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7 Ways to Ensure Diversity and Inclusion in Your Workplace

August 12, 2020
Written by James Kenneth Koh

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard a client say that they “really value diversity and inclusion” in their organization when I’m taking a new job brief. It’s usually the first thing they say too.

“Really? How so?”, I always then ask.

“Well you know… a good mix”, they say with a strange look on their face before continuing.

No I don’t actually, and I don’t believe you really do either”, I often think (but obviously never say!).

“As long as they are the best person for the job, we don’t care if we hire a female or a male for any of our positions – even the most senior ones”, they say proudly.

This makes me cringe for so many reasons. But I smile politely and continue with the briefing.

Diversity and inclusion along with other terms like equity, gender equality, identity, stereotype-avoidance, cultural competency and social justice are terms tossed around in most HR, human capital or people and culture teams today. More often than not, however, these issues are raised simply because they are expected to be. But are they valued, embodied, and truly promoted as part of the company culture?

Not well enough, unfortunately.

Through this post I’m hoping that practice leaders and hiring managers, along with people and culture team members in any organisation will discover new, sincere ways to ensure a culture of diversity and inclusion are properly fostered in their workplaces.

1. Getting your language right

Diversity is about taking into account the differences between people and groups of people, and placing a positive value on those differences. Inclusion is when a diversity of people feel valued and respected, have access to opportunities and resources, and can contribute their perspectives and talents to improve their organisation. Equality, on the other hand, is ensuring everyone has an equal opportunity, and not treated differently or discriminated against because of their characteristics.

2. Creating a sense of belonging

What type of culture or environment are you building? Hopefully, one where every single one of your employees can feel recognised and valued for their distinct talents and perspectives. After all, it has been proven that employees are more likely to flourish (professionally and personally) in a workplace that acknowledges and respects their different experiences, identities, and backgrounds.

More than ever before candidates today are seeking vibrant and inclusive work environments that truly embrace diversity and, above all, treat people with dignity and respect. If you want to prove to your future employees (and future leaders) that you are leading the charge when it comes to equity, diversity and inclusion, then you will need a selection and retention strategy based on merit and diversity – irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, religion, age, health condition or ability.

3. Diversity and your employer brand

Let me ask you this: Are you featuring one gender, culture, or an aspect of identity more often in your brand collateral, marketing material, website imagery, or even your own job ads? If so, there may come a time when you are accused of bias or prejudice. Whenever possible, aim to achieve more of a balance when it comes to image or word choice in order to prevent somebody feeling excluded based on certain aspects of their identity.

4. Inclusive language in the workplace

The use of inclusive language in any work setting creates a welcoming and safe environment enabling employee wellbeing and success.

The best advice is to avoid making assumptions about any candidates’ or employees’ identity. In every interaction (be it a job interview or a team meeting) conduct yourself in a manner that is respectful of the diverse identities and backgrounds of all those around you. For example, never assume a candidate’s gender identity, cultural background, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or any other aspect of their identity.

Avoid phrases like “the guy who applied for…” or “the woman we talked to…”. Instead, simply refer to “the candidate who…” etc. Rather than referring to the Chairman, simply talk about the Chairperson instead.

5. Lead by example

If you happen to witness non-inclusive language or behaviour by one of your team members, address the situation immediately (but calmly) in order to build trust and create a culturally safe workplace for everyone. An appropriate response in such a situation could be, “That is a common misconception or stereotype and can be hurtful. I’d prefer that we didn’t use that type of language around here.”.

If you are ever ‘caught out’ for your use of non-inclusive language, avoid being defensive, acknowledge it in the moment, and reflect on how you might be more inclusive in the future.

6. Create a psychologically safe space

Promoting employee empowerment and creating an employee-centred work environment can be achieved by encouraging equal participation of everyone in the workplace.

Engendering a culture promoting social justice is not only about understanding differences or diversity. It’s also about paying attention to systems of power and privilege that may give rise to social inequality. It’s important to understand how socioeconomic status can impact multicultural dynamics during the interview process as well as in regular workplace interactions. It’s your responsibility to create a psychologically safe space by encouraging everyone to share their views.

7. Always be prepared to face challenges

There’s no denying that diversity and inclusion in the workplace is a very sensitive issue. And sensitive issues can often lead to push back sometimes coming from those from whom you may least expect it.

We are responsible for ensuring we are aware of all the little cultural nuances going on around us at work. This, in itself, can lead to people management challenges simply because, by nature, we are resistant to change.

You can’t overhaul culture overnight. That’s unrealistic (also impossible). But you can start to introduce changes to the way you communicate within your organisation. Clarity around diversity and inclusion starts at the top, and is all about preventing (discriminatory) cliques from forming while simultaneously breaking down pre-existing prejudices that may exist in different pockets of the organisation.

You might even want to check out what other companies are doing in terms of promoting equality, diversity and inclusion and empower your employees to contribute to the changes you are making.

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