Building A Foundation for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion at Work
It was once assumed with the introduction of various equality legislation in the UK, the labour market would become a more equitable and representative place on its own, and that over time diversity would just ‘happen’. We now know that for change to take place, employers need to make a firm commitment and take action
This article suggests how to build a strong foundation for an inclusive environment in the workplace
The Role of Leadership
Building and sustaining a diverse workforce is not the responsibility of one person in an organisation, but rather a shared responsibility for all. Management has to lead by example and make a definite commitment to diversity.
Managers need a solid understanding of the various cultures represented on their team to eliminate any stereotypes or preconceptions. Open communication helps team members better understand the unique aspects of various cultures, and prompts discussion as to how these attributes can be incorporated into the work environment.
Boards of directors and senior management teams need to set the tone and ensure that their own behaviour aligns with organisational values and missions. An organisation’s ability to attract, retain and support diverse employees also reflects the way an organisation is able to approach diversity more broadly – with volunteers, members and the larger community.
To get started, senior management can facilitate an initial investigation of current diversity strengths and challenges in the organisation. A quick assessment can be made by asking the following questions:
- What communities do we serve? Who are our clients?
- What are the characteristics of the community we work in?
- How has the community changed in recent years?
- How is it likely to change in the future?
- How do our organisation’s employees reflect the communities we serve?
- Do we reflect the diversity of the community we serve more broadly?
- How do we nurture inclusion to ensure all employees work in a safe and supportive environment?
The responses to these questions can trigger important discussions and help organisations identify areas where more attention is needed. Depending on the size of the organisation and the scope of the work to be done, the establishment of a diversity committee can provide direction on specific priorities and actions.
Publicising the commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion
It can be enormously beneficial to openly share, declare and publicise an organisation’s intention to be a diverse and inclusive workplace. While all good intentions need to be supported by action, a declaration by itself can be quite powerful for both inspiring and instigating a shift in organisational culture. By declaring such a commitment, the tone is set, expectations are made known and others are invited to be part of the work. A clear message is sent about the organisation’s values and priorities to all its employees, volunteers, clients and members, and makes the workplace more inviting to a variety of people.
Organisational materials, website and internal communications can all be used to declare a commitment to diversity and inclusion. The organisation’s ‘Code of Conduct’ is a valuable tool for sharing the culture and practices of the organisation including diversity and inclusion. It can reinforce an organisation’s culture of inclusion by emphasising each individual’s responsibility to observe its principles and requirements.
Commit with a policy
Good intentions must be supported by sound policies and procedures. One of the first ways to make an organisation’s commitment to diversity explicit and shared is to have clear policies that communicate the values of the organisation and provide employees awareness training and consistent processes to follow.
Policies should be accessible to all employees and address how complaints will be handled. A clear chain of communication for concerns, zero tolerance for bullying, harassment or victimisation for issuing complaints and a proper investigation process are all vital. The board should receive regular updates on complaints and be immediately advised of any that cannot be resolved by, or that involve, members of the management team.
A policy on workplace diversity and inclusion:
- Makes a commitment to anti-discriminatory practices and fosters equal opportunity through the removal of systemic barriers
- Reinforces compliance with equality and human rights legislation
- Is a statement of an organisation's values
Smaller businesses are not exempt from the equality legislation. The Equality Act also sets out its responsibilities for businesses when they provide services to the public. The Act means treating everyone fairly, with dignity and respect. Smaller business’s policies for recruitment, promotion and management of staff should help to stay within the law, attract talented employees and get the best out of them. Businesses which recruit from the widest possible talent pool will attract the best staff. Workplace policies that prevent discrimination and harassment, and that allow employees to balance their work and home lives, will help to retain workers and reduce recruitment costs. By being aware of the diverse needs of their customers, businesses could identify new products and markets and customers’ buying decisions are also influenced by reputation of the business,