What does it mean to have a diverse workplace?
Diversity refers to characteristics, experiences and/or other distinctions that set people apart from each other. In the context of a workplace, diversity refers to a business employing staff members with a varied set of characteristics. Workplace diversity will often involve the 9 protected characteristics (eg gender identity, disability and sex) that are specified in the Equality Act 2010. It may also include a broad range of other experiences, such as:
education and previous work experiences
culture and interests
Inclusion refers to people being included in a group, community or space. In the context of a workplace, inclusion refers to all staff members feeling welcome and valued not being denied opportunities (eg access to further education, training or promotions) because of the qualities that make them unique.
Having a diverse and inclusive workplace refers to fostering an environment that values and includes individuals from various backgrounds, experiences and perspectives.
In the UK, employers are legally required to protect employees from discrimination and to provide equal opportunities in the workplace. Failure to comply with these legal obligations can result in lawsuits.
What are the benefits of diversity in the workplace?
There are many benefits of diversity in the workplace. 5 of the biggest reasons why employers and businesses should care about inclusion and diversity include:
Innovation and creativity
As the saying goes, ‘Birds of a feather, flock together’. Groups of people from similar backgrounds are more likely to come up with similar ways to approach a problem. A diverse group of people may offer different perspectives and solutions to problem-solving. Diverse teams have been shown to be more productive and creative than those of similar demographics.
To become a leader in an industry, you have to think globally. You may already conduct business with vendors or clients abroad. Diversity in a workplace can bring unique skills from different people that can be transferred to the global platform. Employees with different language skills, an understanding of different cultures, or knowledge of local marketplaces can bring advantages to your business.
Societal values are changing and becoming more open and inclusive. Creating a diverse workforce and organisation can improve your customers’ opinions of you.
Your customers aren’t just people who buy your products or services. They are people who look at businesses with qualities and morals that align with their own views. If you can show your business is diverse and inclusive, it’s more likely to be favoured over businesses that aren’t. But remember that it’s not just about passively promoting diversity, you have to create and support initiatives to ensure diversity is maintained.
Understanding customers better
Having a diverse business means you can understand your customers’ needs better. If you only employ people from a certain demographic, you could be inadvertently alienating an entire customer base. Your customers want to speak to people who understand their problems, experiences and grievances, and who can recommend solutions that work for them. Being able to relate to your customer base will offer better customer service.
According to LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018 report, ‘even at the most diverse of companies, employees will disengage and leave if they don’t feel included and accepted’. The report also added that ‘belonging is the feeling of psychological safety that allows employees to be their best selves at work.”. This shows that businesses that support specific demographic groups have better employee retention and engagement.
How to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace
Creating a diverse and inclusive business has many benefits, but it does come with its own challenges. Careful planning is needed and a robust strategy must be implemented.
Follow a transparent recruitment process
As part of your recruitment process, you can also consider using:
anonymous or blind CVs to help remove unconscious bias
inclusive language in Job descriptions
a more varied range of recruitment sources
standardised interview questions
For more information, read Recruitment.
Adopt relevant HR policies
For more information, read HR policies and procedures.
Consider cultural and religious holidays
An easy way to encourage workplace inclusivity is by acknowledging different cultural and religious holidays and celebrations. Whether it's Christmas, Hanukkah, Ramadan, Diwali or any other holiday, make sure everyone feels included and respected. Consider:
including different cultural and religious holidays in your calendars
accommodating staff members’ different cultural and religious customs
enabling staff members to take time off for their religious or cultural holidays
being sensitive to cultural or religious practices (eg avoid scheduling client lunches during a time of fasting or holding meetings during a time of prayer)
Running diversity and inclusion training
By implementing diversity and inclusion training programmes within a business, you can:
raise awareness about unconscious biases (ie perceptions that people have about others, without realising it, that are influenced by their past experiences or information that they have consumed)
create an open and honest work environment, in which staff members feel comfortable speaking about their personal experiences
promote cultural competence and respectful and positive interactions in the workplace
create a more inclusive work environment
Speak to staff members and gather feedback
Consider reaching out to your workforce and asking for feedback on the work environment and workplace policies. When gathering feedback, consider doing so anonymously so staff members feel free to express their true opinions without worrying about how their comments will be perceived. Use staff feedback to inform your decisions going forward and to otherwise improve your working practices to make them more inclusive.
It is our individual differences that make every single person unique and special. Let us end this piece with one of my favourite childhood quotes about diversity from Dr. Seuss – ‘Why fit in when you were born to stand out?’