Diversity, equity & inclusion | Main Region | UB

Why diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace matters – and how to improve yours

In today’s busy world of work, it can sometimes feel like our schedules only ever get fuller. But despite a jam-packed calendar and competing priorities on our time, it’s never been more important to ensure that diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace, or DE&I, remains high on the agenda.  
After all, building an equal, diverse and inclusive workplace is no longer a nice-to-have but a core component of any talent acquisition strategy. Recognising and harnessing the advantages of diversity in the workplace enables people and organisations to achieve their full potential.
This article will explain diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace, outline the benefits, provide you with 11 tips to improve DE&I and give you advice on how to tailor your DE&I approach to suit your employee’s preferences.

Diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace explained

DE&I in the workplace brings people of different experiences and backgrounds together, which – when managed well – creates a high-performance and innovate working environment. It’s about valuing, recognising, respecting, embracing and including individual differences and believing that doing so will add value to the workplace.
In short, equality in the workplace refers to creating the opportunity for everyone to fully participate in the workplace productively and successfully, progress their career equally and receive equivalent rewards and benefits for doing so. It’s about fair treatment for everyone, regardless of their background, education, ethnicity, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, disability or any other characteristic.

But for equality to be achieved, a workplace must also embrace diversity. Diversity in the workplace refers to recognising, respecting and valuing the differences in people, from experience and background to religion, culture, age and all other characteristic. Ultimately, we all have something about us that is different. Diversity aims to understand, value and celebrate those differences.
Inclusion then refers to how well each individual employee feels accepted, included and valued in the workplace. It’s about creating a sense of belonging, connection and engagement for each employee in the working environment and extends from the way meetings are run to how success is celebrated.

Benefits of diversity, equity & inclusion in the workplace

DE&I can bring an organisation many proven and tangible benefits. One of the most prominent is innovation. Innovation is an important differentiator for organisations as it allows you to come up with new services, products or improved ways of delivering those services or products.
Another is improved attraction and retention. You’re more likely to discover the most suitable skills and experience if you open yourself to a diverse pool of candidates. Employers who limit diversity parameters effectively reduce the number of candidates they can consider.
DE&I also improves productivity and makes bottom-line business sense. Hiring a demographically diverse workforce can improve an organisation’s financial performance and help it realise its full potential.
In addition, in a workplace that operates as a true meritocracy, DE&I ensures the best people are promoted and the best ideas are implemented. Those people who want to participate, have put in the work, gained results and proven themselves are respected, rewarded and promoted. No other factors come into the promotion decision making.

11 tips to improve DE&I in your workplace

Understanding the importance of DE&I and finding the time to make genuine and lasting improvements in your workplace are two very different things. The journey to building a truly equal, diverse and inclusive workplace can often be a long and daunting one. So, if improving diversity in the workplace is on your agenda, here are several practical tips.

  1. Start a conversation with your employees: Considering the Black Lives Matter global movement and the flow on effect in Australia and New Zealand, employees are looking at what their organisation is doing to create genuine change in the workplace. So, if you haven’t already, it’s time to start an open and sincere conversation about what could be done to achieve greater diversity in your organisation.
  2. Gather data to identify priority areas: Use anonymous surveys to gather DE&I data and create a picture of the current status within your organisation. For some organisations, this can seem counter-intuitive. For instance, if you see your culture as a meritocracy – as we do here at Hays – it can seem strange to ask your employees for private information about their religious affiliations or their ethnicity, for instance. But doing so in a safe and anonymous way will provide you with an honest view of your employee population and identify where you need to prioritise your time, energy and resources. It also allows you to have confident and informed conversations with your organisation’s leaders about the areas that require focus.
  3. Create a culture that supports DE&IReal and lasting change involves more than talk, which is why our third tip is to create a culture that supports DE&I. Failing to embed DE&I in the culture of an organisation holds it back because DE&I becomes more of a regulatory exercise. Rather than shifting mindsets around DE&I and embracing and celebrating underrepresented demographic groups and diversity of thought, the best that can be hoped for is a level of tolerance towards difference. 

    Every single employee in an organisation has a role to play in contributing to what the culture looks like. Culture is, after all, a set of behaviours and attitudes created by the people who are part of it. How people behave to their colleagues and peers needs to be accountable. But we are all human and we all have unconscious bias, so take employees along on the journey of forging a culture that supports DE&I, make them aware of their unconscious bias and educate them on the benefits of DE&I. You could even consider informal training to raise awareness and understanding of the perspectives and lived experience of under-represented groups.  Make it clear the entire workforce is all in the DE&I journey together.

  4. Publicly commit to DE&I: Organisations can also consider making a public commitment to DE&I, such as by writing and publishing a promise to set out what you believe in as an organisation. Furthermore, inclusive leaders should aim to clearly, regularly and effectively communicate that DE&I is on their agenda. Communicating policies, promoting any initiatives being undertaken and sharing the social, personal and commercial successes resulting from these will help increase employee confidence that leaders understand the importance of DE&I to individuals and the business as a whole.                                                                                                                                           
  5. Provide a sense of belonging for every employee: During your one-on-one meetings with employees, take the time to regularly check-in and ask how they are, recognise their good work and talk about why you value their skills and contribution. Build peer groups where people feel a sense of community and belonging. Support key DE&I events to reflect the varied characteristics that make up a workforce and establish taskforces to champion DE&I. Offer benefits that all employees can utilise, from flexible working options to professional development and wellbeing initiatives, to show you understand and support their personal and professional needs.
  6. Encourage employees to have a voice: Fostering an environment in which employees can be open and honest allows them to share their opinions and ideas, as well as concerns, which helps them feel that their view matters. So, ensure employees can have a say in key decisions that impact their work, such as by holding regular team and one-on-one meetings, providing an anonymous feedback service, offering a suggestion scheme and running surveys. Make yourself available whenever an employee needs to discuss an issue or concern.
  7. Encourage diversity of thought: Organisations should aim to ensure all employees feel they can challenge the status quo, their voice is respected and valued, and they can and should fearlessly bring new ideas to the table. To achieve this, actively solicit ideas and feedback from employees at all levels on any workplace considerations through organisation-wide anonymous surveys, one-on-one meetings or collaborative roundtable discussions with mixed groups. Follow-up with clearly defined actions.
  8. Ensure all employees have access to career development: People need to feel that they can develop and advance their career within your organisation. Provide regular upskilling, learning and development to all employees and give them the time to develop these skills and bring them back into their day-to-day job. Clearly communicate your commitment to offer career progression opportunities to all and have clearly defined progression pathways with transparent objectives.  
    To increase diversity in management and executive levels, formal mentoring programs can be used to empower employees to develop and advance. Such programs can help create connections, identify and overcome upskilling needs, share the knowledge required for advancement and prepare a mentee for 
  9. Ensure everyone feels valued and included: Talk to individual staff to understand what is required for them to feel included and be their full authentic self at work. This may include, for example, additional support from you, modified facilities, a new meeting format so that everyone can participate, the creation of employee-led taskforces or the adoption of new communication and collaboration channels. You will likely find that some people require extra or varied support to create an even playing field for all, so be aware of this when considering your inclusive workplace practices.
  10. Run inclusive meetings: This starts with distributing an agenda and associated background material well in advance of the meeting so that people can prepare. Ensure everyone can join the meeting, such as by offering access to remote workers, take steps to encourage everyone to participate and ask others to share their view. For more, see these tips on how to run inclusive team meetings.
  11. Create inclusive recruitment and hiring processes: Before you recruit, review job descriptions and the language used in job advertisements to ensure it does not dissuade particular demographic groups from applying. Then, work with an expert recruiter who understands how to attract talent from the widest pool. Use an objective and set criteria to assess all candidates against. 

    Hiring managers should undertake unconscious bias training so they are aware of any prejudice or favouritism. Some organisations also create blind CVs that remove a candidate’s name or any reference to their gender, age or background. 

    It’s also advisable to create a diverse recruitment panel to screen and interview candidates. An aggregated scoring system and honest conversations between these assessors are important to share perspectives, challenge one another on their decision making and mitigate bias. Find out how to improve diversity in your attraction and recruitment process.

One-size does not fit all 

Finally, when deciding how you can support DE&I, it’s important to remember that one size of response does not fit everybody. For example, some personality types thrive when working remotely but others require face-to-face human interaction to do their best work. Some more confident employees flourish when put on the spot in meetings, while less vocal employees require time and space to consider their response. Some demographic groups require encouragement and support to apply for a job vacancy or promotion, while the expectations of others may need to be managed.  
That’s why it’s important to take the time to get to know each employee’s preferences and tailor your DE&I approach in a way that creates equal opportunities for all, values differences and ensures everyone feels valued at work.  
For more insights on how you can improve DE&I in your organisation, download our Hays Barometer Report.  


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