Equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace – how to get started

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Lisa Jobson is a specialist in talent management and management consulting and has extensive experience in supporting businesses to determine focus and the strategic importance of diversity.

Getting started with equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace can seem like a daunting prospect, but it need not be.

Whether you are coming at this from an organisational perspective, as a HR leader, or as an internal champion for diversity and inclusion, it’s important to know what you can do to make a start on equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace, how to gather support, drive momentum of action, and how to show progress. Learn more about all these important points below and put your workplace on track to enjoy the benefits of equality, diversity and inclusion

This is the third in our series of Everyone Guides. Previously we examined how to be an inclusive recruiter, introduced the key concepts around unconscious bias and discussed the attributes of an inclusive leader.

How to start focusing on equality, diversity, and inclusion in your workplace

Perhaps you’ve considered investing in unconscious bias training as a stand-alone activity to encourage inclusivity, or you have heard about the benefits of inclusive workplaces, but are unsure on what your plan of action should be. If you want to promote diversity and inclusion at work, in our experience, conversations are typically kicked off by a small number of committed and enthused individuals.

Whichever way you are starting out, the first challenge will be building momentum behind your vision for a more inclusive organisation, which usually involves recruiting at least one senior person who can help you to champion your work.

Yes, at some point you’ll want to find a budget for some diversity and inclusion training, but having an individual that can promote your cause to the rest of the senior leadership is more important when starting out. If any of your plans are to come to fruition and you are to deliver a change in workplace culture, you will need this group committed.

How do I start a conversation with the senior leaders about equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace?

When it comes to approaching most senior leaders regarding equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace, there are two main drivers for getting behind your diversity and inclusion plans.

  • The business case – This comprises the specific commercial benefits to your business that greater diversity will afford. Citing specific statistics can be effective – such as McKinsey research that found ethnically diverse companies were 35% more likely to outperform non-diverse businesses.
  • Personal perspective – It is likely you will already have a sense of which angles and topics will appeal to certain senior leaders most. Whether based on their interests, personalities or otherwise, this is where we suggest you start the conversation.

How do I determine what the business case is for equality, diversity, and inclusion at work?

Business cases for investment are determined by clear commercial benefits, but when we say commercial benefits, we don’t necessarily mean dollars and pounds – although there are certainly ways of showing how diversity and inclusion impacts your company’s bottom line.

Begin by posing this question: What is the main challenge your organisation faces?

  • If you wish to attract new clients, then your business case for diversity is going to be about understanding the potential clients in diverse groups who you are not already reaching.
  • If retaining existing clients is a priority, then you might want to consider the extent to which your employees reflect your customers, and therefore understand their needs.
  • If you want to improve work quality or innovation, then championing diversity within your organisation could be effective – Deloitte research shows diverse workplaces improve staff innovation by 83%.
  • If you have a talent shortfall in a particular part of the business, then your workplace diversity may be playing a key role; if you are unable to attract and recruit diverse talent, by default, you are not selecting your people from the largest possible talent pools available to you. A lack of diversity could also be hurting your brand in the eyes of prospective hires – according to PwC, 45% of men and 54% of women researched company D&I policies when deciding whether to accept a position.

These are all examples of business drivers for diversity, and excellent starting points for conversations with the senior leaders in your organisation.

If possible, try to organise a 20-minute facilitated conversation with your company’s senior leaders to explore the business cases specific to your organisation. All companies face different challenges and it’s important that your diversity work inextricably links to and resolves these issues.

Think of it as part of your future-proofing plan. What is your industry going to be like in 5 or 10 years’ time? How can diversity and inclusion contribute to your sustainability and continued success as a business?

The benefit of getting the positioning right at this stage is that diversity and inclusion at work then becomes part of the fabric of your organisation; it’s woven into what you do because it makes business sense.

What about these personal motivations? How do I tap into them?

Whatever level of seniority we hold within an organisation, we want to enjoy our work. A big part of that enjoyment comes from the relationships and rapport with our co-workers.

We all have different experiences of working life, and sadly that experience is not as positive for all of us. Conducting an employee engagement survey might shine a light on this, particularly if that data segments staff experiences by gender, age, ethnicity and so on. These insights can spark a personal response from senior staff, especially if they can relate to the staff experiences or are shocked by them.

Senior staff – often a little later in their working lives – might also be starting to think about their legacy. What contribution can they make now which will have a lasting impact on the people who work there? How would they like their time in the company to be remembered? Is being the top salesperson their most critical contribution, or are they interested in being known as someone who helped to create a great place to work, for everyone?

At a deeper level, we can and should ask leaders some fundamental questions about how they want the working world to be like for their children and grandchildren. What sort of legacy are they leaving for future generations? Is an always-on culture what they want for them or are they more interested in an environment in which innovation, creativity and personal fulfilment can flourish? Are they concerned that their daughters should have equal career progression opportunities to their sons?

Diversity and inclusion at work has a key part to play in these types of legacy conversations.

You’ve got some good quality conversations going – next, data

We have already touched upon a few pieces of data you’ll want to have at your fingertips; engagement surveys and recruitment data can be great first ports of call.

If you are a customer-facing business, then find out from your client managers what your customers are asking for. Do they have any feedback to show that diversity and inclusion is on your clients’ radars? Are your procurement teams getting feedback on how your diversity and inclusion performance stacks up in your bids and tenders? Leaders and managers will always be looking for evidence to back up your focus on equality, diversity, and inclusion.

The next step: impartial experts

You’ve started the conversation and have some data to back up what you are saying. The next step is often to undertake a diversity diagnostic or audit – this is where EW Group often comes in, and many of our client relationships have started in this way.

We typically spend time analysing your current position in relation to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, providing you with a report to highlight what you’re doing well already. We then make recommendations about the steps you can take to move your organisational culture forwards.

What does a diversity diagnostic involve?

Your diversity diagnostic will be entirely tailored to the needs of your organisation and the length of time we’d spend doing it would be determined by the quantity and quality of data and insights available. Usually, we spend some time helping you gather data – on career progression prospects for different groups, or how diverse groups are represented at different stages of your recruitment process, for example.

Once we have analysed this data, we’ll spend some time in your offices, speaking to a sample of employees. These are confidential one-to-one or small group conversations, and we would be seeking to gather new insights about how different groups experience the working culture. If you have specific gaps in your data or there are some assumptions from your data which we want to test, we can also do so during conversations with your staff.

What happens with the research you do?

Typically, we create a report and recommendations for you, which we present to your senior leaders. If it’s relevant to your organisation, we can develop our report in collaboration with different internal stakeholder groups – such as your diversity steering group, if you have one – so that everyone who needs to feels they have ownership of the recommendations.

A process like this allows us to test these recommendations across different groups and for everyone to be confident that, by the time they are presented to the senior leadership, we know they will effectively work across a range of business contexts.

How is the report usually received?

The conversation with the senior leaders regarding these recommendations is always a key step in achieving all the things have been covered in this mini-guide.

It’s an ideal opportunity to facilitate a discussion between them about the business case and their personal motivations, and it will ensure their buy in for whatever comes next by providing a solid evidence base. We often find that the personal stories we highlight from employees are unexpected to senior leaders and are a useful trigger for engaging both their hearts and their minds.

Equality, diversity, and inclusion in the workplace. What’s next?

Depending on where you are on your diversity and inclusion journey, the first natural project may be a diversity diagnostic to assess your organisation and help plan the next steps towards an inclusive culture.

With the practical examples outlined in this blog, we hope we have given you a clear idea of how to get the ball rolling. Contact our experts today to find out more.

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