A diverse workforce isn’t just about looking good in brochures. Diverse people bring diverse points of view, experiences and ways of problem-solving.
In short, diversity brings “a potent force of insight and innovation that will be increasingly needed to meet the needs of a diverse customer base.” – Harvard Business Review.
But – and it’s a biggy – there’s no point in having diverse voices if no one is listening to them. For example, in a 2015 study, researchers found that 46% of black women feel their ideas are not heard or recognised, and are also less likely than straight white men to have their ideas endorsed.
So diversity? It’s just the first step. Next on the road to Awesome Town is inclusion. Inclusive workplaces are six times more likely to be innovative and twice as likely to meet or surpass financial goals. They also keep employees longer.
Inclusive workplace culture isn’t just about rejecting discrimination – as part of your business as usual, you need to be rolling out the red carpet for people of differing backgrounds, perspectives, abilities and identities.
“Inclusion can be measured by a sense of belonging, connection and community at work. An organization that has mastered inclusion is one where people feel encouraged to bring their ‘whole selves’ to work.” – Laura Hamill, Forbes
In 2019 and 2017, three out of four Australian workers supported or strongly supported creating an inclusive workplace (as opposed to only 3% of Australian workers who opposed or strongly opposed it).
But, yes. Easier said than done. How do you create this inclusive utopia? It’s about boiling that big macro idea down into small, repeatable behaviours. Which, after all, is what makes a culture.
Let’s face it. There’s only so much HR leaders can do without support from up top. When you have the top table on board, you’ll move your diversity and inclusion initiatives up the priority list – and have the budget to implement them properly.
Always promoting white people? Do men seem to always get paid more? There are plenty of seemingly logical reasons for this – no need to blame anyone – but you do need to make the effort to iron out those built-in biases. They’re there. It might start right back at your hiring, or in the way you conduct salary reviews.
The first step is making it official. Setting standards, policies and procedures gives everyone something concrete to work towards. They should talk about what inclusion looks like for you, what you won’t accept and specific things you’re doing to support the needs of a diverse workforce.
This may seem like just a bureaucratic step, but can make a tangible change – this study, for example, showed that policies of this kind lowered instances of harassment and discrimination towards gay employees. And, of course, harassment and discrimination are what can make a diverse company not inclusive at all. One survey showed that almost half of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Island workers experienced harassment and/or discrimination in the prior 12 months.
Those policies have to extend way back to hiring – what are you doing to remove bias in the process?
With the right metrics, you’ll ensure you’re keeping people accountable, and, ultimately, driving impact. Tracking your Diversity is a relatively simple idea – ultimately, it's about counting people. Easy to do in theory, a little trickier in practice, but essentially very possible. Measuring Inclusion needs more thought – an inclusion questionnaire is a good place to start.
Ensuring you have physically accessible spaces is an easy one to spot and change, but think about all the other access issues diverse people face. For example do you conduct meetings in a way that allow women’s ideas to be heard? Are there inclusive facilities for trans and non-binary folk? For those breastfeeding? Is food appropriate to various religious beliefs and lifestyles easy to find nearby?
When employees have a say over decisions it impacts on their sense of belonging and will help foster inclusion on a practical level. After all, even the best leadership teams won’t have thought of every issue affecting a diverse workforce. Getting this feedback can – and should – be done both formally and around the water cooler. Get some inclusion-specific surveys going, set up a suggestion box and ask managers to check in with their teams and report back.
When teams from across the business work together, it brings new thinking and creativity to problems. That’s a win. It also puts the benefit of diverse thinking and viewpoints right up in front of people’s faces, while bringing them in contact with more kinds of people from across the business. This helps employees learn about the benefits of inclusion, so they’ll be more open to putting in the effort.
When you have learning and development embedded in your culture, it allows people to expect it, even if they’ve never had that kind of support before. That helps shift the balance towards people who’ve come from traditionally underprivileged backgrounds. If they don’t have to fight for the opportunities, they’re more likely to take them.
Ok, so we’re not talking about getting everyone to do a confidence course in matching tee-shirts, but you do have to foster social connection. When people know each other, it’s easier to see and value input.
Flexibility is one of the best workplace policies for attracting and retaining diverse employees. It helps smooth out systemic barriers these employees face. People of faith can manage work around religious practice, and underprivileged people can support family members or manage other commitments.
It’s a melting-pot world, changing all the time. Give your company the agility, insight and innovation it needs to thrive, by welcoming diversity and fostering an inclusive culture in your workplace.
It starts with hiring practices that actively welcome diversity and remove bias, and comes from the top. Outline official policies and standards and find a way to measure inclusion – or the lack of it. Make sure every employee is given a voice and is heard, for a rich, full range of ideas. Bring siloed teams together on projects, offer training opportunities and establish flexible working practices.
Finally, get your people together so they can know each other, and get feedback so you know you’re on the right track.
Need some help establishing your inclusive workplace? Talk to the team at Weirdly today.