How employers can embed diversity and inclusion practices

While the general support for diversity and inclusion has grown, the results don’t match the sentiment. Kate Headley considers how employers can turn principles into practice.

 

It’s perhaps fair to say that the majority of organisations now understand the benefits of a diverse workforce and are fully behind a wide range of inclusion initiatives such as tackling gender imbalance, improving ethnic representation and supporting people with disabilities, among others.

However, research from charity Business In The Community (BITC) found that 63% of managers felt obliged to put the interests of their organisation above the wellbeing of team members.

The government has also set a target of halving the number of disabled individuals in unemployment, but in order to achieve this the employment rate among people with disabilities will need to reach 62.8% by 2020 – it currently stands at just below 50%. And the balance of genders in many industries and at board level still remains uneven in the UK.

With HR directors building the business case for diversity and inclusion initiatives, how can they move the issue forward and close these diversity gaps?

Training

In the first instance, much of the challenge in getting more diverse talent into a business lies at the hiring stage itself. A combination of historically engrained stereotypes, unconscious biases and the reliance on traditional talent routes means that many hiring teams and recruitment suppliers are inadvertently limiting the scope of those entering the hiring process.

It’s here that training really comes into play. Equipping those individuals that are responsible for hiring with the ability to avoid using a level of emotion when making recruitment decisions is essential in creating a level playing field for everyone.

It’s important to add that when we talk of training, we don’t encourage simply sending hiring managers on courses where they are told the same information time and again. Instead, more engaging training where individuals get the opportunity to really see how their unconscious biases are affecting the way they think will have a greater impact.

A great example is interactive events where tricks are thrown into the basic questions that are actively designed to catch people out and demonstrate to the individual not only what their bias is – after all, we all have one – but also what impact it has on the recruitment decisions they are making.

In order to really make a change and open people’s eyes there needs to be both a personal and professional change in behaviours, after all, unconscious biases often stem from our lives and influences outside of the working environment.

Using technology

In order to further reduce the impact of unconscious biases and remove many of the barriers to diversity and inclusion, technology should be utilised. Using algorithms and tailored software it is entirely possible to complete the first review of CVs with little, if any, involvement from an individual.

By setting specific parameters of a good applicant based on the skills required for the role rather than personality traits, it’s possible to increase the levels of diversity in the initial hiring stage. And as more interviewers come face to face with the perfect candidate who perhaps doesn’t look like the same old employee, perceptions, values and beliefs will begin to change within the organisation.

Cultural adaption

This leads on to the final point – adapting the corporate culture. Given that the main barriers to creating an inclusive environment is the pre-existing stereotypes that have long driven internal talent acquisition and management, improving the hiring process alone will not create the success we are all striving for. What organisations will see is a high level of staff turnover as new hires bounce off the corporate culture that is not inclusive of their personality.

In order to create a more accepting diverse environment, it’s advisable to encourage staff to take greater control in requesting workplace adjustments and improve transparency across the business. This will of course need to be led from the top, with senior staff both encouraging employees to be open and in turn, being upfront themselves.

This activity in itself could in fact reveal that the diversity of the company is much more varied than first thought. It’s likely, for example, that more members of staff will flag mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression if they are encouraged to do so and assured that it is not viewed as a weakness by the company.

We’ve overcome the first hurdle in moving towards better diversity and inclusion at work: organisations recognise the need for it. The challenge now is successfully achieving this status, something that simply cannot be done without a shift in the beliefs and behaviours of us all.

Kate Headley is director of consulting at The Clear Company.

 

Hear from industry thought leaders on the importance of diversity and inclusion at the HR Directors Summit.

Related reading