Oasis HR presents findings from a recent Diversity Think Tank on diversity and inclusion (D&I) and the business case to engage coilleagues.

For senior leadership teams, D&I is acknowledged as an important component of the business’s agenda and strategy moving forward. However, whilst gaining the buy-in of decision makers and influencers is crucial, it’s also important to tackle the views of other colleagues who don’t see the business relevance, look upon D&I as ‘politically correct’ nonsense and take a ‘it doesn’t affect me’ attitude. Ultimately, you can be the most diverse business, but if you aren’t inclusive it is counter-productive.

Why Bother with D&I?

When evaluating your existing workforce in terms of diversity, if your minority representation is low then there are either two explanations:

  1. Minorities aren’t good enough for your business
  2. There are barriers preventing them from joining your company.

If your business is not considered diverse, then hopefully the latter is an accurate reflection of your stance, in which case it’s time to do something about it.

For businesses who haven’t managed to secure D&I buy-in from decision makers and are still getting asked the dreaded ‘why bother’ question, considering ways to engage the remaining business might seem a long way off. The most important argument you can present to your leadership team is that there IS a commercial driver behind hiring from diverse talent pools. Secondly, speak to decision makers about sustainability in relation to the changing demographics of the working population. How can businesses afford not to embrace D&I (especially when it comes to recruitment) in-light of increasing immigration volumes, an aging population and statistics highlighting that 6% of 1st Class Honours degrees are obtained by disabled graduates?

Taking the Time to Understand

Before embarking on a D&I strategy the business must invest time to understand the engagement levels exhibited by employees; if engagement and trust levels are already poor it’s unlikely that the workforce will embrace new initiatives. Secondly, it’s crucial to identify the existing barriers that are preventing your working population from be inclusive. Once you have collected the thoughts and feelings of employees, use this information to build a strategic picture for the board. This understanding should help uncover what makes people ‘vote with their feet’ and equip you with the information needed to help people realise their personal responsibility to D&I.

Creating an Open Dialogue

One of the clear barriers of engaging the wider business from a D&I perspective is that people feel like they are being judged and their ‘niceness’ questioned. The most important thing you can do to counter this is to remove internal communication barriers by creating an open dialogue to get people talking honestly about the significance of inclusion (without pointing the finger). Often it’s most effective for an organisation to raise the debate by stating “we have it wrong but want to put it right” with the help of employees.   

The dialogue used to create these open conversations is absolutely key from both an engagement perspective and also for understanding your existing workforce. A large proportion of employees will not disclose they have disability; either a reflection of a fear of being treated differently or because they actually don’t realise that they would be considered as having one. For example suffering from dyslexia, a mental health illness or having impaired hearing. Often, part of the problem is around awareness and an employer failing to create the type of environment which enables staff to be honest.    

The Recruitment Process

The recruitment process can largely affect both how diverse and inclusive a workforce is. Firstly, employers can prevent diverse talent from joining a business through inaccessible job marketing, failing to make adjustments for the remaining process and by a poor employer brand. Secondly, if employers aren’t clear on what / who they want to recruit, their workforce could end up exhibiting unaligned values and might not be willing to embrace D&I initiatives. It is suggested that businesses place greater emphasis on ensuring candidates’ values and motivations are more in-keeping with the business’s as these variables are generally unchangeable.

Additionally, employers should be aware of the potential barriers which might prevent a candidate from being offered a fair chance of securing a role. It’s important to ask applicants if there is anything they might need to make the process easier, to enable reasonable adjustments to be introduced. Something simple like offering training to receptionists on how to accommodate visitors with guide dogs can make a large impact on the experience of a candidate.

Telling the Story

One of the most effective ways to engage employees on the subject of D&I is through story telling and case studies. Generally speaking, the most powerful stories are those relayed by existing staff (ambassadors) and voiced in the language of the recipient. Typically, there will be one clear message which needs to be communicated, however dependent on the audience / business unit, it is likely that the story will need to be presented differently to alternate groups to ensure ‘relatability’. Finally, it is crucial to avoid over-complicating the story with multiple messages, as you will be in danger of diluting the point. 

Facilitating Internal Networks

Facilitating internal networks for minority groups can be a great way to ensure inclusivity within a business and positively influence an individual’s sense of belonging. These groups can also act as a catalyst to raise awareness of minorities amongst other members of staff by allowing their involvement in meetings and forums. If employees from outside these groups are refused participation, it suggests positive discrimination for only minorities, which is why it’s crucial to be fully inclusive and remember that people will be joining groups for varying reasons. It is suggested that these networks, be they face-to-face or online, remain as independent as possible to allow members the freedom to challenge and the power to help influence their employer for the better. After all, conversations held within the parameters of the networks are going to happen regardless of whether the company facilitates them. At least this way, a business can keep abreast of the wants and needs of the employees that they represent.

Final Thoughts

It seems that effectively engaging employees in a D&I strategy requires a deep analysis of the existing workforce and current recruitment process, coupled with good stakeholder management. Small tweaks can be embedded into the communication process to drip-feed the message of inclusion, from acknowledging the diversity calendar to sharing success stories on the intranet. However, all strategies must be implemented with the long-term view in mind and an appreciation that changes will not happen over night. Ultimately, the end goal should be to move from a tolerance point, to acceptance and then finally to the norm.