Julia Nickless, Exec and Team Coach
People Development and Parental Transition, Connor Consultancy (an NFP company)
Over the last decade, organisations have taken massive strides towards creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace. However, certain sectors have done better than others and for the most part, diversity has been narrowly viewed as only encapsulating race and gender.
Now more than ever, we understand the importance of including neurodivergent people, those with disabilities, and the LGBTQ+ community. Inclusivity is not merely a nice to have, but a fundamental part of creating a company that’s innovative and bursting with new, interesting ideas. Organisations that realise the true power of an inclusive workplace will be the bright stars of the future.
Fostering an inclusive workplace requires the dismantling of ‘group-think’ structures, the implementation of effective D&I programs that encourage diverse hires and educate staff, and the option of flexible working.
Break the group-think culture
Organisations with senior leadership teams that aren’t diverse are trapped in a vacuum, surrounded by people with similar perspectives, all singing to the same tune. This creates a self-sustaining group-think culture within the leadership board.
It is important that leadership teams establish a work environment where their thinking can be challenged. The key to doing this is to develop a new inclusive hiring process. One that encourages the appointment of people with different life experiences, skills, and ways of thinking and then take the time to listen and take on board their perspectives. Over time, this will create a workplace that looks like the real world and your organisation will be better off for it.
Similarly, companies should try their best to offer paid or heavily subsidised internships. This allows people from all socio-economic backgrounds to be able to apply for work at said organisation. Unpaid internships can lead to only people from a similar, middle-class background applying and getting their start at a company. Ten years later, and it is these same people leading the company. The group-think cycle continues and the potential disconnect with future investors, customers and employees.
Implement effective D&I programs
True diversity in the workplace requires every single employee to participate in achieving an inclusive culture.
Leaders must acknowledge that they themselves will not be the future of the business, and they do not have all the answers to create this forward-looking vision. Their role is to put in place genuine and effective D&I schemes that will allow all workers to better understand and respect each other. For example, adopting D&I training courses that teach employees how to best work with people with different life experiences – whether that’s socio-economic backgrounds, race, or sexuality. Embedding these schemes into the fabric of an organisation will not only make the company feel like a safe place to work, but it will also increase staff retention rates and make more people from diverse backgrounds want to join your company.
We also live in an increasingly digital world, which makes it much easier to access external experts that can get on a Zoom call and talk to your company about D&I issues of which you might not have thought. Simple things like adding alt text to the images you use on social media so that a visually impaired person can easily understand the full context of a company tweet. Or for Pride month, having a speaker educate the staff on its importance and how to be an ally.
Knowledge is power. Programs like the ones mentioned will make staff more emotionally intelligent – creating better managers, better leaders, and a better work community.
Offer flexible working
If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that good work can be done from anywhere. We no longer have to commute to work every day, in order to generate the best results. Workers today are fully aware of this and now demand flexible working options. Each employee comes from a unique set of circumstances – they might have small kids to take care of, elderly relatives that need assistance, or chronic pain which makes it a struggle to travel every day. Leaders need to recognise this and have policies in place that accommodate these needs.
This flexible approach to working is already evident across many sectors, and many studies have shown the benefits of a hybrid working environment. A study by CIPD reported that 80 percent of UK organisations now allow some degree of work flexibility.
To create a healthy and inclusive working environment, leaders must embrace the fact that people’s working preferences will vary. Today, progressive HR leaders are recommending frameworks that can address employee expectations and guide managers on acceptable practices which can be tweaked and enhanced over time. This is preferred to strict policies that may restrict employee preferences and organisational agility.
Inclusivity is key to success
Business leaders need to recognise that diversity and inclusivity will be integral to their future success and go beyond surface-level tokenistic policies. Establishing a diverse workforce isn’t something that can be done overnight, hence, it is important that organisations take the appropriate steps now to improve the diversity of their company. Those that are too slow to modernise will be left in the dark, whereas those that embrace D&I today will have an appealing and successful future workplace.