on discussing career development with your postdoc here:

To help your researchers thrive and to enable these conversations to take place effectively, it is important that you create a culturally inclusive environment to support your researchers. In a workshop which looked at how to create a working environment that lets you and your postdocs grow - skills for PIs and postdocs, Dr Richard Rainbow talked about how he supports his postdocs by recognising the different skills that they bring to the group, noting the need to use the diversity of skills that postdocs bring to his research team. A full recording of Dr Rainbow’s presentation can be found at the link included above.

It may also be useful to support your postdocs in undertaking EDI training as part of their career development, as noted by Professor Carsten Welsch

“For postdocs in our group, I think making sure that they can attend courses or workshops or webinars about EDI principles and research assessment and culture, I think that’s absolutely something I’ve done in the past and something I’d encourage other PIs to do.

Professor Carsten Welsch, University of Liverpool

How do I create a culturally inclusive environment?

Remember that culture is something that can be created

Organisational cultures can vary widely, depending on the sets of values they seek to embody, and this organisational culture tends to influence the norms of how relationships are built, how communication typically takes place, how trust is created and how time is perceived. 

As a manager of researchers you can influence and create culture within your research teams. You can also encourage postdocs in your teams to find out more about the organisational culture they are applying to, both in academia and beyond, by carrying out informal information gathering meetings with individuals currently working there.

Develop your intercultural competence

A person’s cultural identity is about more than just the country they come from.  Spencer-Oatey’s (2021) definition of culture as the meaning systems that are shared to varying degrees by ‘interacting members of a social group which influence, but do not determine each member’s behaviour and their interpretation of the ‘meaning’ of other people’s behaviour. This broadens out the popular notion of culture as being based primarily on an individual’s nationality.  

You may be interested in exploring these ideas further by watching the recordings below and working through the exercises in the accompanying workbooks. These will help you to consider both how to support postdocs to thrive in a multicultural work setting, and how to build a multicultural team culture.

You can download the accompanying workbooks here:

Workbook: Intercultural competence and how it can help you thrive in multicultural work settings

Workbook: Building a multicultural team culture using intercultural competence

Intercultural competence and how it can help you thrive in multicultural work settings

Building a multicultural team culture using intercultural competence

The importance of EDI in creating an inclusive environment

Increased diversity and inclusion in the workplace has a positive impact on innovation and economic growth and can result in higher productivity of underrepresented staff. In a case study Prof Bavik Patel talks about the importance of championing EDI in academia and how, if diversity is embraced it can bring great results.  

“What we need to do as a society is to remove these systemic barriers that exist that do not give voices to under – represented groups – whether that be a race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability – that actually they have fair opportunities in academia. Actually, we know as academics that when the society of academia embraces all of the cultures and diversity, it actually brings a much more vibrant community which shares great ideas.”

Professor Bavik Patel, University of Brighton

The postdoc experience can be difficult, yet for some researchers from underrepresented backgrounds it can be far harder. What’s more, the transition from postdoc to tenure is one of the two greatest points of loss of people from under-represented minorities in higher education (the other being during undergraduate education; Lindsay 2018).

Postdocs can face all of the same systemic inequalities that can affect other members of staff and students. For example, multiple research studies into STEM disciplines indicate that discrimination exclusion and inequities are faced by researchers who are women, LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning and ace), BIPoC (Black, Indigenous, and people of colour), disabled, and first-generation or working class. Importantly, discrimination and inequalities aren’t always visible or reported.

Ensuring postdocs feel able to discuss EDI issues with you is a crucial step to creating a fair and inclusive academic environment.

In September 2021, Prosper’s PI Network ran a workshop facilitated by the STEM Equals team at the University of Strathclyde. Amongst the many things discussed was the impact that a lack of visibility within academia can have on postgraduate students and staff:

“We counted on one level of our building how many men there were on posters and there was something like 32 faces of men and none of women.”

(Woman, PhD student)

“We tried to do an initiative where we focused on a woman in the department. … We got a massive backlash for one sheet of paper we put … up on a building filled with pictures of men. … This one little thing that we were doing was causing such an uproar. … One of the instances [of defacement] was the eyes of the woman were scratched out [on the flyer] outside of her lab space.”

(Woman, PhD student)

“Regarding visibility of [the] LGBT community … I am trying to see what [the University] is doing or not doing and I can’t see a lot. … Regarding women … at least in our department [there’s] Athena Swan but … I haven’t seen this for example for LGBT or other minorities. … If you look at my colleagues you can see from miles away they … don’t understand the difference between gender and sexuality.

(LGBT+, staff)

Discover more details about the workshop, including a recording of the events and further testimonials here.

What can you do within your own team and in your department to support the visibility of under-represented groups?

Practical tips for creating an inclusive environment

Lead by example

  • Join and engage in support networks relevant to you,
  • Take breaks and time off,
  • Learn significant dates for cultural and religious celebrations,
  • Add your pronouns to your signature, social media, etc.,
  • Use gender neutral and inclusive language,
  • Set up a reading and discussion group around inclusion,
  • Know where the nearest gender-neutral toilets are to your office/laboratory/research space.

Have a code of conduct for your research group

Make it clear what is expected from everyone, for how they interact with each other and with those outside of the research group, how they approach their work, and how they manage their work-life balance. This can help ensure that everyone feels included and supported, as well as empowered to raise any EDI issues.

Be aware of the support that’s available

  • What are the different levels of support available, from individual support or mentoring through to institutional level support. What can you do as an individual, what can your department or faculty do, and what systemic support is available across your university?
  • Where can research staff access mental health support and is there a wait time to get it?
  • Where can your postdocs find peer support? Do you know what networks or societies are there at your university, including researchers with caring responsibilities, researchers from ethnic minority backgrounds, disabled researchers, LGBTQ+ researchers, first-generation or working-class researchers? Do you know how to signpost your postdoc towards these networks? Is there a peer mentoring programme at your university/institution?

Understand your institution’s procedures

  • Be aware of the complaints procedures if researchers experience bullying, harassment or gender-based violence. Are there difference processes for formal and informal complaints and are your researchers aware of the support they’re entitled to?
  • Be aware of the procedures required for different types of leave, for example family/maternity/paternity/parental leave, bereavement leave, long-term sick leave or if researchers need to suspend their work/studies for any other reason. Do you know where you can find this information?
  • Do you know the procedure if researchers need to change their gender in university systems?
  • Whilst you aren’t expected to instantly recall every minute detail about every one of the above procedures, you should be familiar with them, know exactly where to find the relevant information and be able to access it immediately.

Don’t leave everything up to those facing inequality challenges

Those facing inequalities challenges are often expected to be the ones who fix the challenges, placing additional burden on them. For instance, PI identity can lead to disproportionate burdens and unequal demands, particularly on women and BIPoC academics who may be given various additional tasks, including ‘diversity work’ for their university (Armani 2021).

Further information

You may find the following resources useful, in support of creating an inclusive environment.

A great resource from Karolinska Institutet https://ki.se/en/cns/intercultural-communication-in-supervision covering intercultural communication in supervision

A ‘science diversified’ series of seven podcast episodes from Nature Careers, in particular;

Podcast episode How to deliver a safer research culture for LGBTQIA+ researchers 02/06/023 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-01400-7

Podcast episode to consider when setting the research culture you want - ‘Is the PI a jerk?’ Key questions to ask when you’re moving lab 02/11/2022 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01886-7

Podcast episode - Moving labs: a checklist for researchers with disabilities 01/12/2022 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01889-4

Nature article on recruiting postdocs ‘To diversify the scientific workforce, postdoc recruitment needs a rethink’ https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-01740-4

Journal article setting out ‘Ten simple rules towards healthier research labs’ F T Maestre, 2019. https://journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1006914

Thriving together: Creating more inclusive research communities through the research management relationship: A session on inclusive research communities led by STEM Equals.

Taking parental leave as a postdoc.

Taking parental leave as a PI.

Championing equality, diversity and inclusion as a research leader.

Creating a working environment that lets you and your postdocs grow – skills for PIs and postdocs.


Armani, A.M., Jackson, C., Searles, T.A. & Wade, J. 2021. The need to recognize and reward academic service Nat Rev Mater 6, 960–962 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41578-021-00383-z

Lindsay C. Meyers, L.C., Brown, A.M., Moneta-Koehler, L. & Chalkley, R. 2018. Survey of checkpoints along the pathway to diverse biomedical research faculty. PLoS ONE 13(1): e0190606. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190606.

Spencer-Oatey, H. and Kadar, D.Z. 2021. Intercultural politeness: managing relations across cultures, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia. Culturally inclusive environments. Accessed 16/06/2023: https://www.usc.edu.au/about/work-at-unisc/staff/cultural-diversity/cultural-diversity-and-inclusive-practice-toolkit/culturally-inclusive-environment.

Refine image Refine Cross
Filter by: Unsure what to search for? Click here
130 minutes
Flash badge View notice(s)