Improving Diversity, Equality and Inclusion In Your Workplace

Published on:
by KnowESG
Image of multiple colours of crayon, representing diversity

Organisations are propelled to success by the people who work within them. An employee who feels valued and is treated fairly in an inclusive environment will bring positive ideas and creative energy. 

An inclusive culture and a diverse workforce mean we must place diversity, equality and inclusion (DEI) at the core of our operating principles to realise it. Employees, especially those in the same jobs who are treated equally, help companies improve loyalty, retain talent, and serve customers better with an improved competitive edge. Those who are treated unfairly are denied the benefits of equality in the workplace.

DEI is a recognised priority, and forms a great deal of the social element of ESG. For companies, the business case is simple, research shows providing fair opportunities for people of different backgrounds means access to a wider talent pool, allowing companies to pursue a wider range of business goals. 

Here are five steps organisations can take to promote equality and inclusion:

1. Develop A Clear Policy

Organisations should develop and communicate clear policies on equality, diversity, and inclusion. These policies should outline the company's stance on these issues and the steps it will take to promote and uphold these values. DEI, at its core, must ensure everyone receives fair treatment and opportunity, while removing any notion of discrimination based on the characteristics of an individual or group, meaning gender, race, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, or disability, or others.

It also means clearly stating the consequences for 

For reference, see the ‘UK Equality Act 2010: Guidance’.

2. Provide Diversity And Inclusion Training

Regular training on these topics plays a critical role in raising awareness and understanding of the importance of diversity, equality, and inclusion. This means clearly explaining the company inclusion strategy, which starts with the difference types of discrimination, and clearly stating what is unlawful under the relevant equality act in your country.

Direct discrimination - When you experience worse treatment than another person because you have protected characteristics, are connected with someone with protected characteristics, or if someone believes you have protected characteristics.

Indirect discrimination - When you belong to a group of people with protected characteristics, and a policy or a rule in place disadvantages you as part of that group. 

Protected Characteristics

These are nine protected characteristics categories: age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, cultural background, gender reassignment, disability, marriage or civil partnership status; any of which may be the subject of discrimination. Find out more here

3. Encourage Open Communication

A business with a positive work environment, where employees feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences, will benefit in many ways. A company culture based on active listening, where people feel heard and not treated differently, allows a diverse range of topics to be openly discussed. 

So, how? Open communication can be through regular practice. Taking the time to ask about someone's day or weekend, ensuring nobody goes unnoticed, and keeping an 'open door policy'. Being meaningful about the way encouragement is given, actually taking a genuine interest in responses, and generally being a respectful, welcoming person. Give voice to people in meetings, let unique ideas be heard, discuss differences in ideas in an inclusive way, and if need be, try employee surveys for open, anonymised feedback.

If you feel this 'challenges workplace hierarchy', then you likely need a great deal of workplace culture effort to be made. A smooth 'hierarchy' is built on respect for equality, equal opportunity, and the skill set each employee brings to the business. It's always ok to openly recognise that diversity and differences challenge existing opinion, as this is where we stop, take stock, and challenge ourselves to evolve through learning.

Image of office table with people of multiple ethnicity in open discussion

4. Increase Diversity In Hiring And Promotion

Organisations should strive to increase diversity in their hiring and promotion practices, including through the use of diverse interview panels and objective criteria for evaluating candidates. 

Prospective new employees bring skills you may not yet have in your workplace, and finding the best talent for your situation means making decisions based on merit. To do this, you need to first identify your own unconscious biases and any restrictive factor you may be placing on the candidate. Here is an informative overview on how to approach it. 

In short, remind yourself that we all have unconscious biases, so think about how the potential employees also see you. The same runs true for promotion candidates, as your business will benefit from the best talent with the ideas skills to get the job done. Who is that person? 

Image of man and woman shaking hands over table, example of interview

5. Foster A Supportive And Inclusive Work Environment

Organisations can support diversity and inclusion by promoting flexible work arrangements, such as remote work options and generous family leave policies, and by providing access to resources for employees, such as counselling services and employee resource groups. 

Simply put, if you believe that 'people make the company', then finding out how to allocate both time and money to employees is an investment in the business. It flies in the face of traditional notions of short-term returns, but even if you invest in employees who then leave and do the same job in another business, chances are this will ultimately benefit you in terms of having a reputation for promoting equality and respecting people. 

Image of multi-ethnic colleagues with several possible protected characteristics

5. Monitor And Evaluate Progress

The only way to measure progress and evaluate the effectiveness of your diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts is, as with the need for open communication, to allocate the necessary time for it. Diversity in the workplace may seem 'abstract', but active listening to employees through feedback sessions, anonymous or not, can point to whether inclusion is actually happening, differences are still experienced, or access to equal opportunities impeded. 

Remember, this is an ongoing process and requires a commitment from all levels of the organisation. As with the axiom that a relationship ''takes commitment and hard work", so a diverse workplace requires that differences be recognised, discussed, and addressed. Group sessions are a good example to elicit feedback, but these should be supported by one-on-one sessions, taken in confidence, to discern where differences of opinion on quality progress may still lie. 

If 'doing the work' isn't part of your core operating manual, then improving real equality in your workforce isn't something you seek. This is a business responsibility.

Image of boardroom table with colleagues of multiple ethnicity in discussion

Promoting Equality

Equal opportunities policy should be effective in protecting worker rights, but it should also ensure that businesses follow the rules of employment laws. The onus is on business leaders, managers, and decision-makers to understand how a diverse working environment that prizes inclusion, skills, and openness, are all of benefit to a business. 

Equality And Diversity Examples

More important is that those decision-makers espouse equality and diversity in their actions, and represent the company culture they purport to foster. Setting equality and diversity examples to the workforce can erode traditionalist views of hierarchy and help develop true diversity and inclusion in the workplace, based on active listening to employees. This, in turn, generates a working structure based on mutual respect, accepting where discrimination exists and treating it accordingly. 

For more views on promoting equality in the workplace, see our recent article on trends for the coming year. 

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