In this blog, we’re exploring how employers can achieve diversity and inclusion buy in, from the whole workforce. In our previous blog, we talked about how HR can get buy in for Diversity and Inclusion from the top, but the day to day culture of a business is greatly influenced by the beliefs and behaviours of the rest of the workforce too. If they don’t buy in, diversity and inclusion doesn’t really exist. Today we’ll explore how recruitment, complaints procedures, training, monitoring and engaging with your wider community can all help to achieve buy in at all levels of an organisation.
So, where to begin? It’s best to keep it simple and consistent with what was agreed with your leadership team. A ‘big bang’ or sudden wave of mini initiatives will not only confuse people but is also likely to be unsustainable and then lose credibility.
Talk ‘D&I’ at every opportunity
Start talking about diversity and inclusion at relevant opportunities, such as in recruitment adverts where you can state that you are keen to attract a diverse range of candidates and offer some kind of flexibility to overcome any perceived barriers from particular groups. Dedicate some time to considering the structure of your selection process. Do those undertaking selection understand how to remove barriers and avoid bias? Starting to drip feed different words and changing your approach without fuss can make a big difference to the workforce absorbing diversity and inclusion naturally.
Make it comfortable and easy for employees to raise issues
Next, demonstrate your commitment to dealing with complaints around dignity, diversity or inclusion. How you handle these complaints and the degree of consistency you demonstrate sends a strong message to the workforce. Do you make it easy for people to feel comfortable in raising issues? How is the alleged perpetrator treated? This is not about creating a space for witch hunts or for people to get away with inappropriate actions or decisions, but rather one where people have confidence in raising an issue, understanding that matters will be investigated promptly and fairly. It is important that everyone involved is treated with respect and outcomes will be proportionate, that includes taking firm and final action where necessary.
Communicate your objectives first
There is a temptation very early on to conduct diversity monitoring surveys to get a baseline, however, because some of the questions will be sensitive, people may be reluctant to complete a survey if they don’t fully understand or trust what the organisation is trying to do. It’s better to start a conversation about the ethos, the standards of behaviour and the objectives around those. This is where it can get tricky. Think carefully about how to go about it and who is best to communicate these objectives.
If you train anyone, train your managers!
The approach we have seen work best is when the whole workforce take part in dignity at work training, alongside understanding diversity and inclusion issues, including unconscious bias. It’s important to get people self-aware, comfortable with the conversation, discussing the issues and understanding their ownership of making informed judgement calls. Just giving out a ‘thou shalt not’ lecture risks people feeling that it’s all about political correctness and stifling behaviours. Ideally such training should be led by suitably experienced and knowledgeable trainers. This task often falls to line managers and middle managers who haven’t been equipped to convey the messages in the right way and deal with the potential issues that may arise. So, if you can’t train everyone, make sure that you at least train them!
If you really don’t have the resources for training right now, then at least (if you haven’t already done so), get Dignity at Work (including harassment and bullying) and Equal Opportunities policies in place and communicate these. A good Recruitment and Selection policy is helpful too. Such policies don’t have to be lengthy or overly prescriptive, their purpose is to reinforce the company messages. If you do already have these policies in place, have another look at them, do they need some revision to support and reinforce the company’s Diversity and Inclusion agenda? What about your appraisal structure? How does that support the removal of barriers to inclusion in your business?
Once your workforce understands the organisation’s commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, and what that means for them personally, then go ahead and conduct a good quality diversity monitoring survey to get a clear picture of where you are now. You can then repeat this at a later date to monitor progress. Sharing the results of this survey and any actions you will take, will create meaning for your workforce and increase trust when they see that you are actually doing what you say. A word of warning though, if you are a small business or have small business units – make sure that you roll up data into broad categories to avoid any issues around people’s anonymity.
Engage with your wider community
As the new British Standard for Diversity and Inclusion makes clear, organisations don’t operate in isolation. So, what might you do to engage with wider communities? If your organisation is large, you may want to consider setting up a community committee to help you engage the workforce. People are usually keen to volunteer to take part in activities in their local communities, whether that is mentoring disadvantaged youngsters or assisting with disability projects, for example. Here’s a template volunteering policy to help get you started.
If you are a small business, then this could be included as part of team meetings and updates. Once some actions or activities are up and running, even if it’s only in one area of the business, shout about it! Celebrate the steps you are taking so that people start to feel the drumbeat of how things are changing and importantly, how they can be a part of that.
Sometimes, a well-meaning attempt to involve people and get a better understanding of issues relating to specific groups can backfire. Approaching people just because they happen to be a ‘minority’ can make them uncomfortable and it’s worth remembering that just because someone is from a minority, it doesn’t necessarily mean their experience of that is the same as everyone else in that minority. If you want to get information on issues affecting specific groups, there are lots of representative organisations who have extensive knowledge and experience and will be very happy to talk to you and provide information and materials.
Many large organisations have had great success by making clear their support for networks in their organisations such as BAEM, Working Mums, LGBT etc so that employees can support each other and get inspiration about career development. Such groups often also welcome members who may not specifically identify with them, but wish to be supportive and yes, included!
We hope this has given you some food for thought. The key is to look at not only what’s appropriate, but also what is doable and sustainable to really engage everyone across the organisation and simply just make a start, however small.