Many people assume diversity and inclusion (D&I) programmes are only relevant to large companies with big budgets. But the secret to an effective D&I programme isn’t monetary resources or dedicated teams. Making best use of company assets, including leadership and culture, can have a great impact on a company’s journey to a truly equal workplace.
A Diversity Matters report produced by McKinsey & Company states that companies with racial, ethnic and gender diversity are at least 15 per cent or more likely to have above average returns. The same study says that companies in the top quartile for racial, ethnic and gender diversity are 35 per cent more likely to have higher financial returns than national averages.
Knowing that increased diversity is a business win, why shouldn’t businesses of all sizes capitalise on the advantages of a diverse workforce?
Here are seven ingredients for creating a successful D&I programme for businesses of any size.
1. Understand what it is
Diversity is more than differences in gender, ethnicity, age, background, sexual orientation or identity among staff. It’s a variety of perspectives that can be harnessed to make your company stronger, more competitive and relevant to your customers. Diversity is an asset that can help your company innovate.
2. Value the variety
Knowing your customers is imperative if you want your company to stay relevant. Employing people who reflect the customers you serve will give insight into how your customers think.
Recognise the competitive advantage this can bring to your business and apply it accordingly. Welcome and value the ideas and contributions of every team member. Encourage your staff to engage in healthy dialogue, while challenging the way things have always been done.
3. Make it the social norm
Embedding diversity in senior leadership, strategy and the overall culture will show your company walks the talk. Equip managers with the cultural awareness and competence to support staff. Ensure your benefits package provides the flexibility to support employees through different life stages and extends beyond spouses to partners.
Create a culture of openness and acceptance that allows people of all backgrounds to thrive in the workplace. Inclusivity is about meeting a variety of people’s needs so they can reach their fullest potential. If employees feel free to be who they are without fear of reprisal or judgement, they’re more likely to reach this potential.
Employee surveys are a good way to keep a finger on the pulse of employee sentiment and engagement. Asking for feedback can help track progress over time while showing your employees that you care.
These initiatives will signal to staff that diversity and inclusion is more than a programme – it’s company culture.
4. Remove barriers
A social norm can only exist if workforce barriers are removed. Encourage inclusion by keeping employees accountable. Reworking company policies – like recruitment, onboarding, maternity or paternity, harassment and discrimination – will protect staff on a corporate level. Go the extra mile and implement specific protections, like transgender or sexual expression policies, that gives staff further peace of mind and assurance they are safe.
Ensure the building is wheelchair accessible and easy to get around for staff with disabilities or limitations. Check for other physical barriers, like restrictive bathrooms, that could be uncomfortable for people. Make sure choice and privacy exists.
Specialised training, toolkits and informative sessions that promote inclusivity, including unconscious bias, should be widely available to line managers. For access to these resources, connect with a network of industry groups or HR professionals who are interested in advancing the cause beyond their company walls.
5. Create internal champions
Although staff may be stretched thin in smaller companies, creating internal champions can be valuable. A senior executive or board member who can use their sphere of influence to champion the cause is ideal. This will infuse diversity in corporate initiatives and decision making.
Establish one or more employee resource groups comprising staff who identify with diverse groups, as well as others who support a truly equal workforce. Empower them to create plans that engage the entire workforce in celebrating diversity.
Consider implementing professional development programmes, such as a Women in Leadership initiative, to include diversity in the future success of your company.
6. Align with community partners
Community partners who champion causes around diversity and inclusion can help advance your cause. These partnerships not only communicate externally that your company values diversity, but you’ll likely have access to resources that can help your company along the way. Charities like Stonewall, for example, will provide consultative guidance to further improve progress and measure your success.
7. Always move forward
Creating a truly equal workforce doesn’t happen overnight, and there are always likely to be opportunities to further improve the programme. Challenge your team to keep building on progress and pushing the boundaries on its journey to equality.
Liz Walker is the HR Director of Unum, a leading employee benefits provider offering Income Protection, Life insurance and Critical Illness, and corporate dental cover through the workplace, which help protect millions of working people and their families in the event of an illness or injury.