Efforts to advance equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace should first and foremost seek to improve the employee experience. By ensuring basic compliance with legislation through to eliminating biases and achieving fully integrated D&I, companies will achieve this as well as gain a strategic advantage over competitors.
When discussing EDI, our clients often highlight the importance of taking small steps every day towards achieving your goals. Best practice involves tackling one area at a time – maybe even starting with the element of your strategy that requires the smallest input – and building on it until momentum affords you more time and resources to deal with harder obstacles along the way.
We want to provide an overview of five core components companies should always include in their equality, diversity and inclusion strategy. Each organisation is different of course and EDI strategies will always include several bespoke elements, tailored to a company’s needs. But we believe that the following five approaches are key to any EDI strategy’s overall success:
If EDI is an isolated agenda within an organisation – the purview of human resources alone and without the buy-in and involvement of other areas of the business – it will likely fall short of its objectives. Companies that take EDI seriously aim to integrate EDI practices into their overall business strategy and make certain that EDI behaviours become embedded across the organisation.
The CIPD phrase this as “concerted, meaningful and intentional action.” According to 50:50 Future, several areas are highlighted for review when EDI is located at the centre of strategy and practice. They include but are not limited to the treatment of customers, marketing campaigns and promotional choices, company values, policies and procedures, performance reviews and hiring processes.
Cross-functional teams representing all employees should play a preliminary role in reviewing different areas of the business from an EDI perspective. Taking each area separately and evaluating it with a fresh pair of eyes is a helpful approach. Those involved in shaping EDI strategy should begin to understand individual and organisational viewpoints and use them to formulate ideas.
It’s important to address both inclusion and diversity at the earliest stage of the process. Acknowledging demographic differences alongside employee values, attitudes and experiences will guarantee a joined-up D&I approach. Further, firms should avoid proposing one-off D&I initiatives that lack a clear vision to address long-term EDI issues.
All employees should be given an opportunity to inform the development of EDI strategy from the outset. Alongside evaluating different business practices and processes, cross-functional teams responsible for creating EDI strategy should seek to “understand the state of play” within the business through data collection and through establishing employee networks (e.g. of LGBTQ people) to canvas opinions.
It is recommended that organisations consider a range of data that is truly representative of the workforce. Surveys are the most effective way to do this combined with focus groups and feedback from employee networks. Understanding communication preferences in advance of data collection is important – to facilitate the process for different people and as a demonstration of EDI in action.
Questions should cover topics such as employee views on organisational diversity, their sense of belonging and perceptions of fairness, equality and decision making, as well as attitudes towards discrimination and harassment at work. Organisations are encouraged to make use of any existing employee data, provide avenues for continuous feedback, and track diversity data over time.
Remember, employees are under no obligation to volunteer information about protected characteristics. Anonymity should be guaranteed, and it should always be clear why data is being collected. Employees must feel empowered by the process in terms of their agency to affect change, through a direct acknowledgment of their specific concerns and/or ideas.
If leaders aren’t engaged in the EDI agenda then any gains that an organisation makes in this area will be superficial – real change only occurs when it is driven from the top. According to research, a key catalyst for creating momentum around D&I at work is when leaders are empowered to champion D&I and encouraged to act as role models for the right kinds of behaviours.
Significantly, this applies to the board and leadership team as well as senior management throughout the business. Even if an organisation has a diverse leadership structure, leaders who don’t value difference – something which is evident through their words and actions – will create a working environment where certain employees will feel like they don’t belong.
Educating senior leaders about the principles of EDI, as well as the cultural and financial impact of embracing diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a crucial first step. Attending one-off D&I training sessions is not enough. Rather EDI should form part of ongoing leadership learning and development so that behaviours and positive sentiments toward D&I become implicit in the culture.
The CEO should also position themselves as the top champion for D&I efforts. This is achieved through having them spearhead EDI efforts and clearly communicate policies to support them. Line managers should be briefed to execute all related policies and practices. And all those at the senior level should be held accountable for any EDI objectives established by the business.
With the leadership on board, businesses must then agree to invest in EDI training and development for the whole organisation. This can include formal sessions run by organisations such as 50:50 Future, and on-the-job training through observation and informal conversations – a great way for leaders to role-model the right behaviours and attitudes during talent management activities.
EDI training and development should become incorporated into the whole employee journey – from new employee inductions to performance review processes and promotions. Staff should be encouraged to look out for instances of discrimination, inequality and exclusion, and organisations should be clear about the consequences for those who don’t adhere to policies and values.
Training programs should aim to include all areas of EDI, from understanding the basic legal requirements of the Equality Act to more complex inclusion and unconscious bias training. Often organisations undertake disability training too, given the lack of awareness or understanding today of hidden disabilities such as those associated with neurodivergence.
There is a poor understanding of neurodivergence such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism within modern workplaces. 50% percent of managers say they would avoid hiring a neurodiverse candidate, while several studies now point towards the untapped potential of neurodiverse people. EDI training will help remove barriers to inclusion across the whole diversity spectrum.
Recruiting for diversity is essential in today’s employment market. All organisations want to attract people from a large talent pool. Expanding the talent search to target individuals based on their sexual orientation, socio-economic background, ethnicity and age, for example, will help organisations find the best people, as well as build a truly diverse workforce.
This is sometimes framed as taking positive action – a deliberate effort to promote equality by increasing the number of employees from a protected characteristic. Positive action is different from positive discrimination because it requires “credible evidence” of under-representation alongside proof of “equal merit” of the individuals benefitting, compared to other suitable candidates.
That aside, as already discussed, increasing diversity doesn’t address barriers to inclusion. Inclusion therefore must be a primary consideration during the talent attraction process right through to the interview and onboarding stages. Without an inclusive recruitment strategy, businesses risk missing out on the full benefits of workplace diversity and achieving an inclusive environment.
Stating the company’s D&I vision in job adverts and other career opportunity materials will help attract and retain more people, especially younger workers who want to work within inclusive cultures. Other D&I considerations when recruiting include writing succinct and easier to understand job adverts, using gender-neutral and other inclusive language, and incorporating inclusive imagery.
Communicating a commitment to disabled and neurodiverse candidates is also a must. Research suggests several low-cost adjustments companies should consider when hiring. Firms are even removing the need for candidates to complete psychometric testing and other written assessments as they make participating in the recruitment process challenging for neurodiverse people.
We interrogate contemporary research on EDI and use real-life case studies shared by our clients to provide this ultimate guide on equality, diversity and inclusion.
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