Diversity and inclusion are good for business but for too many companies budget and time pressures lead to policies not being fully implemented. Sara Axelbaum and Rich Pearce provide advice on how this scenario can be avoided.
In recent years, HR initiatives have become increasingly focused on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, but how can companies ensure that these important cultures are prioritised and properly implemented within their organisation? Both are important for businesses to thrive, to bring a range of ideas to the table, and creating a safer space for individuals to flourish.
Businesses will always face time and budget pressures but there are many tools they can use to make sure a diverse workforce is created that bangs the drum for inclusivity.
When you’re budget poor
Businesses can use inclusion surveys to understand where their people feel progress can be made on DEI matters. This will help to get under the surface of the initiatives you implement to understand how they’ve landed and whether they’re making a real impact.
We all benefit from the fact that employees – particularly younger generations of staff – are much more proactive around this topic, so they will want to have their opinion heard on what they’ve observed and their suggestions for improvement. Keeping some standardised metrics in these surveys also means you can track your work and improvements over time. These surveys can easily be done anonymously, too, to allow employees to air any opinions in a more neutral forum.
Outside of this, there will be people in the business who want to engage with DEI issues, and groups are a fantastic way for teams to learn together. Whether it’s a book club, an employee resource group (ERG) or just internal panels, these groups and channels give people a sense of belonging within an organisation, and such initiatives are a proven retention motivator. The scope of this will depend on your company size, but bringing people together and getting their input will be relevant no matter the structure of your organisation.
Race discrimination at work
It’s also important to make sure that each and every meeting is inclusive, but it’s easy for this to go amiss without measures in place. Setting clear ground rules or modelling behaviour that you expect from others are a good place to start. Examples such as sending agendas ahead of time or pausing to encourage participation from every attendee are small but effective ways to promote inclusion in the workplace.
Finally, accessibility points should be considered, from physical access to the building to making sure all documents and visuals are fully accessible, to sharing your pronouns in email signatures to ensure people aren’t othered are all things to factor in.
When you’re time poor
Hiring a specialist DEI consultant can be a great way to get expert advice and tips on improving inclusion. If you don’t have the time to audit current practices and policies yourself, but you do have available finances, there are lots of third parties who are on hand to help. They can assess the strengths of your current activities and highlight potential areas for improvement.
Training is another area where a third party can be invaluable, to provide sessions such as unconscious bias or bystander intervention training for the team. These training options can be the catalyst for a step-change around inclusion in an organisation, and bringing in an external speaker is an engaging way to achieve this as their stories will often build empathy and promote acts of inclusion within your own firm.
A final consideration is to engage an external facilitator to support with discussions around sensitive topics, such as identity, current events, bias etc, to help ensure these conversations are inclusive and valuable. You often see companies hesitate to tackle issues head on, because they are worried about making a mistake and saying the wrong thing. Not tackling these problems is a sure-fire way to create a non-inclusive workplace, so if that is holding anyone back, bringing in a trained professional can help to make real progress.
Getting help from your investor
Investors are increasingly attracted to businesses with a clear focus on corporate social responsibility – and diversity and inclusion is a big part of that. Partnering with an investor who can work with management teams to create a culture of inclusivity and belonging can be a great way to encourage businesses to prioritise social metrics as they do financial ones.
For example, ECI’s people and culture toolkit is a repository of tools and experience that we encourage our management teams to take advantage of to continually improve company culture and staff engagement. This might include ensuring engagement is tracked through employee surveys, establishing DEI policies, or improving internal communications.
Making a step-change in inclusion isn’t easy, but it’s not necessarily supposed to be. It may mean putting yourself in uncomfortable situations, but with a commitment for change and delivering improvements, making progress towards this is the most important thing. Lots of small iterative improvements are key to ensuring your company is following the right direction of travel. Employees and future candidates want their employers to have an inclusive workplace, so without measures to achieve this, your company could fall short of its full potential.