How inclusive is your workplace?

HR diversity illustration


Do people genuinely feel valued, accepted and supported at work, regardless of their background, identity or circumstances? Or are people hiding behind a ‘work’ persona, worried that being their true selves will hinder their career progression or affect their working relationships with colleagues?

There’s a lot of talk about inclusion, and the arguments for why we need diverse workforces are well rehearsed – better innovation, customer service and the ability to attract the best talent to name just a few.

But while it’s easy to say you want to create an inclusive climate, it’s perhaps less easy to do in practice. There are no ‘quick wins’ and no one-size fits all solutions.

So, what measures can HR take to move the dial and make real progress on the ground?

1. Build a clear vision

When people talk about improving diversity and inclusion in your organisation, what do they actually mean? It’s very easy to bandy words around without actually being clear about what the business wants to achieve, how that links to corporate goals and what practical action needs to be taken to make a real difference. HR needs to take the lead in building and communicating a clear vision of what an inclusive culture would look like in their business – and what needs to happen to turn that into reality. In organisations where unhelpful practices are ingrained, this may call for some courageous conversations and a willingness from HR to question accepted norms about ‘the way we do things around here’.

Authenticity is key. Leaders genuinely need to believe that being inclusive is the right thing to do, for both the business and for individuals. If the messages are not authentic, or on the ground practice doesn’t reflect the rhetoric, employees will soon see through it.

2. Recruitment

Policies and practices often inadvertently get in the way of progress towards truly inclusive workplaces. Recruitment procedures are a case in point. How (and where) does the business look for new recruits – and is this restricting the pool of candidates it is reaching? Do the images and wording used in job adverts demonstrate a commitment to diversity? What, if anything, does it say about diversity and inclusion on the corporate website?

Recruitment processes are the first point of contact potential employees will have with your business, so it’s vital to get this right. In the latest Hays Diversity and Inclusion survey, more than half of professionals said that when researching a potential new employer, they would check out an organisation’s diversity and inclusion policies – food for thought at a time when skills shortages are increasingly pressing. ‘Blind’ CV scanning and training for managers conducting interviews (to steer them away from recruiting in their own image) are just a few of the measures organisations are employing to try to improve the diversity of their employee base.

3. Onboarding

Putting onboarding processes under the microscope can also be useful. Do your induction processes include an introduction to the organisation’s diversity policy, for example? Simply giving new recruits a copy of the handbook with the policy in it isn’t enough. Discussing what it actually means in practice and giving real examples of how it is ‘lived’ across the business will ensure new employees start off with a clear understanding of the organisation’s commitment to inclusion, and what kind of behaviours are expected.

Unconscious bias training tends to be restricted to those at management level, but there’s a good case for extending this to all staff, and to making it part of the onboarding process. New recruits will then have a heightened awareness of any biases they may be holding and what they can do to combat them.

4. Reviewing job design

How work is organised can often get in the way of the business building a more diverse and inclusive culture. Rigidity around the shape of the working day, for example, can deter parents or those with caring responsibilities who need to juggle work and personal commitments. An unwillingness to offer part-time opportunities, or to allow people to shift to part-time work if they want to, can lead to the business losing valuable older workers or others who, for a variety of reasons, may want to ‘downsize’ their working commitment.

A resistance to home working may lead to Millennial workers, or others who place a strong emphasis on work-life balance, feeling they don’t fit. Often, organisations end up clinging to outdated working patterns because their managers don’t have the skills to design jobs and manage people in a way more fitting to the new world of work and an increasingly diverse employee base. HR has a role to play in equipping managers with these skills and supporting them with managing workflow on an ongoing basis.

5. Rewarding inclusive behaviours

Rewarding the kind of behaviours the business wants to encourage is another way of making a real step-change. Demonstrating a commitment (and real action) to diversity and inclusion needs to be a KPI for managers and a standing item for discussion in performance reviews. Peer reviews or anonymous surveys are a good way of measuring commitment and progress. This is not something that will come naturally to everyone, however, and HR needs to give priority to equipping managers with the courage and competence to review their practices, call out poor behaviour and to support people who are showing signs of feeling they don’t ‘belong’ in teams.

In its recent report on inclusion, the CIPD also points out the role practitioners have to play in building a culture of ‘allyship’, where employees actively champion inclusivity and are encouraged to ‘call out’ unacceptable or exclusionary behaviour (CIPD, Building Inclusive Workplaces, September 2019).

The value of data in helping organisations track and monitor progress towards inclusion cannot be over-emphasised. In its new Profession Map, the CIPD illustrates the importance of HR taking an evidence-based approach to all its activities. An HR software system, which enables reporting across everything from workforce make-up to salary against gender or ethnicity, can be a highly valuable tool.

Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.