Diversity and inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) - Everything You Need To Know

In recent years, the value of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) or Diversity, Equality and Inclusion (DEI) has become increasingly evident to every large employer. A robust D&I strategy has to be a core element of your overall approach to human capital management.

Here we explore all aspects of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We look in detail at what D&I is, the benefits of getting your approach to D&I right, what can happen when you get it wrong, and how to develop a successful strategy to promote a diverse workforce and inclusive working environment.

What is the meaning of diversity and inclusion?

Although usually mentioned together and sometimes considered interchangeable, diversity and inclusion are two separate concepts.

Diversity refers to the mix of people's characteristics such as gender, age, ethnicity and sexual orientation. A diverse team or organisation will include a balance of individuals representing a broad range of these characteristics.

Inclusion means that regardless of a person's gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation, they are treated equally and have the same opportunities. An inclusive environment makes everyone feel valued, accepted for who they are and affords them the same prospects.

Read more about the difference between diversity and inclusion here.

Diversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work

Andres Tapia

Why are diversity and inclusion important?

There have been countless studies into the impact of D&I within the workplace and its effects on corporate performance. Time and again, these studies have shown that diverse and inclusive organisations adapt more rapidly to market change, are better at fostering innovation, and have lower employee turnover.

D&I workplace

Gartner research reveals that inclusive employers improve team performance by up to 30% in high-diversity environments. In their report 'Delivering through diversity', McKinsey found that organisations in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to have above-average profitability than organisations in the fourth quartile. In terms of ethnic and cultural diversity, they were 33% more likely to outperform on EBIT margin.

There is clear evidence that more diverse and inclusive organisations outperform their less diverse and inclusive competitors for profitability and value creation. Furthermore, those with poor D&I find it harder to recruit top talent, have higher employee turnover, and poor employee engagement. Read 8 Reasons inclusion is important in a diverse workforce for more insight.

Diversity and inclusion are essential aspects of good human capital management, proven to deliver significant business advantages. Whilst diversity may be relatively easy to achieve, inclusion is less so. With more and more pressure on organisations to address the issue, HR and senior leaders need to take action.

How do you measure D&I?

Counting widgets is simple, measuring diversity and inclusion less so. Diversity may be easier to measure than inclusion, which is more subjective, but neither is impossible.

Before you do anything, you first need to understand the scale of the challenge you face. Start by carrying out an audit of your workforce. Create a survey to determine the current diversity levels and gain a sense of inclusion within the organisation. These are your key diversity and inclusion metrics.

If you don't already have an accurate record of your workforce's diversity, include questions to capture demographic data. Use the nine protected characteristics below as your starting point, although you may wish to include other demographic groups.

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Within your survey, questions should focus on the following themes which impact how people experience their workplace culture:

  • Diversity
  • Inclusion
  • Fairness, Equality, Respect
  • Development & Reward
  • Leadership

To ensure employees complete your survey truthfully and candidly, it vital your survey comms are authentic and demonstrate your commitment to listening and acting on employee feedback. Anything that comes across as a 'tick box' exercise will put people off. It goes without saying, but these surveys must be anonymous.

Involve leadership in the comms accompanying your survey and explain why it is critical to the organisation.

Developing your diversity and inclusion strategy

Now you know where you stand, you can move on to developing an effective D&I strategy.

Start from the top. Your company leaders remain the most visible part of your business (internally, especially), and their actions significantly influence other employees.

Ideally, aim for a leadership team of diverse individuals from various backgrounds; this will help people with diverse perspectives to feel comfortable speaking up on business issues.

Where budgets allow, to further demonstrate your commitment to D&I, consider appointing a Chief Diversity Officer (CDO) or giving specific responsibility to a member of your C-Suite. Whoever has the role should report directly to the CEO or head of HR and have the time and resources needed to develop and execute a long-term strategy.

Think of your D&I strategy in a similar way to your approach to health and safety. This is not a one-time project. It should be a core element of your ongoing corporate strategy and planning. Establishing a culture of inclusion that is understood and respected throughout your organisation takes time, effort and commitment.

When everyone is included, everyone wins

Jesse Jackson

How to promote D&I in the workplace

Achieving hiring goals for diversity won’t automatically improve inclusion. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking that boosting diversity through hiring will automatically solve the inclusion issue too, it won’t.

Setting targets for diversity may be simple, but you need to consider the practical implications. Achieving a 50:50 gender balance may reflect the general population, but this is not always feasible for some employers. For example, if you operate in a heavy industry, increasing the percentage of female employees will be more challenging than if you’re in the creative sector.

However, some sectors where gender bias is nothing more than the perpetuation of outdated preconceptions should be challenged head-on. Increasing the number of female software developers is an ongoing challenge, but adopting a proactive approach to recruiting and training more women as developers will offer significant rewards.

Went setting targets for diversity, think carefully about the appropriate gender, ethnic or age balance you can achieve based on your sector, the types of roles you have, your location and the diversity of your local communities.

Setting goals for inclusion is more complex than diversity. While measuring inclusion is not something you can readily put a number on, you can use metrics to assess progress. For example, recording demographic data relating to candidate applications can indicate whether or not your job ads are written in inclusive language. Analysing the demographic data of the people you’re promoting can demonstrate there really is equal opportunities for all employees.

Conducting regular surveys of candidates, employees, and leavers can provide valuable data points to assess progress against meaningful goals and objectives, rather than arbitrary quotas.

Read more on how to promote diversity and inclusion.

Attracting diverse candidates

A group of diverse candidates

It’s impossible to increase diversity if the candidates you’re attracting are all from a similar background or community, gender or ethnicity.

One of the first things to do is to review your job ads. Ensure your ads’ language and tone is inclusive, so your ad appeals to the broadest range of candidates possible. Equally, don’t be afraid to write more targeted ads with specific demographics in mind to attract those more diverse candidates.

Just like your ads can be targeted, consider sourcing candidates from different sources. Seek out locations or sources where those diverse candidates regularly interact. For example, identifying groups focused on women interested in technology could be a great place to engage with female developers. Don’t just wait for them to find you. Go and actively seek them out.

Ensure your employer brand showcases your diversity. Don’t think including a couple of stock images on your website will do it. You need to engrain the values of D&I throughout your organisation. Then you can talk about the importance of a diverse team and inclusive workplace, including stories and video testimonials with genuine authenticity.

While positive discrimination is illegal under the Equality Act 2010, employers can take positive actions to improve diversity. Put simply, you can’t employ someone because they are a woman, but you can encourage a more significant number of women to apply.

Review your recruitment and assessment process

Human bias is almost impossible to eliminate. Training schemes and awareness courses can help reduce it but will never totally eradicate it.

Using automatically scored tests and assessments can screen candidates without any human intervention. AI can now analyse application forms, CVs and covering letters to identify skills, assess potential and motivation with complete objectivity.

Establishing a competency and values framework to assess all candidates against will help to ensure consistency. Use structured interviews and assessment centre exercises that regulate the questions asked, the scoring matrix and indicators. Wherever possible, simplify and standardise your assessment and recruitment process.

It’s natural to favour a person you get on with or like. However, is likeability an essential factor in how someone performs in the role? More often than not, no. Having more than one person assess or interview a candidate will help to reduce any inclination to score a candidate higher simply because you like them.

Question candidates about their views on D&I during the assessment process. Discover if the candidate considers diversity strategies as a beneficial thing. Find out how they would deal with opposing ideas or beliefs, how they endeavour to be inclusive in their interactions with co-workers.

Read more about the importance of diversity, equality and inclusion surveys in recruitment.

D&I in learning and development

Providing ad-hoc or one-off courses on D&I to simply ‘tick a box’ is inadequate. It is imperative to weave the key concepts and best practices into all staff training courses and development programmes. Include diversity and inclusion in management training and team building programmes to increase awareness of the need to handle different views, perceptions, and ideas.

Implement a measurement, monitoring and review process. Ensure progress is regularly measured, reviewed and evaluated so that potential issues are highlighted and you can assess the impact of initiatives. Regular employee surveys are a helpful way to do this and discover whether policies are effective for everyone. Diversity and inclusion objectives can also be woven into job descriptions and appraisals.

Collecting qualitative and quantitative data from your employees and candidates will help measure how diverse your current workforce is and evaluate initiatives. Once you can determine whether initiatives are working for all, this should provide a benchmark for improvement.

Good data collection will deliver a picture of D&I across your organisation, and ideally, it should result in clear action points across five key areas:

  • Employee behaviour
  • Line manager capability
  • Senior leadership
  • Policies and practices
  • Organisational culture and values

Where the data uncover areas for improvement, use this as an opportunity to apply the circular change management process of; plan, act, review, improve.

Recognise desirable behaviours. Employee recognition is a way to generate a sense of feeling appreciated and understood throughout the company. Often rewards or recognition are given to particular groups, seniorities or job functions, leading to some groups feeling undervalued.

A lot of different flowers make a bouquet

Islamic Proverb

One way to address this is to broaden who is responsible for recognising achievement and widening the types of recognised work. Programs can be created that allows 360-degree recognition, allowing anyone to recognise anyone else in the organisation. Combining this with a tie-in to your company values ensures timely, interactive, and visible recognition. The program will establish a sense of belonging and celebrate diverse contributions and perspectives.

Establish diverse mentorship programs. Minorities are more likely to say mentoring is extremely important to their careers. Although having a mentor of a similar background, culture, or race may be more comfortable, of more value is working with someone from a varied perspective or worldview.

Revise your language. Ensure that your company values and desire to become diverse and inclusive are reflected in the language you use. Clear, unambiguous statements within employee handbooks and contracts will ensure your words will become actions.

Examine your grievance and complaint system. If your system is believed to be inconsistent or biased, people will be less likely to speak up. Consider a flexible system that offers more than one path for resolution. Perhaps rather than a formal hearing, offering informal mediation might be more appropriate.

Implement cross-training programs. A diverse company may still fill specific roles with a dominating demographic. Combat this by allowing employees to spend time working in other functions, allowing them the opportunity to acquire new skills. This approach also promotes greater collaboration, understanding and increases effectiveness in the workplace.

Some final thoughts

A smiling female construction worker

When considering ways to improve D&I, it is critical to appreciate that being diverse does not equate to being inclusive. Diversity is arguably easier to address and a quick-fix if just done through recruitment. Inclusion is far less so.

Creating an organisation with a diverse workforce where all employees feel valued, listened to, and comfortable being themselves is undoubtedly challenging. However, the moral case is clear, and the business case compelling.

What is evident is that the more diverse and inclusive an organisation is, the more they engage top talent, have improved customer orientation and maintain elevated levels of staff satisfaction. They are also likely to be more profitable and generate extra long term value.

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