As the workplace continues to grow more diverse than ever before, businesses across all industries should be considering how they are making their working environment welcoming and accessible for individuals of all backgrounds.
As well as creating a fairer and more positive working culture, diversity can deliver business value for an organisation. Through building an engaged workforce with varied talents and perspectives, diversity can power innovation, growth and higher levels of productivity. A 2020 report from McKinsey demonstrated that globally, businesses with greater gender and ethnic diversity had a higher likelihood of financially outperforming industry competition by up to 25 and 36 per cent, respectively.
With that in mind, here are four steps that you can take as a business leader to prioritise diversity in the workplace, ensure you live your values and gain competitive advantage.
1. Consider the effects of unconscious bias
Unconscious bias refers to the beliefs, attitudes and prejudices that we may hold about different groups or traits below our conscious awareness. Though we might not realise it, these biases can affect our relationships and behaviour towards others. We all tend to favour people who are ‘like us’ in relation to ethnicity or age or sex for example. This can mean we don’t choose the ‘best person’ for the job, but rather the person we feel most comfortable with. In turn this can make us a bad decision maker when selecting staff for a job, or for an exciting project.
Diversity consultancy EW Group offers insight on the importance of unconscious bias training in the workplace, explaining that without it, “your staff may feel excluded, which results in lower productivity and engagement”. In extreme cases, they continue, “bullying, unlawful harassment or discrimination might arise, which will potentially lead to costly mediation work and employment tribunals”.
Naturally, these are scenarios that business leaders want to avoid in order to promote a positive work culture and reject the discriminatory patterns of behaviour still so prevalent in our society.
Great companies work proactively to understand the implicit biases that we may all hold, as well as the effects that these might have. Encourage your team to reflect on their attitudes and behaviour in day-to-day interactions in a positive and safe training environment — and once you and your staff understand where any biases lay, you can work together to address them.
2. Go beyond diversity quotas
You should next consider the steps you’ll take to enact enduring organisational change and mitigate the effects of biases in the workplace. Though it’s often the first solution offered, this goes beyond simply recruiting more individuals from varied backgrounds. Instead, consider the employee experience holistically and the steps you can take to create a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) to foster diverse talent beyond recruitment.
You may begin by assessing your existing policies and how they could affect individuals differently depending on their background or different protected characteristics. Many companies have adopted DEI initiatives following 2020’s Black Lives Matter movement, and Me Too aiming to facilitate the different needs and promote the well-being of minoritized groups. At this point, some choose to employ consultants to provide training while others curate their own internal plans.
These schemes may cover education in concepts such as communication styles, conflict resolution and hiring behaviour, and inclusive management to minimise friction in the workplace. Consider practical arrangements too — for example, alterations to parental leave policies that may or holiday schedules that fail to consider the calendar people of diverse faiths cultural celebrations.
3. Work with feedback from your team
No change can happen without a conversation. Once you’ve started to introduce your DEI arrangements, implementing them should be an ongoing process, subject to employee feedback. Check-in regularly with staff about how they feel at work and give a voice to those that may find it more challenging to speak out.
One easy way to gauge employee sentiment is to regularly distribute anonymous surveys across the organisation. These can help you to gain an understanding of what staff would like to see done differently and what they may be struggling with. While it can be challenging territory to navigate, employee feedback can guide DEI efforts and help tailor them to the needs of your business.
People at all levels need to be seen to how to disrupt their biases as we know they can significantly affect decision-making from hiring and promotional decisions to work delegation. Communicate to your employees that the process of addressing internal problems and improving company culture is a group effort, and personal accountability at every level.
4. Offer equal growth opportunities
An integral part of fostering a positive work culture is to promote pay and benefit equity for staff. If employees with similar roles and responsibilities are being unequally compensated for their efforts, tensions are likely to emerge. Without real systemic changes to how a business operates, many DEI initiatives are developed only to bolster a company’s PR efforts — all the while, the gender pay gap in the UK shows evidence of widening.
Similarly, nationwide data estimates that just 4.7% of senior leadership roles are occupied by people of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds. With these demographics underrepresented at higher managerial levels, companies may be neglecting to offer roles to the most deserving individuals to the detriment of the business, some individuals, and some groups. Providing fair growth opportunities can help to undo unjust discrepancies in pay or position that may have emerged as a result of previous hiring and promotional biases.
By following these guidelines, you can prioritise diversity in your business operations. This is an all-important commitment to make in order to modernise your organisation, promote job satisfaction, and boost productivity in the workplace — all the while fulfilling your duty of care as a leader to staff from all backgrounds.
The best companies see all this work as positive and exciting and help the people they lead to see it this way too.