Improving diversity and inclusion has become a priority for many businesses, with gender pay gap reporting coming into force last year. While research indicates that diversity in the workplace is linked to the financial performance of the business, some studies also present a compelling moral case focusing on the fair treatment of employees, ensuring that everyone is treated equally, with dignity and with fair access to resources.
For SMEs looking to keep up with the times, it’s important to consider the impact of equality and diversity on the workforce and the benefits of inclusion in the workplace. Here are some key insights into recognising and valuing the differences that make for a better working environment:
Equality, diversity, inclusion: What’s the difference?
Equality means that everyone is treated fairly and has access to equal opportunities in employment, training and development, and progression. The Equality Act 2010 is the main legislation in the UK that protects employees from unfair and unequal treatment at work and the wider society. Under the Equality Act, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone because of nine protected characteristics: age, sex, disability, gender reassignment, marital status, pregnancy or maternity leave, race, religion or beliefs, or sexual orientation.
Diversity is about recognising and appreciating the things that make us different - considering the diverse backgrounds, values and perspectives that each individual brings to the business.
In essence, then, inclusion ensures that equality and diversity at work is more than a mere box ticking exercise. Inclusion in the workplace drives towards engaging each and every member of staff, making them feel valued, supported and part of the organisation’s success. An inclusive workforce is built on placing actionable processes and systems in your SME with the aim of leveraging the benefits of equality and diversity.
Benefits of an inclusive workforce
A 2018 study by McKinsey showed that businesses with a more gender diverse staff are 15% more likely to outperform others, while ethnically diverse businesses are 33% more likely to outperform others. This means that diversity and inclusion are vital for the growth and innovative vision of your organisation, since the company will benefit from a diverse range of thought, knowledge, and skills. After all, contributions from people with different backgrounds, experiences and identities help strengthen decision making, enhance products and offer better services to a diverse customer base and partner network.
Inclusion also vastly benefits the workforce, connecting people to the business. Studies have shown that people want to work for businesses with fair employment practices. When people feel valued, they are likely to exhibit high morale, and be more productive and engaged at work. There is an opportunity for everyone to learn and grow and contribute to the success of the business. A culture built on diverse beliefs and values has also been proven to boost staff retention and better hiring practices to attract the best talent and skills to the business.
Overall, an inclusive workforce is not just great for the business, but an essential component in making your SME a happy and satisfying place of work for all your employees. Businesses that fail to act on the positives of a diverse workplace culture may find themselves at a serious disadvantage.
Developing a culture of inclusion
An inclusive culture requires everyone to treat each other fairly and work well together towards the greater good. Some of the issues impeding progress towards an inclusive workforce are behaviours exhibiting bias, discrimination, and even harassment. Targeted initiatives and strategies can help to drive change across businesses with these issues and help minimize the effect of prejudices and negative attitudes.
Here are some practical tips on how you can promote and implement inclusivity across your business:
1. Set the tone from the top
In order for any change to be successful, the practice must begin at the highest level and management must lead by example. Ensure that executives and managers lead by example and are committed to a fair working environment by investing time and money in developing strategies that benefit all.
2. Empower your employees
Keeping employees engaged is vital for developing an inclusive place of work. Involving teams and employees to have a say on policies and strategies that affect them is a great way to ensure a transparent, collaborative and fair workplace.
3. Audit your processes and policies
Set your goals for inclusivity at work and then review whether your current employment and hiring processes and policies are meeting those goals. Some examples of inclusion-friendly policies are having a fair system for promotions, flexible working for those who may need it, training and development for all staff, and demonstrating equal opportunities when advertising jobs.
4. Educate your workforce
Awareness training is an important component for building an inclusive workplace. Training programs help raise awareness about topics such as unconscious bias, harassment, discrimination. Educating your staff on the importance of equality and diversity will ensure that they understand their responsibilities and are able to respect and support one another.
5. Respect the differences
Showing your staff that you respect their backgrounds and traditions is another great way of demonstrating inclusion in the workplace. For example, holding potluck lunches, encouraging staff to celebrate festivals of all faiths, and the provision of a meditation or prayer room.
Equality and diversity require understanding other people’s needs. Inclusion is about driving the changes that will address those needs. An inclusive workplace is the sign of modern times with benefits for both the business and the workforce.
About the Author
Darren Hockley is the Managing Director of eLearning provider DeltaNet International. The company specializes in the development of engaging compliance and health and safety eLearning courses designed to mitigate risks and improve employee performance. Their in-house developers use a mixture of interactive video and 2D/3D animation to bring important legislation and best working practices to life.