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The Achilles heel of the workplace: diversity and inclusion

Yet a diverse, open and supportive work culture has been proven to be beneficial to business longevity, inspire greater innovation, and is increasingly demanded by employees. So, what can organisations do to embrace D&I initiatives and start changing their culture for the better?

Embedding Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) into an organisation’s culture is a complex task that often gets placed in the ‘too difficult’ box and overlooked due to other commercial objectives. Contributor Claire England, Director of Diversity & Inclusion – JLL.

Yet a diverse, open and supportive work culture has been proven to be beneficial to business longevity, inspire greater innovation, and is increasingly demanded by employees. So, what can organisations do to embrace D&I initiatives and start changing their culture for the better?

It may seem obvious, but clearly defining what D&I means to employees is a crucial first step in the process, and something that is often overlooked. Failure to communicate to staff what D&I means, why it is important and how the business is addressing it, could mean that D&I initiatives are not taken seriously and fall by the wayside. D&I can be interpreted in a number of ways, so clarification from the outset will mean employees can wholeheartedly get on board and help drive these strategies’ success.

When looking to embed D&I in the workplace, another good place to start is to make company leaders the face of these initiatives. By utilising their standing within the business, these strategies are automatically given significant weight; if the CEO wants to create a more diverse workplace, everyone is obliged to get on board. By assigning ownership to these initiatives, the business leaders are then accountable for their success and implementation.

When leaders take a proactive stance on encouraging D&I, employees will feel empowered to play their own role in changing company culture. The recent #CallItOut Twitter campaign by Human Rights Watch encourages those who have experienced harassment or exclusion in society, as well as at work, to call it out and confront non-inclusive behaviour. These initiatives, when applied to the workplace, can be extremely powerful when transforming the wider culture and ensuring everyone feels empowered and supported enough to voice their concerns, without having to escalate these issues to the top.

Having mechanisms in place that allow people to freely express who they are at work is vital. Employees should encourage staff to feel comfortable and confident about expressing what is different about themselves at work and celebrate these differences with them. Implementing employee resource groups and diversity networks will provide the means to support minority groups to feel as happy at work as possible. Ultimately, ensuring everyone is fully supported at work will make for a more diverse, happy and inclusive workplace.

D&I should also be embedded into career progression frameworks and performance reviews across the business. Holding all employees to account for their commitment and efforts to embody a diverse and inclusive approach at work is a step towards transforming the wider company culture. Many businesses already hold their leaders and board members to account for diversity targets, but ensuring that everyone is aligned with the business’ expectations of what it means to be diverse and inclusive is a step further. 

Updating ingrained HR and recruitment protocols can also encourage D&I. Blind CVs that don’t provide details such as age, name and education background immediately eliminate the natural and human prejudice to only consider candidates with similar names and backgrounds to ourselves. This forces employers to look beyond the things that naturally categorise potential employees and assess whether they would be best suited to the job, based on experience and skills. 

Measuring the success of D&I initiatives is inherently tricky. Recording data that analyses the percentages of different societal groups across all levels of seniority paints a picture of how diverse the business is. However, whilst quotas provide a good quantitative indication, they don’t address how included employees feel. Employee feedback surveys and reviews allow employers to analyse exactly how well they are supporting different and diverse groups’ in the workplace. 

Exit interviews are also a great way to understand how staff have felt whilst working at an organisation, with those leaving a business likely to be more forthright with their feedback. Whilst quantitative data is a good and arguably obvious place to start, if a business is committed to changing company culture and supporting staff effectively, qualitive data and employee anecdotes can prove invaluable. 

If implemented properly, a clearly articulated D&I strategy has the potential to totally transform company culture and make everyone across the business feel included and supported. If a business is already performing well, its leaders may have no commercial incentive to invest in D&I policies. In these cases, giving D&I the same weight as the bottom line is a guaranteed way for these initiatives to be taken seriously by all. 


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