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Five positive changes HR can make to improve diversity and inclusion

Meena Chander, Founder - Events Together and This Is Us Conference

The call for businesses to reassess their workplace culture has gained rapid pace in recent years, as the need for improved corporate diversity and inclusion (D&I) has become more apparent than ever.

A UK Government study showed that only 66% of ethnic minorities were employed in the UK in 2021, 12% lower than their white counterparts, and that, among full-time employees, the gender pay gap was at 7.9%.

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects employees from discrimination within the workplace and wider society. As business professionals, decision-makers, and policy enforcers, we must place the utmost importance on improving employee wellbeing, engagement and value by promoting an open and inclusive environment for people of varying racial groups, religious beliefs, nationalities, sexualities, disabilities, and genders.

As defined by the CIPD: “Workplace inclusion involves valuing difference, allowing all employees the opportunity to develop, participate and use their voice to effect change, irrespective of their background.”

Unfortunately, not all workplaces have been receptive to workplace inclusion, and have fallen short in providing an equal experience for their employees.

For instance, a recent survey of over 100,000 LGBT people in the UK found that 23% had experienced a negative or mixed reaction from others in the workplace due to being LGBT or being thought to be LGBT.

Furthermore, in her research, Baroness McGregor-Smith points out that, although one in eight of the working-age population is from a Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) background, only one in sixteen top management positions is occupied by BME individuals.

These statistics directly show how a lack of workplace inclusion can negatively impact a person’s career, and subsequently, their life.

With this in mind, here are some things HR professionals do to promote inclusion for a happier and healthier workforce.

1. Prioritise diversity in your onboarding process
Onboarding new starters is an ideal opportunity to embed company culture and policies into new hires, educating them on inclusive or anti-discriminatory policies. By doing so, new staff will develop a deep-rooted understanding of the business’ D&I procedures and policies and how to follow them from the offset. This will also showcase the business’ stance and the importance it places on workplace inclusion.

The onboarding process can vary from company to company – however, there are many ways to integrate diversity and inclusion. For example, new staff inductions could include:

  • A session discussing what diversity and inclusion mean for your company
  • Training for new managers on diversity awareness
  • The creation and implementation of a mentorship programme

Providing a clear outline of your business’ D&I policies early on for new hires is the best way to prevent a problem before one arises.

2. Ensure you have anti-discriminatory policies in place
Strong anti-discriminatory policies are essential for achieving workplace inclusion. To eliminate discrimination, HR managers need to critically assess their organisation and address these issues at a systemic level. An effective inclusivity and anti-discriminatory policy should:

  • Clearly define what counts as discrimination
  • Commit to a sustained practice if discrimination has been present within the workplace.
  • Action any evidence-based incident where prejudice has occurred

Without such policies in place, there leaves no consequences for discrimination in the workplace and the matter can become trivialised, making it easier for such incidents to continue undetected.

3. Provide diversity awareness training
Many discriminatory incidents are due to unconscious bias –  the act of unknowingly stereotyping a person. In many instances these stereotypes can be negative in nature and are usually due to a lack of exposure to different groups of people.

The purpose of diversity awareness training is to educate employees about people from different backgrounds, cultures, sexualities, and other minority groups. The aim is to promote mutual understanding and limit the presence of unconscious bias within a workforce.

Through implementing diversity and inclusion training not only are you minimising the likelihood of discrimination and harassment in the workplace – you may also drive better results as your team are able to work together better.

4. Utilise Employee resource Groups
Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are employee-led groups which aim to foster a diverse workspace which facilitates all races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and disabilities. The groups aim to provide a safe space for colleagues to work and support each other. ERGs can also be an essential tool for communicating and improving working conditions for alienated workers, allowing employees to feel more themselves and even help them tackle company-wide challenges.

These groups consist of regular meetings that enable individuals to come together and freely discuss how they are feeling and explore any issues they are facing. By hosting these open discussions, businesses are helping to facilitate the discussion of inclusion among employees, and work to address any issues, uncertainties or discomfort in the workplace.

The importance of ensuring each individual employee’s voice, views, and input is heard, acknowledged, and valued, is of fundamental importance in helping to achieve an inclusive workplace culture. Furthermore, when incidents do occur, they must also be acknowledged and organisations must demonstrate their accountability in handling the situation appropriately, and not dismissing it.

These groups can help people flourish as they build high-trust relationships between colleagues and lower the chance of supressed frustrations. Staff in these groups are actively encouraged to voice their concerns and speak about their feelings, which minimises any negative feelings, before they become bigger problems. ERGs aren’t incredibly exclusive either as you can invite all colleagues to join ERGs as allies, promoting further inclusion, allowing anyone can join.

5. Attend a diversity and inclusion event
Encouraging management and staff to attend a diversity and inclusion event is a relaxed and collaborative way of helping educate them and sharing D&I best practice.

They will often be centred around the current trends in workplace inclusivity and share practical solutions and case studies on how to improve the experiences of underrepresented employees within your business. D&I events also provide a perfect platform to network with other business owners and senior colleagues that are working to implement improved diversity and inclusion policy.

Conclusion
Providing your workforce with the right tools, rules, and skills for improving diversity and inclusion is key to achieving inclusivity. Implementing such practices will promote a valued, equal, and more productive workplace environment, benefiting employees, employers and the business as a whole.

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