Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is often spotlighted among significant, life-defining issues of gender, race, disability, or sexual orientation. It is often assumed that if these issues are not relevant to your workplace, it doesn’t need your attention. However, if you make space and time for D&I in the workplace before it becomes necessary, your business, workforce, and customer base will all benefit. Rather than being treated as merely a tool to avoid controversy, an effective D&I programme will lead to a new appreciation for the diversity of thought, inclusive leadership models, and customer diversity.
What is often overlooked is that the introduction of D&I initiatives not only ticks legal boxes and avoids problems; it also encourages the growth of your business in incredible ways. Increased employee retention, growth in productivity rates, increasingly satisfied customers, and a rise in online attention and positive reviews can all be traced back to real-life examples of D&I success stories.
Managers take the lead
Anyone can and should strive to make their workplace more diverse and inclusive. However, it is vital that leaders – who are ideally from a range of demographic backgrounds themselves – are seen to be genuinely enthusiastic about fostering cultural diversity in their organisation. Additionally, these leaders must include and work with middle management on this issue.
Six things leaders can do to promote D&I
Workplaces can take a few practical steps to become more diverse and inclusive without a full D&I plan or training:
- Review your company’s website and other materials and update the imagery so that all demographic groups are represented somehow.
- Allow flexible work hours and location. Particularly in the post-COVID-19 world, remote working should not be treated as a bonus but as a fact of life. It is a gamechanger for many individuals with specific physical needs, family responsibilities, or neuro-divergencies (such as dyslexia or autism spectrum disorder) who may otherwise be intimidated by the office environment. Not only are you giving them an opportunity to work, but their fresh and unique perspective will often make a significant impact on your team and contribute to your workplace’s diversity of thinking.
- Make your physical workplace inclusive. The legal accessibility requirements should be treated as the bare minimum. Check the temperature (most buildings default to men’s comfort zone, not women’s); think about buying sanitary products for the bathroom; buying non-alcoholic and alcoholic beer for staff events; and providing milk alternatives in the canteen.
- Avoid using unnecessarily gendered language in all literature, from job descriptions to everyday communications. This goes beyond the use of pronouns and extends to language more generally. For example, using gender-coded words like ‘aggressive’ in a job description may dissuade women from applying. Instead, focus on results-oriented job descriptions.
- Familiarise yourself with the world calendar and bear in mind that employees, customers, and suppliers may belong to different cultures and observe different holidays. Include events such as Pride month, and engage in a way that feels sincere and natural – not everybody needs or wants a parade. Still, customers and employees appreciate feeling seen and valued.
- Engage with your community and partner with non-profits or local organisations, particularly those that mirror your existing business model.
Orla McAuliffe is Founder of the Professional Training Centre.