What is diversity and inclusion in the workplace? And how to get started

What is diversity and inclusion in the workplace? And how to get started


Getting started with diversity and inclusion in the workplace can seem like a daunting prospect. But it needn’t be. This is the third in the series of our ‘everyone guides.’ Previous episodes have examined how to be an inclusive recruiter, introduced the key concepts around unconscious bias and discussed the attributes of an inclusive leader.

Perhaps you are coming at this from an organisational perspective. Or maybe you’re an HR leader, or maybe you are an internal champion for diversity and inclusion but it’s not your day job. You’re probably wondering what organisations do to make a start, how they gather support and momentum across their organisation and how they show progress. This blog focuses on how to get started with diversity and inclusion in the workplace.

So how do you know where to start?

Typically, the conversation about putting some energy and focus into diversity and inclusion at work will be kicked off by a small number of committed and enthused individuals. The first challenge for you is often getting a bit of momentum behind your vision for a more inclusive organisation. Perhaps you’ve considered instigating some Unconscious Bias training as a stand-alone activity to encourage inclusivity or you may be coming to this with no previous plan. Whichever way, you need to have the ear of at least one senior person who can help you to champion this work. Yes, at some point you’ll want to find a budget for some diversity and inclusion training but more immediately this person can help get the rest of the senior leadership on board. You’ll need this group committed for any of your plans to come to fruition and deliver a change in the culture.

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

For most senior people there are two main ‘drivers’ for getting behind your diversity and inclusion plans. The first is for ‘the business case’. This is the specific commercial benefits to your business of greater diversity. The second is their own personal perspective. You will have a sense from particular individuals about which angle is going to appeal to them most. This is where we’d suggest you start the conversation.

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

When we say commercial benefits we don’t necessarily mean dollars and pounds, although there will certainly be ways of showing how diversity and inclusion impacts the bottom line.

Start your thinking with this question: What is the main challenge this organisation faces?

If it’s attracting new clients for example then your business case for diversity is going to be about understanding the potential clients in diverse groups who you aren’t already reaching.

If it’s retaining existing clients then you might want to consider the extent to which your employees reflect your customers, and therefore understand their needs.

If you have a talent shortfall in a particular part of the business then again diversity has a key role to play: if you aren’t able to attract and recruit from diverse talent pools then by default you are not selecting your people from the widest possible talent which is available to you.

These are all examples of business drivers for diversity.

Take this as your starting point for a conversation with the senior leaders.
If you can, try to get access to your senior leaders for a 20-minute facilitated conversation about the business case specific to your organisation. All companies face different challenges and it’s important that whatever you decide is driving your diversity work is inextricably linked to meeting 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. Your employee engagement survey data might shine a light on this, particularly if you can get that data to show the different experiences of staff by gender, age, ethnicity and so on.

For senior people, often a little later in their working lives, they might 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 sales person, for example, 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 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.

So you’ve got some good quality conversations going, what next?

We’ve already touched upon a few pieces of data you’ll want to have at your fingertips. Engagement surveys and recruitment data can be a great first port of call. If you’re in a customer-facing business then find out from your client managers what customers are asking for. Do they have any feedback to show that diversity and inclusion is on your client’s radar? 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 the evidence to back up what you are saying.

The next step: impartial experts

You’ve started the conversation and have some patchy data to back up what you are saying. The next step may be to undertake a diversity diagnostic or audit, where EW Group often comes in. Many of our client relationships have started in this way. We can spend a little 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 and making recommendations about the steps you can take to move the organisational culture forwards.

What does a diversity diagnostic involve?

Our diversity diagnostic would 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 you already hold. Usually, we’d spend some time with you gathering data – for example on career progression prospects for different groups or how diverse groups are represented at different stages of your recruitment process.

Once we’ve 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’d 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 this in our staff conversations.

What happens with the research you do?

We’d create a report and recommendations for you, which we’d usually present to your senior leaders. If it’s relevant to your organisation, we can develop our report in collaboration with different internal stakeholder groups – like 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 with different groups and for everyone to be confident that by the time they are presented to the senior leadership we know that they will work ‘on the ground’ in different business contexts.

How is the report received usually?

The conversation with the senior leaders about these recommendations is always a key step 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. 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.

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 about how to get started on diversity and inclusion in the workplace we hope we’ve given you a clear idea of how to get the ball rolling.

Find out more about getting started with diversity and inclusion at work

Lisa Jobson has worked with EW Group for 2 years as a Talent Management Specialist and Management Consultant and most recently became interim MD during Rachael’s maternity leave. She is a talent management specialist, having led inclusive leadership training for Neon Underwriting and Cushman & Wakefield and designed and delivered unconscious bias for managers workshops for ABN Amro. Lisa has more than twenty years of experience in the technology and finance recruitment sectors. She was Harvey Nash’s first Director of Talent with the brief to design and implement a talent management strategy for Group businesses across the UK and Ireland. Sign up to EW Group's monthly e-newsletter for industry updates, case studies, exclusive event invites and more!