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How to create a culture of inclusiveness and promote diversity

How to create a culture of inclusiveness and promote diversity

Information abounds on the internet about how organisations should promote diversity and build inclusiveness. But this is the passage that resonated the most for me:

“As the years went on, I realised that what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human”. – Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman.

It rang a chord with me – the type that sends a shiver down your spine – and reinforced the nub of what everyone I had spoken to had said; all we should be doing is treating others decently and fairly.

Creating a culture of inclusiveness and doing more to promote diversity has become something of a big deal lately. You don’t need to go too far to see a big-name brand with a temporary rainbow facelift. Or a company extolling its flexiwork scheme. And it makes sense. Winning the war for talent is easier with an inclusive culture. If employees are welcomed and able to contribute effectively, they feel valued. You keep those employees!

Diversity & Inclusiveness Defined

There are many ways to define diversity and inclusiveness and it’s easy to become bogged down in finding the “right” definition. Catalyst, a global non-profit that focuses on helping organisations build workplaces that work for women, suggests that in the case of diversity there’s no single definition and that each organisation should create its own diversity code.

However, it has firmer stance on inclusiveness. They have found that there are two basic ingredients of inclusion: uniqueness and belonging.

When employees feel unique—recognised for their differences—and feel a sense of belonging based on sharing common attributes and goals with their peers, organisations best increase their odds of benefiting from workforce diversity.

Promote diversity & inclusiveness – get results!

Let’s be clear. Succeeding at diversity and inclusiveness gets results. That talent you attract and keep helps you grow your business from the inside out.

“We know that businesses with more diverse teams outperform those with limited diversity” says Sharniya Ferdinand – Business Inclusion Programme Coordinator at NatWest, referring to the McKinsey study, Delivering through Diversity.

“You get a diversity of thought and experience that you’d otherwise miss out on and are able to create a more innovative culture”. Lauren Clancy, Executive Director at the Bush Theatre in London’s Shepherd’s Bush agrees: “diversity makes a team more effective, fun and forward-thinking. We’re a training ground for new talent and that really comes through in the freshness of ideas we see coming through. And it’s those ideas that set our programme apart”.

So far, so good. And it gets better. With a representative mix of staff, you broaden your reach.

“We appeal to a broader range of customers and clients and engage with people you wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to speak to” says Sharniya.

The good news just keeps coming!

But stop. Surely an organisation can succeed by brushing D&I to the side while focusing on the business-critical activities of driving sales and growing profit? Not so. The same McKinsey study found that organisations without a strong diversity profile were 29% less likely to achieve above average profitability. Ouch!

We’re agreed. Building a culture of inclusiveness and doing more to promote diversity is a Good Thing. But how to do it?

It’s clear that the two ideas need a slightly different approach. If diversity is being invited to a party, inclusiveness is being made to feel welcome. Here are some suggestions from the Diversity & Inclusion leaders I spoke to of how organisations can improve their performance in this field.

Steps to Promote Diversity

1. First, you need to commit to diversity

Without sounding too obvious, an organisation needs to wholeheartedly commit to creating a culture of diversity and inclusiveness if it is to succeed at doing so. Creating your own definition of diversity and incorporating it into your business vision is a good place to start.

Beyond setting out your intentions in ink, you must commit in other ways. Investing in someone to lead D&I is the next step. Everyone I spoke to agreed that diversity & inclusiveness needs an internal figurehead with a presence at every level of the organisation. It’s easier in some places than others.

Consider the NHS. With 1.3 million staff in 500 organisations across the country, it’s a big ask, even with a dedicated department.

Paul Deemer, Head of Diversity & Inclusion for the NHS, explained that the NHS has dedicated diversity leads in each big organisation – for instance acute hospitals – and champions in smaller organisations who support diversity on a ground level alongside their day-to-day job. The work they go on to achieve with support at an upper level is impressive to say the least.

2. Diversity should be everywhere

Ensuring board level is representative of a broader employee base or customer mix is another sensible step. An organisation needs a broader perspective than the old-fashioned C-Suite mix of university-educated, white, older men. No offence to those guys, but a broader perspective is proven to drive better results. It stands to reason – if you have no experience of looking, feeling or thinking differently, how – in the best will in the world – can you represent those who do?

3. Support efforts to promote diversity

It could be all too easy to leave nominated diversity leads feeling as if they’re in it alone. This doesn’t need to be the case. With support organisations such as EmployAbility and Catalyst, tailored support is achievable and fully available. Working with an expansive range of companies as well as students, graduates and universities, EmployAbility provides opportunities for dyslexic and disabled students and graduates and help organisations ensure they attract disabled student & graduate applications, as well as helping businesses adjust for and support newly disabled employees.

In organisations with a wide geographic spread of employees such as consumer banking or healthcare, diversity leads may feel cut off. In this situation regional diversity networks can be a lifeline and provide a catalyst for innovation. The NHS approach to supporting diversity leads is well worth a read.

Methods to Create Inclusiveness

Provide regular Diversity & Inclusiveness training

“Organisations focus energy on health and safety training because it’s enshrined in law and there are serious implications if they get it wrong” says Henry Rose Lee, an intergenerational expert (website here). “if those organisations want to improve their performance on diversity and inclusion, then they need to approach it in the same way as health and safety; training should be mandatory”.

If we go back to our analogy about inclusiveness being made to feel welcome at a party, you can see why ongoing training is so important. This is especially relevant to managers; we all know people don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

So train managers to ensure they can understand what someone is going through. Provide staff with the appropriate etiquette and ensure they provide the adjustments needed to help all members of staff perform to their best ability.

How to provide reasonable adjustments

Inclusive organisations readily make appropriate adjustments to the workplace to enable employees to work to the best of their abilities. In the case of disabled employees this may be a matter of hardware – providing appropriate desk arrangements for instance.

But much of the adjustment is about attitudes. Whether that’s understanding the implications of autism on an employee or recognising why an MS sufferer needs special support despite the fact they “seem fine”, manager training is essential.

Tab Ahmad of EmployAbility encourages organisations to focus on what they can do to be helpful to people with disabilities and recommends the use of the phrase “is there anything we can do to help you perform to the best of your ability?”

It’s a mandatory when dealing with employees who are disabled but is a relevant question to the rest of the workforce. In an increasingly personalised workplace, understanding the different ways in which people perform at their best and adjusting to take account of this can only result in stronger results.

Use your programmes & products to facilitate inclusiveness

Your brand, products and advertising can be a beacon for equality and inclusiveness and act as a magnet for diverse talent. But only if they’re consistent with the way you behave as an organisation. Too many companies have been criticised for “jumping on the Pride bandwagon” by turning their logos rainbow-coloured during Pride month. Consumers are not as easily fooled as they once were it seems.

NatWest is a company who puts their money where their mouth is.

As Business Inclusion Programme Co-ordinator, Sharniya Ferdinand’s role is to support and engage with the community. And this involves reaching out and educating people who might otherwise miss out on that business education, making it more accessible.

With programmes such as “Back her Business and The NatWest pre-accelerator programme, which is being piloted with a BAME cohort of entrepreneurs – “it’s about engaging with people who you wouldn’t otherwise engage with or who wouldn’t approach you.”

The Arts are often seen as exclusive. But the Bush theatre works hard to cut through that perception.

“We are deliberately accessible” says Lauren Clancy, the Executive Director. “Our plays are created to be relevant to the society in which we operate, right down to our ticket prices. You can get a ticket to one of our shows for less than the price of a cinema ticket – and that was a deliberate decision, made to increase the inclusiveness of our offering.”

Build inclusiveness into your processes & routines

If you want to prove that inclusiveness is about more than lip service, then you need to build it into your standard processes.

“We have a real focus on feedback and supporting others to grow.” says Raj Aujla, Mastercard’s Director of Talent Development for Europe. “There’s a real focus around development and career conversations. People should know how they’re doing and be helped to do better… no matter who they are, we want them to know they’ve been picked to work with us for a certain reason and we want to nurture that”.

Train your managers to carry out effective career conversations and understand the etiquette around equality and diversity and you’ll find yourselves starting to succeed.

Henry Rose Lee agrees. “Why not base the annual conference on how you can promote inclusiveness?” she challenges.

It’s a fair point. Instead of focusing on market share, competitive tracking and profit targets, put the emphasis on what your organisation could do to be more inclusive.

After all, if the McKinsey study is anything to go by, you’ll see the fruits of your labour rapidly ripening.

Measure your performance in diversity & inclusiveness

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. And when it comes to successfully instilling a culture of diversity & inclusiveness into your organisation, you must measure your progress. Sharniya makes the point well;

“You can go into a company and look around and have one opinion depending on who you are, but if you have the actual data – who are our employees? – where are they based? then you can see where your gaps are”.

Identify those gaps and take steps to understand why they exist. Do you have women leaving to have children and not returning? Are BAME employees stagnating and not progressing? Is your workforce all aged under 33 with the exception of the CEO and FD? Seek to identify why, understand the implications and make the adjustments.

Depending on the type of organisation you work for, there are a variety of methods to measure your progress.

“We talk through local area demographics with the local council” says Lauren of the Bush Theatre, “this means we don’t get ‘stuck’ in a rut with the words we’re using and what they mean and can ensure we’re reflecting the world around us”.

What now?

In an ideal world, diversity and inclusiveness wouldn’t need special focus. We’d track it to make sure we were getting it right and go about our work in a fair and unbiased way.

Mastercard have an approach we could all learn from. Theirs is less of a focus on ensuring diversity and inclusiveness and more of an emphasis on appreciating the output that employees deliver.

“We’re a tech firm and need innovation.” says Raj, “we value the diversity of our workforce – it’s woven into our very fabric.”

It sounds very much to me that Mastercard – and the other organisations whose diversity champions I spoke to – do exactly what many, many people want. And that’s to support their staff as “productive, honest, courteously treated humans”. Hallelujah to that.

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With warm thanks to our contributors:

Raj Aujla – Mastercard – Director of Talent Development, Europe
Henry Rose Lee – Intergenerational Expert
Paul Deemer – NHS Employers – Head of Diversity and Inclusion
Lauren Clancy – The Bush Theatre – Executive Director
Tab Ahmad – EmployAbility – Managing Director
Sharniya Ferdinand – NatWest – Business Inclusion Programme Co-ordinator

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