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A better work culture isn’t simply about diversity

Helen Schwarz
engagement

Equality is such a prevalent topic in the world of business today. While we’re seeing more and more organisations deploy efforts towards attracting diverse talent – typically by meeting certain quotas – this hasn’t necessarily led to improved work cultures. Contributor Helen Schwarz, Director in the Midlands Finance Practice – Page Executive.

Despite good intentions to improve levels of diversity within their organisations, business leaders often fail to understand the basic difference between diversity & inclusion. This can lead to strategic mistakes in their approach to examining and improving the work culture within their business. The truth is that diversity is fundamentally different from inclusivity, and to achieve a true sense of belonging for all employees, businesses need high levels of both.

What is the difference between D and I?
We recently hosted our annual Page Executive Women in Business event in the Midlands, which focused on the role of inclusive leadership. During this discussion, Sheri Hughes, UK Director of Diversity and Inclusion at PageGroup explained this difference: “Diversity is all about how a business looks, whereas inclusion is all about the feel. It becomes much more about the culture itself, about the environment we work in and about a real sense that difference is valued, embraced and supported.”

Jessica Whitehead, Director of our Page Executive HR recruitment practice, added: “Diversity is simply about difference. We often think about differences in gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, religion or belief, but within an organisation especially, it’s also about differences in thinking styles, personalities and behaviours.

“For this reason, diversity isn’t simply about recognising minorities within a group or organisation. It’s about valuing every single individual for who they are.” Inclusion, on the other hand, focuses on valuing, respecting and empowering people within a group or organisation. Without equal opportunities and without being able to bring their true self to work, employees will fail to see the value that their organisation or leaders see in them.

Director of Vercida Consulting, Dan Robertson also spoke at this event, and explained the real value of prioritising inclusion as well as diversity: “As well as receiving financial incentives or even just a decent salary, intrinsic motivators, often seen as personal reward, will have as much of an impact on an employee’s satisfaction and performance.

“Being valued, being heard and being able to be themselves at work will all increase levels of intrinsic motivation for employees. If employees feel included and comfortable within an organisation, this will also increase their productivity and ability to innovate.”

What are the business risks?
Businesses have two fundamental assets; their customers and of course their employees. And we all know a business can’t operate to the fullest without its people. If businesses attract a highly diverse workforce, but fail to examine and improve the culture in which they operate, they will be at risk of seeing low levels of motivation, and potentially a higher staff turnover. This can represent an extremely high cost, especially for businesses that deliver extensive staff training in the first few months of employment.

Dan also mentioned how this could affect the way an organisation interacts with its client base: “When we have organisational structures where everyone thinks, acts and looks the same, this causes silo thinking, which leads to the organisation’s inability to innovate or interact with what appears to be an increasingly diverse global market place.”

Sheri described this similarly by adding: “In order for an organisation to really thrive, there needs to be diversity to ensure richness of thought, problem solving and innovation. But more critically, there needs to be inclusivity within the working environment so that everyone can flourish. “No one should experience barriers of any kind, actual or perceived, and everyone should be valued without exception.”

What are the main challenges?
Most business leaders will agree that prioritising both diversity and inclusion has a real impact on the success of their organisation. So how is it that a great deal of organisations still fall behind when it comes to employee inclusion?

Business leaders sometimes fail to reflect on themselves
When we spoke with Dan Robertson, he mentioned bias as being one of the main challenges for business leaders: “The idea that corporate cultures operate under the notion of merit is in fact an illusion. In reality, corporate cultures operate under systemic and psychosocial biases. For many years, this has affected the way people are hired, treated, and valued within organisations.”

If business leaders want to promote inclusivity and equal opportunities within their organisation, they must lead by example. This starts with recognising their own biases, and being honest and transparent about their efforts to promote change.

Organisations don’t always have the best approach
Many organisations fail to achieve high levels of inclusivity simply because not all employees are valued the same way, or even given the same opportunities. By working towards achieving certain quotas, or recognising certain minorities, organisations are actually creating more of a divide within their workforce.

The notion of flexible working is a good example of this, where organisations will typically grant flexible working solutions to employees, frequently working parents, if they request it. The onus is on the employee to make this request, therefore requiring them to justify their reasons for needing more flexibility.

In this situation, those working flexibly can sometimes be perceived as being less ambitious or less committed to work, and those who are not parents or carers feel like they do not have the right to request flexible working.

A recent study of ours confirms this, as we found that 60 percent of working millennials who have worked (or have asked to work) flexibly have felt judged or penalised for doing so. With inclusion being about valuing and motivating every single employee, creating such a divide is counterproductive to maintaining an inclusive workforce.

What can business leaders do?
Flexible working solutions, mentoring programmes, career progression opportunities, or anything you offer certain members of staff for that matter, should be available to all employees.

Business leaders should always promote equality, whether it’s ensuring that everyone is heard, encouraged to bring new ideas forward, or in the way they allocate work and responsibilities throughout the organisation.

Organisations that treat all their employees fairly, often by recognising their differences, see higher levels of inclusion. It is important not to judge people on what their personal drivers are, but allow them support, scope and opportunity to be the best they can be.

Choose the right role models
If all your external and internal spokespeople look, sound and think the same, this will affect your employees’ perceptions of what a successful individual looks like within your organisation.

Sheri expanded on this by commenting: “Role models are everywhere within an organisation, so highlight them well, both internally and externally, to ensure everyone’s perception reflects reality. We need to break down stereotypes and be brave!”

Have a pledge, and make it public
If you’re transparent about your plans for improvement, you’re immediately involving everyone in the discussion. You’re also encouraging others, be it organisations in your industry or your own employees, to encourage these values as well.

Dan stressed how important it was for business leaders to “actively step out of their comfort zone and connect with people who are different from them”.

By doing so, business leaders develop higher levels of empathy and emotional intelligence. This not only allows them to better identify patterns in recruitment and review processes, but also forge stronger personal principals, which will allow them to truly lead progress front the front.

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