While diversity has been on the radar of smart businesses for a long time now, with its links to productivity clear, a recent CIPD report suggests employers may be preoccupying themselves with diversity metrics at the expense of building a truly inclusive workforce. With National Inclusion Week not long behind us, the launch of Northern Ireland’s very first Diversity and Inclusion Charter Mark by Legal Island, and business leaders gathering at Stormont to promote LGBT inclusion, Claire McKee takes a closer look at some of the key issues employers, specifically HR teams, should consider around the subject.
National Inclusion Week took place in the last week of September – did your company recognise it? Perhaps you weren’t even aware of its existence. If not, you are far from alone. According to a report by the CIPD, companies have been too busy trying to create businesses that look diverse rather than focusing on how employees with diverse backgrounds are supported and included once in those businesses.
The importance of inclusivity is gaining prominence in Northern Ireland. Recently we have seen the emergence of roles such as ‘Diversity Lead’ or ‘Diversity and Inclusion’ Champion - roles intended to span the employee life cycle, with the intent of developing a more welcoming, innovative and high-performing workplace. Just last month, directors, chief executives, and other senior leaders from businesses came together in Stormont to discuss how to create workplace environments that are inclusive of all lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.
Legal Island has gone even further and established Northern Ireland’s very first Diversity and Inclusion Charter Mark, for small and large businesses, covering all nine of the prohibited grounds in equality legislation – sex, pregnancy or maternity, gender reassignment, married or civil partnership, religious belief or political opinion, race, sexual orientation, disability and age.
Inclusivity distinct from diversity
The Oxford dictionary describes diversity as ‘the state of being diverse’ and inclusivity as ‘the practice or policy of including people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised…’. According to the CIPD inclusivity is about individual experience and work, and creating a positive environment in which everyone can influence, share knowledge and have their perspectives valued.
Whichever definition you ascribe to, a diverse workplace is not necessarily an inclusive one some organisations still miss the mark on transforming diversity into inclusiveness, falling short of realising the real competitive advantage of a diverse workforce and the sustained performance improvements it can deliver.
For example, a company might pledge to increase diversity by focusing on their recruitment strategy, but when employment commences the recently recruited candidates find themselves in an environment that is unwelcoming or hostile. On the flip side if a team is inclusive, as it continues to grow, it will naturally end up growing into a diverse team. Whilst the two are clearly very separate concepts, they are far from mutually exclusive.
Importance of inclusivity
Creating and nurturing an inclusive culture is not just the right thing to do, it makes financial sense. According to a report by Deloitte, an inclusive company is twice as likely to meet or exceed financial targets, three times as likely to be high performing, six times more likely to be agile or innovative, and eight times more likely to achieve better business outcomes.
Inclusion has been described as the ‘activating ingredient’ to success, though it is much more nuanced than diversity. Its benefits include:
HR’s role in promoting inclusion
Employees who feel respected and who are encouraged to be ‘authentic’ are found to be more significantly more engaged and motivated in their roles.
Ultimately, a culture of inclusiveness is rooted in respect and the creation of true culture of inclusion is only possible if leadership within the organisation understand what it truly means, support it and prioritise it across the business.
Executives and managers play a significant role in creating an inclusive work environment and in their approach clear goals should be identified to ensure that through behaviours and practice, they and their teams successfully create an inclusive environment.
There are several practical actions HR departments can take to foster an environment of respect and trust and thus help facilitate a more inclusive organisational culture. These include:
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