Investing in a diverse and well-balanced workforce comes with a number of compelling business benefits; organisations with a diverse team are more likely to outperform the competition, attract high-performing new talent, and build better and more rewarding relationships with customers, to name just a few.
But a diverse and inclusive office environment doesn’t come to fruition after a few quick-fix solutions, such as enforcing D&I quotas or policies – it takes place on a cultural level.
Start by creating a workplace culture that embraces individuals from all different backgrounds, encourages diversity of thought and equips people for success.
Define where you are now.
Diversity initiatives are rarely successful if they don’t come from the top down. So gaining senior-level buy-in should be your first port of call. Ideally, it’s best to get support and sponsorship from a respected leader at an executive level who’s passionate about the cause to add weight and influence to your overall strategy.
Your next step is to define, or redefine, what success looks like within your organisation. What type of person is your ideal employee – and what qualities or characteristics do they have?
In order to avoid making any decisions based on assumptions (a big no-no), start collecting data about your employees’ background, such as their gender, religion, or disabilities, as well as holding workshops with employees at all levels within your organisation and asking them for feedback.
Review your internal policies critically.
Ask yourself whether they inadvertently create a non-inclusive environment. Consider how you can make your internal policies and procedures more appealing to people in different situations. For instance, the amount of hours someone works is rarely an indicator of excellent performance, so consider whether flexible working is an option. Build up from what is legally required to what is desirable, such as your ideal values and behaviours.
When it comes to taking on board new team members, individuals that are passionate about your organisation, fit in with your ideal company culture, and have an agile and collaborative mindset will be a better asset to your organisation than choosing people based solely on their skills and experience or who reflect the type of people you currently have.
For example, IKEA have recently taken prerequisites such as school achievements, grades and experience out of their recruitment process, and instead, have frank conversations with candidates to predetermine whether they’ll fit in with the culture or not.
This approach means your organisation not only takes on board individuals that are more likely to be engaged at work, perform better and stay for longer – it also means you’re widening the doors for people from all backgrounds to have a chance to work at your company.
Determine where you want to be.
In order for your organisation to establish worthwhile relationships with customers, it’s important that your employees reflect the diversity of your marketplace.
Who are your customers? Do they come from a diverse background? Having a workforce that understands your customers on a professional and personal level can be an important factor in driving customer satisfaction.
For instance, if your customers come from a diverse ethnic background, and your employees are predominately from one or two ethnic groups, then you’re missing out on the opportunity to build better relationships and offer a better service.
Once you’ve finished collecting data and feedback, analyse the level of diversity within your organisation and pinpoint the areas for improvement. Are there any obvious gaps?
Based on these findings, determine your organisation’s desired level of diversity. It’s worth looking externally at industry norms and benchmarks to help you create realistic and achievable objectives.
Create and implement a strategy.
With a firm understanding of the type of person your organisation wants to attract and retain, as well as evidence-based insights into where your organisation currently stands in regards to diversity of employees, your next step is to create a clear route map to achieve the desired level of diversity.
A great place to start is by revising how you currently source new employees. Where do you advertise new vacancies? Consider alternative approaches you could use to reach people from diverse backgrounds, such as social media groups or niche job sites. It’s also worth asking for referrals from existing staff, setting up partnerships with other organisations, and looking into interest groups.
It’s also worth considering if your job descriptions appeal to the type of person you want to attract? Does the description accurately reflect what it is like to work at your organisation? Does it use language that might alienate some potential recruits – for example, a statement like “work hard, play hard” may appeal to some and put off others.
Another useful idea is to find passionate people within your organisation that are willing to act as advocates for diversity. This could include blogging about what it’s like to work for your company, or attending university events.
Creating workplace apprenticeships with a wide range of different schools, universities or community groups, for instance, is another effective way of reaching people from diverse backgrounds who may be looking for a job later down the track.
And when it comes to retaining valued staff, there are plenty of ways an organisation can gather more feedback on its workplace culture, such as regularly sending out engagement surveys, conducting exit interviews, or implementing diversity-related training classes.
Another good way to keep employees engaged is by establishing mentoring programmes. As an example, O2 selects 30 senior women to participate in a leadership programme, where they undertake stretch assignments and identify their own personal objectives. After six months, they become mentors for a second group of women who work at a lower level - spreading knowledge, experience and confidence from the top down.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, in order for your diversity and inclusion strategy to stay effective and sustainable, continue collecting and analysing data as well as asking for feedback from your employees. Without the evidence to back up your strategy, you run the risk of your initiatives becoming stale and irrelevant.