Taking the first step to improving your culture of equality, diversity and inclusion can be daunting. It involves fear, frustration, personal emotional investment, resilience, and an element of vulnerability which undoubtedly is one of the reasons for the slow pace of change we see in many organisations.
Companies that are showing progress can demonstrate inclusive leadership, strategic investment, resources and a clear business case in which they can demonstrate both the economic and humanitarian benefits to their staff, communities, and board members.
It's hard to know where to start, with the rise of corporate activism, legal challenge, public interest stories and poor optics of monocultural boards and teams, it has become essential to change, not least to continue to be an employer of choice where the changing population feel they want to devote their talent.
Taking the first step is often the hardest, but the best place to start is to understand the key terminology and to generate discussion at board level.
What is diversity?
Think of diversity as the mix of differences and similarities that make us all unique. This can refer to your background, experiences and importantly includes the nine protected characteristics that are protected by UK law.
Having a diverse workforce that reflects the rich difference that exists in society is a potential superpower for organisations.
With one in four people of working age having a disability, five generations working alongside each other for the first time in history, a growing ethnic minority population, and a diverse LGBTQI+ community - employers really do have access to innovation at their finger tips. However, it is critical to understand how to access, and importantly retain diverse talent to make sustainable impact.
Why does inclusion matter?
Inclusion refers to companies positively striving to meet the needs of the different people it employs. To be inclusive means to be deliberate about getting to know the different people within the organisation, and finding ways to ensure their needs are met, and that they are actively included and feel welcome. This may mean improving the culture, adapting behaviours of leaders and staff to ensure that the environment can unlock the superpower of diversity.
Importantly, without inclusion - that is deliberate, intentional action to make the culture accessible and inviting, most diversity efforts will fail.
With growing awareness of issues of institutional racism, sexism and discriminatory practices, it is important to acknowledge and measure retention, particularly of people with protected characteristics as an indicator for inclusion, and to reassure your board that the culture is open and supportive of difference.
Why are we talking about equity all of a sudden?
Recent times have demonstrated that treating everyone the same, i.e. equality, isn't enough.
One feature of the Covid19 pandemic was that we realised that the world is messy, and people experience the same situation in very different ways depending on their access to resources, their ethnicity, their gender etc. For example, parents and carers had to deal with the demands of home schooling in addition to working full time jobs, due to school closures. If employers treated everyone equally, they would make it impossible for parents and carers to deliver on their work demands during that period.
This is why equity is important.
Equity means providing fair and just practices, which for some may mean being supported differently in the workplace to ensure they have equal outcomes.
Employers that are retaining talent, now understand that flexibility, agile working and specific practices for employees with different needs go far to retaining staff and improving their satisfaction and productivity.
Tips and take ways
Diversity and inclusion has the potential to change the face and impact of organisations. It has the ability to create innovation, improve lives, and bring a sense of belonging and 'feel good' to everyone - after all who wouldn't want to work somewhere inclusive?
But before getting started, its important to have a full understanding of the key concepts and terminology, and have the space within your organisation to have an open discussion about the current culture, centering the voices of those who have been historically marginalised.
Take intentional and deliberate acts to promote your culture of inclusion, and you will start to unlock the superpower which is all around us.