Employees who identify as “different” in some way suffer greater burnout, feel a lesser sense of belonging, and experience more instances of microaggressions. Recognising and addressing why this is happening is therefore key, including why many organisational diversity and inclusion (D&I) programmes simply aren’t working. Research shows that 44 per cent of employees say that their company’s D&I efforts feel insincere and so there’s still much to be learnt when it comes to ensuring employees feel included. The starting point is to reframe how we think about inclusion, and then focus on five key steps to improve D&I.

The current problems with D&I initiatives

Companies with inclusive cultures are twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, six times’ more likely to be innovative and agile, and eight times’ more likely to achieve better business outcomes. Such findings are driving more organisations to adopt D&I strategies, however many initiatives are unsuccessful. Why is this? 

Too many D&I programmes concentrate on reducing exclusion rather than promoting inclusion, with organisations actively hiring more diverse employees without providing them with the inclusive environment in which to thrive. Such an approach is more about risk-mitigation and ‘ticking boxes’ than genuinely trying to create a culture in which differences are understood and celebrated.    

To be effective and sustainable, D&I strategies must permeate every part of an organisation, even starting before the recruitment process and extending beyond onboarding to infuse the entire employee experience. Here are the key steps to making it a reality.

Key steps to D&I success

Build inclusion into multiple aspects of the employee experience – Identify ways to help employees feel included, from day-to-day team interactions through to the work environment. How do leaders and peers interact with people who identify as “different”, for example? Are awareness days such as International Women’s Day and Pride celebrated? And are people of different religions respected and supported, perhaps with quiet prayer rooms? Those employees who fast during religious festivals may also need greater understanding and flexibility at certain times of the year. Intersectionality should also not be ignored when promoting inclusivity. This is when someone has a combination of two or more identities – race, gender, ability, sexual orientation etc. By celebrating every facet of an employee’s identity, they can take their true selves to work.

Ensure employees have a voice and opportunities – Every person needs to feel listened to and empowered, and given equal opportunities to accomplish great work. Growth and development opportunities must be available to all, not just ‘on paper’ but in terms of what employees see, hear and experience every single day.

Teach leaders how to lead more effectively through inclusion – Not every leader will know how to best discuss D&I and celebrate employees’ differences. It’s important to help leaders to effectively communicate to employees that their unique identities are appreciated and valued, and encourage leaders to talk about inclusion in team meetings.

Build recognition into everyday culture – Employees who feel appreciated are twice as likely to have a sense of belonging. A recognition programme that’s open to all is a key part of this. Daily efforts and achievements should be recognised together with career highlights. And to make it clear why an individual deserves to be praised is vital, linking the recognition to corporate values, so that everyone understands that favouritism/discrimination doesn’t feature.

Invest in D&I technology – Organisations that implement at least one element of D&I technology experience extremely positive cultural and business outcomes, including 152% greater odds of increasing revenue.

Let’s change the conversation!

It’s time for leaders to change the conversation around D&I. It must be less about reducing exclusion and more about actively promoting inclusion. And this strategy needs to permeate every part of the business, encouraged and celebrated by leaders.

Research findings have been taken from O.C. Tanner’s 2021 Global Culture Report 



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