Policy to Practise: How are UK Businesses Championing Diversity & Inclusivity in the Workplace?
Popping the reality check tick bubble
Being able to leverage the power of individual differences is essential for any organisation that wants to be considered successful in today’s largely polarised political and social climate. But, breaking down cultural nuances and understanding how to truly integrate diversity and inclusivity into the workplace require more than just a manual or handbook on inclusivity policies.
The unfortunate truth is that as inclusivity and diversity in the workforce become more essential than ever before, many companies view the process as a challenge that needs to be overcome; when it should be viewed as an opportunity. An opportunity to create an organisational culture that supports and encourages all its employees equally thus improving morale and in turn reducing turnover.
A truly inclusive company does not merely ‘celebrate’ diversity but makes actual strategic choices to implement actions and behaviours that embrace people from different backgrounds without bias or prejudice.
What’s the Difference Between Diversity and Inclusion ?
A number of organisations make the mistake of assuming that inclusion and diversity are synonymous; this is far from the truth.
Diversity refers to the demographics represented in an organisation, which may mean the number of people that identify with a particular group. On the other hand, inclusion refers to valuing and recognising all employees and their experiences by ensuring their different perspectives are given equal weightage and they are integrated into the workforce as seamlessly as the majority groups.
It has also been described as being fair and respectful and enabling people to realise their capabilities. While diversity can be interpreted as the composition of an organisation, inclusion refers to how well the organisation’s culture reflects that composition.
Most HR professionals will spend time, money and energy on answering the question – how can we recruit, hire and train, diverse employees to ensure our organisation is truly diverse and inclusive? While this may be a well-intended effort, it often lacks the strategic in-depth thought that is required to build a truly inclusive corporate culture. In the absence of well-thought-out discussions and debates, all the resources and energy spent on recruiting a diverse workforce are in vain.
To understand how HR Directors view this debate and assess how organisations in the UK are building their cultures in the backdrop of this essential movement, we surveyed HR Directors from organisations of all sizes, operating in various sectors, and their answers might surprise you.
Do you have an Inclusivity Policy in your business?
The 18th Annual Global CEO Survey reported that 85% of surveyed CEOs whose companies had a strategic diversity and inclusiveness policy in place, saw an improvement in their bottom line. Furthermore, McKinsey & Company have found a 0.8% rise in earnings related to a 10% increase in racial and ethnic diversity on the senior executive team in US businesses. In UK companies, a 3.5% rise in earnings was seen with a 10% increase in gender diversity.
Since the research on the matter is clear – workplaces that value diversity and inclusivity experience higher profitability – we asked HR Directors whether they had developed strategic inclusivity policies in their organisations. The answers are promising to say the least – with 57% reporting yes and 43% reporting no. This raises the question, how are the latter organisations tackling diversity and inclusion and when will they decide to set up a strategy to be more inclusive?
Our culture is built on clear and understandable, applicable, relatable inclusive policies, actions, behaviours across all our business that we actively manage.
In response to the above statement, a resounding 82% reported that their organisations are built on clear, applicable and relatable inclusive actions, policies and behaviours. However, this set of responses is slightly contradictory to the responses for Question No. 1, where 43 % of respondents claimed that they did not have an Inclusiveness policy in place.
It begs the question – do organisations manage to successfully create a workplace culture that is fair and makes all employees feel equal even in the absence of formal diversity and inclusivity strategies?
Which leads to the question, in the absence of clear policies, can a business still succeed in being truly inclusive? We don’t think so.
In many cases, leaders focus on diversity and inclusion in the recruitment stage and assume that this will make them a more inclusive organisation. By hiring people from minority groups the appearance of diversity is maintained – but to ensure that diverse talent is represented at all levels of an organisation, it’s vital to evaluate the employee experience honestly. Ideally, this should be done with the objective of advocating inclusion as an ongoing policy and creating ways to assess the impact.
Organisations need to go beyond the formally required policies and ask questions like – who are we placing in leadership positions? Are we giving all our employees an equal opportunity to be heard?
Do you believe it’s viable in business to be gender neutral, equal and diverse?
Our survey found that 70% of HR Directors believe that gender diversity and equality are viable options for a business that wants to succeed.
Research by McKinsey & Co assessed more than 1,000 companies across 12 countries and their results clearly indicated that gender diversity can have a significant impact on the bottom line. They reported that companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 21 percent more likely to have above-average profitability than companies in the bottom quartile.
The research made the discovery that diversity in executive teams or positions that are directly responsible for generating revenue has an indisputable impact on an organisation’s financial performance. Those companies with limited diversity in terms of gender and ethnicity are 29 percent more likely to underperform with regard to profitability.
If your business were a person, which of the following word clouds would best describe them? (Fair, reasonable and equal. Difficult, challenging and necessary. Unrealistic and unattainable. Passionate, driven, focused)
Equating businesses to individual traits can help to identify where and how an organisation falls short in terms of diversity and inclusivity efforts. We asked our survey participants to think of their organisations as individuals with a particular set of traits and this is what we found:
43.48% believed their businesses to be fair, reasonable and equal, 13.04% reported that the traits difficult, challenging, and necessary best described them, while 4.35% identified with the traits unrealistic and unattainable and 34.78% described their companies as passionate, driven, and focused.
While these results suggest that companies are mindful about equality and inclusivity in the workplace, it is also likely that the responses largely reflect HR Directors’ perceptions rather than actual policies and strategies implemented.
Research suggests that more than 50% of employees are unhappy at work which indicates a disparity between what HR Directors perceive and what employees actually feel about work. Furthermore, 30% of employees reported that a poor company culture was to blame for their dissatisfaction, suggesting that UK companies have a long way to go before they can claim to have cultures that make all employees feel equally represented or supported.
Do you communicate to your employees by “label’ i.e. LGBT, Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion, maternity separately or in generic communication?
In a diverse and multicultural organisation, it is critical to advocate a work culture that supports effective communication and bridges cultural gaps by ensuring all employees are heard and understood. We asked survey respondents if they use ‘labels’ to communicate with employees and 87% said no.
Often, people from diverse cultures feel pressured to fit into the mainstream and as a result, might engage in a set of behaviours that have been described as “Covering” by Sociologist Erving Goffman. If employees have concerns that they will be discriminated against or judged for their respective identities or backgrounds, they might change their opinions, behaviours or thoughts in an attempt to fit in – this is known as ‘Covering” behaviour in the context of the diversity debate.
To avoid “Covering” and empower individuals to feel comfortable in representing their unique backgrounds, it is essential for organisations to develop patterns of communication that are inclusive in every sense of the word.
Do you feel your role is more challenging or not as diversity and inclusivity become more prevalent?
As we’ve mentioned previously, managing diversity in the workplace is often seen as challenging by HR professionals.
We asked our survey participants whether they felt that their roles had become more tedious as a result of an increased focus on diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and their responses were not alarming, but still slightly worrisome.
35% of HR Directors reported their role had become more challenging while 65% felt that it hadn’t. These responses are telling. They suggest that almost 1/3rd of HR professionals still view the issue through a narrow lens and have not fully embraced the idea that diversity and inclusivity can be an opportunity to build a better and more productive culture at work.
If HR teams make concentrated efforts to mitigate perceived challenges by encouraging a culture of tolerance, open communication and developing strategies to address conflicts of interest; then diversity can open new doors to improved team collaboration, increased innovation and better leadership with teams.
Diversity and inclusivity at the workplace are no longer optional –they are a pre requisite for any business that wants to thrive. More importantly, diversity checklists and ‘standard’ protocols will no longer suffice as starting points for a truly effective diversity and inclusivity policy.
The responsibility lies with all levels of leadership at an organisation to constantly evaluate if the company is creating an environment where every individual can contribute in a meaningful way and feel secure in the knowledge that their contribution has value. If leaders find that the business is lacking in this area, they should be willing to admit that change is imperative and take the necessary steps to create better processes that drive inclusivity.
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