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  • Elizabeth Twells

The positive impact of diversity and inclusion in the workplace is undeniable.

A diverse workforce brings together individuals with different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, and problem-solving approaches. Research conducted by Deloitte shows diverse companies enjoy 2.3 times higher cash flow per employee. McKinsey’s research shows that gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to do the same. Forbes found that companies that feature ethnic and racial diversity perform far better in almost every category.

Not only is there a legal and moral business case for diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but it also impacts on recruitment, retention, and workplace culture. In another study by Deloitte, they found that millennials view inclusion as having a culture of connectedness that facilitates teamwork, collaboration, and professional growth. This is in stark contrast to prior generations who traditionally consider it from the perspectives of representation and assimilation.

So, what does diversity and inclusion mean?

Diversity means recognising all people’s differences. Inclusion is having an active plan to embrace these differences. Ultimately, a diverse workplace isn’t necessarily an inclusive workplace. Robin J. Ely and David A. Thomas wrote in Harvard Business Review, "...just increasing the number of people from under-represented groups is not meaningful if those employees do not feel valued and respected."

When we look at differences, they don’t just cover the ring-fenced nine protected characteristics enshrined in the Equality Act. They can be about a wide variety of aspects, including socioeconomics, to the way we process information, our politics, interests, and the experiences we’ve had.

nine protected characteristics in the equality act 2010

The characteristics cover a range of variations, and maybe in ways you didn’t expect. For example, a mental health condition, when it has a long term effect on your day-to-day activity, is protected under Disability; and if you are an atheist, you are also protected under Religion or Belief. There are so many other variables that aren’t included in these characteristics, such as class, weight and shape, diet, and education.

We are all unique and sometimes, our differences can lead to discrimination. This can either be directly or indirectly. As well as blatant bullying or harassment, discrimination also includes behaviours such as micro-aggressions. Empowering all employees to speak out and challenge unacceptable behaviours is key. An inclusive organisation is not afraid of receiving feedback, in fact it welcomes it as only by such openness and input can a healthy workplace culture thrive.

So, how can you improve your diversity and inclusion in the workplace?

Here are some ideas for how you can create a varied and inclusive culture:

Recruitment PracticesThis could involve unconscious bias training for your recruiters; considering a wider range of websites or platforms to use as a recruitment tool; considering the make up of the interview panel; ensuring there is an accessible version of any forms and recruitment processes.

Diversity & Inclusion Training Having training when you first join the company is a good sign, but it should not be a one off, tick box. Diversity and inclusion are wrapped up in productive, innovative team working, that promotes psychological safety and a culture where people can speak out. Having periodic sessions demonstrates real commitment to diversity and inclusion and also emphasises that it is an evolving journey. It’s important that everyone in the organisation participates in the training, especially leaders, who play a significant role in creating am inclusive culture.

Communication Teams meetings should regularly discuss why diversity and inclusive practices are essential and what is expected of them when interacting with all stakeholders. Encourage open, honest conversations around how people communicate in a team, the awareness of micro-aggressions, insensitive or unacceptable behaviour all areas that taint collaborative teamwork and employee’s experience. 360-degree feedback is valuable and gives individuals a voice to share their opinion and shape the future.

Speaking out Consider how psychologically safe the culture in your organisation is in providing feedback. Do people feel empowered to challenge unacceptable behaviour? Providing communication models to support those who need to speak up and training on bystander responsibility is vital to nipping issues in the bud. Providing a confidential helpline is also important for those individuals who are experiencing bullying or harassment but are unable to speak out.

Inclusive Actions Considering everyone’s needs is important and contributes to people feeling listened to and valued. For example, checking dietary requirements or additional support for participants ahead of events; when organising social events, being mindful if some people don’t drink alcohol; checking that certain meetings aren’t always happening at the same time and day of the week, so that part time staff and included.

Groups & Networks Setting up networks or groups within your organisation to provide support, advice, or just a sounding board in a safe, confidential environment. Employee networks can help give employees a strong sense of belonging and also offer an opportunity for people to learn and to become an ally.

A phrase I used to hear a lot when I first started training in this area was ‘we include people despite their differences’. Now, I hear it is not despite, but because of their differences that we include and value our people. Our perception of diversity and inclusion has changed and will continue to evolve, there is still much to do to fully embrace diversity and inclusion, and the benefits are endless.


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