Diversity & inclusion: moving beyond policy
Have the recent #BlackLivesMatter protests across much of the UK started you wondering whether your company’s policy for implementing diversity in the workplace is up to scrutiny? We already know that just having a policy won't move behaviour and attitudes forward, so what else can be done to help shift your company from being one of the pack to being a leader in this critical area?
It should be noted that small, and small-medium companies, cannot be expected to achieve the same level of diversity and inclusion as large national and multi-national corporations. With around 60% of the UK’s workforce employed by SMEs, research is ongoing into how best these enterprises can also benefit from a more diverse and inclusive workforce. That said, a small company’s diversity policy and action plan should be relatively straightforward. Reflecting company size, and what can reasonably be accomplished with limited options. The UK’s Equalities Act, covers nine main areas where it is illegal to show, or operate, any form of discrimination in the workplace. These are:
Religion or belief
Marriage or civil partnership
Pregnancy and maternity
What is diversity and inclusion
In the last 10 years, many companies have blithely ticked off the diversity boxes; removing sexual bias, employing ethnic minorities, and retaining a greater number of older employees. Leaving them happy in the knowledge they are doing their bit for diversity. But does that make the workplace more inclusive?
Does your HR department have a specific diversity department? Have you instigated workplace changes such as disabled ramps, and disabled and gender-neutral toilets, added a crèche, or baby changing/feeding facilities? Or offered working parents flexible working hours? Do you hold regular monthly/quarterly meetings with your minority workers, to get feedback on such things as race relations, and whether they feel fully included in the business’s day-to-day operations? A happy workforce is a productive workforce. Without ensuring that your minority colleagues are happy, and accepted as part of the team, your company diversity policy counts for little, and could even become detrimental to business operations, if certain prejudices are allowed to fester. And if you don't ask, you don't know and these days that's no excuse.
Making the most of your diversity policy
The UK is becoming an increasingly tolerant place to live and work, and this should be reflected in today’s modern industries. For a business to make the most of its diversity policy, it needs to be organised from the senior HR manager downwards. It needs to be encapsulated in every aspect of your organisation’s operation, from recruitment to training, to job descriptions, to team make-up. It often also needs to include changing attitudes, mindsets, and prejudices of your existing workforce. Not always the easiest of tasks.
Organising your company to become a more diverse business model, is not just about employing a fixed number of minorities to make up the numbers. It’s about interviewing and employing minority personnel capable of doing the job, and who you and your managers are prepared to mentor and help integrate into the workforce, so they can reach their maximum potential and your business benefit from fresh ideas and new aspirations. No matter how much we try to hide it under the carpet, in virtually every area of the country, in every industry and occupation, you will find an element of prejudice against minority elements and changing practises. Removing these prejudices takes time and effort, but the rewards are worth the cost.
You don’t have to look far to find examples of changing workplace cultures. Many large companies no longer have employees. The employees have become colleagues. And the colleagues are encouraged to provide greater input into company products and operating procedures. The development of an autonomous business model also gives companies the chance to incorporate a more inclusive workforce, where all people are treated as equals, and encouraged to contribute ideas that can benefit not just the company, but also the employees.
Trying to build a diverse workplace culture is a two-way street. Not only do you have to encourage your existing workforce to relinquish ingrained prejudices (including dealing with your own), but you also need to recruit minorities who want to become part of a diverse workforce, and are prepared to meet existing company policy halfway. The majority of autonomous businesses have an open-door policy for all employees, with a full team or section meetings at regular intervals. These should be stepped up when integrating new minority members into the workforce. However, unless undertaken in the right way, appearing to spend all your time giving a sympathetic ear to new minority team members, can often increase workplace bias against the very people you’re trying to help.
In a world where businesses are becoming as diverse as the people who work in them, a diverse, autonomous business model can recoup its set-up costs with improved employer/employee relationships, a happier, more creative and productive workforce, and a business which is reaping the benefits of both higher turnover and increasing company prestige.