How to Improve Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace
Updated 17 November 2020
What Is Diversity and Inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion have become more important in the workplace since globalization and mobility of workers have allowed for more employment opportunities for all.
This means that for a business to excel, to attract the best employees, and to succeed, there needs to be more focus on improving the workplace to include and celebrate differences.
For most organizations, equality is already the focus of recruitment, retention and promotion, ensuring that everyone has the same access to opportunity.
Diversity and inclusion are about more than equal opportunity, however, and can be instrumental in creating a profitable, successful, engaged and capable workforce.
Every person is different. Whether they are from a different culture, practice a different religion, are neurodivergent or part of the LGBTQ+ community, these differences are recognized and celebrated in a diverse business culture.
Diversity allows experiences, knowledge and culture from varied backgrounds to become a part of the workplace, along with the value that those characteristics bring.
Diversity is about more than just tolerance of differences. It is about embracing and combining them to make a stronger, more inclusive, and therefore more successful business.
The logical next step from diversity is inclusion. Creating a safe space for all employees that embraces diversity encourages every employee to not only achieve despite their differences, but because of them.
Inclusion practices allow employees to feel respected and valued. They also feel supported to participate and to access services, promotions and development so that everyone feels like they belong without having to conform.
Having a workplace that values diversity and inclusion is important for the success of the business – from recruiting the best talent to promoting the most suitable workers – creating a safe place for innovation and improvements.
Why Is Diversity and Inclusion Important in the Workplace?
As companies develop, one of the major factors that ensure success is the employees themselves. Happy, engaged employees are beneficial to any business as they are invested in success and are working towards shared goals.
Businesses that invest in their workforce attract the best talent – and diversity and inclusion practices are a key factor in this.
Talent management and creating a culture that celebrates diversity not only improves employee experience. It also provides a wider pool for potential recruitment, removing barriers to work for diverse employees.
Employees and customers expect companies and organizations to focus on equality, diversity and inclusion. Not having a clear strategy could therefore be damaging to corporate reputation.
Not only will employees not be interested in coming to an office that does not celebrate differences or make them feel welcome, but customers and stakeholders may also form a negative image of the company too.
10 Ways to Improve Diversity and Inclusion
1. Work Out Where You Are
The first step is to collect data to understand your present diversity so you know the areas you need to improve.
Like any major new strategy, to understand what works in the process, you need to understand where you are starting from. This means collating data, both quantitative and qualitative, to highlight what the current diversity and inclusion is like in your workplace.
You might be able to use existing data from employee information to understand the cultural, religious and ethnic background of staff. This might have been collected during the onboarding process.
There are bespoke surveys that can be created to assess the current situation, both in terms of demographics and feelings. Surveying staff can give an in-depth snapshot of what the culture is like now and show where improvements can and need to be made.
With this data collection, make sure that staff know what you are looking to find out and how the information will be used.
2. Improve Communication and Complaint Systems
Giving all employees the chance to voice their opinions, offer suggestions, and even make complaints, is important in any workplace. Reassuring them that every voice counts and that positive action will be taken from feedback is important, as is letting them know there will be no negative repercussions to providing that feedback.
If a complaint is made, it is important that management do not see it as something threatening. It should be viewed as an opportunity to improve.
In terms of communication channels themselves, ensuring that all staff have access – no matter their educational background, age or even native language – gives everyone an equal opportunity.
This means that not only can they make their voices heard, but they can also receive important information and updates in a way that suits them best.
For example, a group chat might be appropriate for some employees, whereas others would prefer an intranet message board, email or even a letter.
3. Look at Your Executive Team
Although it might not be straightforward, the upper management team should reflect the values of the diversity and inclusion strategy you want to employ for staff.
Diversity and inclusion should be a strategy that positively affects employees at every level of the business, from the C-suite to the janitorial staff.
It might not always be feasible to staff the executive team to fully reflect the diverse workforce, but they must be completely on board with not only the diversity and inclusion strategy but also the reasons why it is so important.
4. Become an Equal Opportunity Employer
This is something that many organizations already focus on – making changes to the recruitment process so as not to negatively impact someone who may fall under the ‘diverse’ umbrella.
Whether that is supporting people with a physical disability to attend an interview or making allowances for parents, this equal opportunity employment practice has a positive impact.
As part of the diversity and inclusion strategy, recruitment needs to be about much more than just equal opportunity. It needs to positively celebrate diversity, understanding the beneficial impact that comes from a workforce with different backgrounds, cultures, religions and experiences.
To make sure this happens, ensure that job descriptions are geared towards a person specification that is not discriminatory and have an application process that decreases any unconscious bias.
5. Train Leaders in Unconscious Bias
Any strategy that is likely to influence staff and their line managers on a day-to-day basis needs to have the full support of the leaders.
This means listening to them and understanding how inclusionary measures might impact their day-to-day job role, and how they might have to change or adapt to be able to support diverse staff needs.
As part of this, and as part of the recruitment process, leaders must be trained in recognizing and removing bias.
Bias can be conscious or unconscious, and neither help create a diverse and inclusive working environment.
This refers to the open feelings and actions that are known and understood – and in the most extreme cases, can cause bullying, harassment and other undesirable behavior.
Having a conscious bias against someone might include being overtly racist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory.
This is the subtle stereotyping that might happen when faced with someone who is ‘not like you’ – where there is no overt discrimination or exclusion but it still exists, usually without you even being aware of it.
It often goes completely unnoticed, but it can influence decisions and behavior implicitly.
It can be thinking better of someone because they are like you, or less of someone because they are different; whether younger, a different ethnicity or practicing a different religion.
Unconscious bias needs to be recognized and understood to be effectively removed from the organization. Training leaders as well as staff on how to recognize and address unconscious bias is a good practice to include in your diversity and inclusion strategy.
6. Honor Religious and Cultural Diversity
There are several simple ways to do this in the workplace, including:
Respect religious holidays – Allowing days off for holy days where possible is important
Provide a prayer room – Creating a safe space for prayer in the workplace is simple and effective and can be non-denominational so that it is suitable for all religions
Be sensitive regarding seasonal parties – If you have a staff party at set times of the year, ensure that it is seen as a ‘holiday party’ or an end-of-year celebration, rather than just for Christmas, for example.
Making sure that employees feel safe to practice their religion or culture in the workplace, and that they are celebrated for their diversity, leads to secure, happy employees.
7. Assign a Diversity and Inclusion Leader
As part of any strategy, a leader can provide a single point of contact for stakeholders; a ‘go-to’ person for information, training resources, feedback and complaints.
This diversity and inclusion leader could be the person to receive extra training or to deliver any diversity and inclusion training to teams.
They can keep up with legislation and what other companies are doing. They can also remain focused on diversity issues that might come up on an ongoing basis.
Naming a diversity and inclusion leader gives real importance to the strategy and improves confidence throughout the workforce.
8. Ensure Equal Pay
Transparency about pay is important. Making sure there are no pay inequalities between employees should be at front of mind when looking at pay rises and promotions.
Openly providing information about pay grades, bonuses and achievements also show commitment to equality.
If there are disparities, for example between male and female employees, make the necessary changes so that every person of equal ability and experience is paid the same rate.
9. Make the Office Inclusive
When you have a truly diverse staff, ensuring that every member has equal opportunity, access and control over what happens in the office makes it more inclusive.
Age, gender, disability, religion, background and cultural differences should be provided for every day, in the way that makes the most sense for the groups involved.
For daily office life, a halal-only fridge is a simple change, as is education about fasting days.
There are a few diversity and inclusion themed days, weeks or months of celebration, such as Black History Month, Mental Health Awareness Week, Imbolc, Lent, and many, many more.
Using these days as a celebration can also help with training because learning about other ethnic backgrounds, cultures and religions, as well as understanding physical and mental disabilities, is expected at these times.
Make sure that every area of the workplace is accessible for all staff. Consider canteens and kitchens, so that food storage and prep areas can be reached by all – including those in a wheelchair, for example.
Toilets and washrooms need to be accessible not only for those who may have a disability, hidden or otherwise, but also for those who might be transitioning their gender.
10. Report Goals and Measure Progress
To understand whether your diversity and inclusion strategy is working, regular reports will help you monitor progress.
Data gathered at the beginning can be compared to ongoing data, and this will show where improvements have been made, and what still needs work.
It is worth noting that even with goal-reporting and progress-monitoring, diversity and inclusion is an ongoing process, not a one-shot activity.
Ongoing training for current staff, including diversity and inclusion as part of the onboarding process and regular ‘check-ins’ to ensure that the strategy evolves with the diversity of the staff, will ensure that diversity and inclusion become an everyday part of working life.
Placing a positive value on diversity and creating an inclusive workplace offers organizations of all sizes the opportunity to attract top talent and be a leader in their industry.
A solid diversity and inclusion strategy makes employees feel safe, valued and empowered – they can bring their true selves to the workplace and are more likely to innovate and succeed.
As a business, being open to inclusion and welcoming diversity positions you as not only an industry leader but a company that genuinely cares about staff wellbeing and happiness. Forward-thinking, adaptable, respectful and supportive – the perfect environment for the top talent in the business to feel welcomed.
By creating an open, honest and inclusive workforce where employees are happy and motivated, organizations can create communication channels that prevent serious or legal issues like bullying, harassment or discrimination.
This is possible because, as part of the diversity and inclusion strategy, there is a positive commitment from all employees to model and stick to desirable behavior. All employees have a personal responsibility to ensure that inclusion principles are adhered to, and they understand that any undesirable behavior is not tolerated.
A workplace that encourages equality, diversity and inclusion is more successful. In the often-turbulent times we live in, being recognized as a force for good can only improve corporate image and reputation – for employees, for customers and for that all-important bottom line.