diveristy and inclusion - make a change

Sam’s* a 35-year-old office worker. Her experience of diversity and inclusion is negative and her career seems to have stalled. She’s bright, capable, skilled and experienced, but she hates her job. At work, she feels undervalued and excluded. She’s also frustrated that she’s not able to realise her true potential. She’d like to leave, but thinks ‘What’s the point?’ Because in Sam’s experience, the next job will be no better, just more of the same. She feels trapped in a no-win situation, and it’s causing her to despair.

This begs the question of why, at a time when the UK’s experiencing a recruitment crisis and businesses are crying out for skilled staff, aren’t people like Sam being nurtured and cherished in the workplace?

Sam’s also autistic, and she finds the lack of acknowledgement and support at work incredibly demoralising. When she tells an employer she’s autistic, she feels disheartened because there’s never a discussion of how they can help, or what they can do to accommodate her. She says, ‘We exist. We are a good proportion of the population. We are able and willing to contribute. Include us and involve us.’

So what’s going on here? Where are businesses going wrong?

These days, most businesses are well aware of the importance of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I), and how it can benefit their organisation. And numerous studies have shown that when a culture of D&I is truly embraced, it leads to better performance, higher productivity and increased employee retention. However, as Sam’s experience sadly testifies, too many employers still only pay lip-service to it. They treat it as a box-ticking exercise, or do the bare minimum just to comply with UK law, or focus solely on diversity without considering inclusion. This is because either they don’t fully understand D&I, or it’s just too difficult to change their way of thinking and doing things.

Understanding the relationship between Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and Inclusion are two different but interlinked concepts. A diverse workforce will bring a variety of different views, experiences and perspectives to the workplace. This has many benefits, including fresh ideas, better problem-solving, and more innovation. However, if you don’t then create an inclusive work environment, where each individual feels valued, respected and has a sense of belonging, these benefits will fail to materialise. And you’ll have spent a great deal of time, money and energy on recruitment, only to find an unhappy demotivated workforce, wanting to leave at the first opportunity.

How can businesses be more diversity and inclusion aware?

The first step to creating more diversity in the workplace is to view difference as an opportunity rather than a barrier. Many employers simply don’t know what to do with people who are different from them, so they don’t hire them. Instead they play it safe – sticking to what they know, selecting the same type of candidates, and only shortlisting those who meet the exact criteria as set out in the job profile. However, with a current shortage of the perfect ‘ready-made’ candidate as highlighted in a previous blog, businesses need to adapt and change their way of thinking.

Once you embrace difference, and start looking outside your usual candidate pool, you’ll find there are many talented people out there who can bring new ideas and fresh approaches to your business.

The key is to look for the potential in candidates, rather than the ‘ready-made’ option. Focus less on their CV, and more on the innate transferable skills needed for the job. Also consider what other life experience, interests, strengths and talents the candidate could bring to the role.

To encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to apply, all of the above needs to be reflected in the job profile. Rather than following the standard practice of asking for learnt skills, qualifications, education and experience, get creative! Think about the language you use and the criteria you set, and how they could be altered to appeal to a broader, more diverse pool of applicants. If possible, get input from as wide a variety of people as you can, rather than a select few.

Diversity and Inclusion go hand in hand, so it’s pointless putting lots of resources into recruiting a more diverse workforce without considering how you’ll retain them. Creating an inclusive workplace leads to more engaged, satisfied and motivated employees, which in turn leads to lower staff turnover.

5 ways to focus on diversity and inclusion in your workplace

  • Throw out stereotypical assumptions of how ‘good’ employees behave. We’re all guilty of making snap judgements about other people based on our own subjective ideas and experiences. For example, we may assume that someone who doesn’t maintain eye contact isn’t listening to us or isn’t engaged with what we’re saying. However, making eye contact may be extremely difficult for them to do. The risk is that the automatic assumptions we make about people who are different from ourselves could lead to us discriminating against them and making an unfair judgement.
  • Write a career development plan. Talk to your employees regularly about how they would like their career to progress. Then work together on a plan to get them there. Having someone internally or a third-party career development coach interested in their aspirations and encouraging them to get there is highly motivating. And a great retention tool.
  • Let employees’ voices be heard. Give your employees the opportunity to contribute to and shape their working environment. Listen to their ideas and allow them to participate in aspects of the business such as designing their own workspace, or drafting company policy. Ask them what would make them feel like they belong. This can be achieved via a variety of mechanisms, including questionnaires and discussion groups.
  • Get to know the person, not just the thing they do. Take an interest in your employees’ lives and create an environment where they feel comfortable to talk about themselves – their background, experiences, thoughts, beliefs and hobbies. Show care and compassion; we don’t always know what struggles and challenges people are facing at home.
  • Assess how inclusive your business currently is. To get a sense of how inclusive your business is, spend a few minutes completing the  CIPD’s Inclusion Health Checker Tool. They have some helpful tips on what you could be doing to improve!

If we are going to solve the skills shortage we need to be thinking differently and challenge our assumptions, biases and preferences. There are so many talented people out there brimming with potential. We need to up our game, find them, nurture and include them in what good looks like.

If you’d like more support or guidance on how to hire for potential and diversity, please do get in touch. As a Recruitment Coach and Mentor I provide people managers with the skills, self-awareness and a sounding board to become confident recruiters and motivators of teams.

*Not her real name.