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03 Oct 2022
by Anna Straughan

6 tips for creating diversity and inclusion in the workplace

The road to total DEI might not be linear, but will be worth the effort

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The business case for diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) has never been stronger.

Companies are listening and becoming increasingly motivated to create meaningful change. Awareness of the importance of understanding employees as individuals and building a fair, human-centred environment in the workplace is more commonly becoming part of business strategy planning and activity.

This growth in focus on DEI makes sense for businesses and, more importantly, promotes belonging among employees. But to make progress towards total diversity and inclusion takes time and determination and, more often than not, isn’t a linear path.

There are five (or more) generations of people within the workforce, all with different expectations and needs. To respond to these needs, the focus on DEI strategy must be first and foremost a human centred experience that strikes the right balance of representing the needs of the collective group and fostering a sense of belonging that’s meaningful for every employee as an individual.

Address the company as a whole

The idea of challenging and evolving systems to be systemically inclusive may seem overwhelming, particularly when looking at needs on an individual basis. This could seem a complex, time consuming, unachievable task, but it’s easier to address the environment, culture and policies of a company as a whole entity.

It’s about a mind shift and overhauling processes so that all aspects of the company’s culture and policies become accessible to everyone, fostering a sense of belonging. Start by looking at the overall picture first, then, once that’s been mastered, break it down into smaller chunks, to address the different challenges faced by different people.

Meaningful change takes time, but, like so many things, positive impact can be gained through how change is approached and the action taken. A human-centred DEI strategy needs to be broad and open-minded.

Changes may be prioritised by an industry need or legal requirement, such as a fair pay review driven by requirements to publish gender pay gaps.

Or they could be smaller-scale adjustments, such as tweaking a hot-desking policy to cater for neurodiverse employees who need a quieter space, giving all candidates in an interview more time to prepare, or setting up a reverse mentoring programme to raise leaders’ awareness of challenges faced by ethnically diverse colleagues. Or even running unconscious bias training for managers and leaders to address a breadth of potential biases that impact inclusivity.

All these actions build towards total inclusion and diversity because they are taking action to create positive change, not just talking about it.

Learn about the context of your company

1. Listen to your employees. They’ll give you a window into what’s not working and they may also highlight strengths you can build on that could help you deliver your vision. There are several ways to do this – through surveys, focus groups, leadership interviews, conversations, data review, to name a few.

2. Research what other companies and communities are doing to promote inclusivity and belonging. This could range from encouraging inclusive behaviour to policy review. It doesn’t necessarily need to be comparable to your company: good ideas can come from anywhere. It’s how you shape them within your context that will determine their impact.

3. Understand who your employees are now and who your future employees will be. Don’t expect your employees to tell you what you need to do to fix the problem. The role of listening is to understand the problem and it’s for you to work out what’s next. Come with ideas and get buy-in from stakeholders. When considering individual needs, it helps to think through their entire experience at your company, from seeing a job advert, joining, progressing, right through to potentially leaving. Think through the possible challenges faced by communities and individuals, whose feelings of belonging may change as they reach and pass different milestones.

Plan with purpose

4. Be bold with your ideas, be an ally, an ambassador. This is about doing the right thing but recognising that it may not be a straightforward path to get there. Making systemic change takes effort, motivation and resilience, so surround yourself with a team who will pull together as you push change forward and, as a team, can course correct as you go.

5. Leadership sponsorship is key, not just at the start, but throughout. Expect this, facilitate it and show everyone that this is coming from the top. DEI efforts cannot rely on a single person. We’re seeing an increase in chief diversity officers who become the person to deliver change. But without frequent and meaningful access to other leadership team members there is risk of such roles not being able to make the impact they are capable of. 

6. Don’t let your calendar dictate your DEI strategy. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t acknowledge important dates in your DEI calendar, such as Pride month and Black History month, but it’s about showing up all year for these causes. A Pride month campaign may generate awareness and short-term feelings of belonging, but if you don’t back it up with, for example, considering how you can provide equitable benefits for your LGBTQ+ community, it will be falling short of creating meaningful change. 

To create a sense of belonging for your entire workforce, there’s a need to re-evaluate every aspect of the company’s culture and policies on a wide scale, but also a need to go through it again in detail to address individual needs. Meaningful change takes time, yet needs and requirements can change quickly, so companies must continue to listen to those around them.

The path to total diversity and inclusion won’t be easy. It will require determination and teamwork, but it will be worth it.

In partnership with WTW

WTW is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company.

Contact us today