Don't forget the 'I' in D&I

D&I strategies often focus far too much on diversity, and neglect whether diverse employees feel included in the organisation

Diversity and inclusion are not new concepts – they've been talked about for decades now. Progress has certainly been made, but more work still needs to be done.

Our UK Working Lives survey, released this year, found that 22% of employees feel their colleagues judge others for being different. Meanwhile a TUC report, also published this year, found that two-thirds (68%) of LGBT people have been sexually harassed at work.

We think that part of the problem lies with employers putting too much emphasis on diversity without also considering inclusion. While increasing workforce diversity is essential it doesn’t address existing inequality issues within an organisation.

To that end we’ve drawn together extensive evidence on workplace inclusion in our new report, Building Inclusive Workplaces, so that D&I strategies can have more of an impact.

But it’s first worth clarifying what inclusion stands for as herein lies part of the problem. Confusion persists around its meaning, which can make it hard for employers to know what action to take and can result in their D&I strategies focusing solely on diversity.

And it means they’re not always sure what they should be measuring either, leaving them in the dark about whether they’re making progress.

Inclusion is about making everyone feel valued, accepted and supported to succeed at work. It’s about individual experience and allowing everyone to contribute and feel part of an organisation. It’s about giving people a sense of belonging and making sure they are valued for their unique skills and perspectives, rather than putting them under pressure to conform.

Our research finds that inclusive organisations:

  • Have fair policies and practices that allow employees to progress, participate and use their voice.
  • Give staff a say in decision-making and give them access to networks for support.
  • Give every employee influence, but also encourage them to take on feedback to ensure practices continually improve.
  • Have leaders who are role models for inclusion.
  • Genuinely value individual differences.

This latter point strikes at the heart of the matter as policies and practices can only go so far in helping an organisation to be inclusive if there isn’t a supportive culture to underpin them. A workplace culture that encourages recognition of differences, trust and shared moral principles paves the way for an organisation to become truly inclusive.

So what can people professionals do specifically to improve inclusivity in their organisations? As well as practising what they preach, they should be encouraging inclusive behaviour in their colleagues. They should aim to:

  • Role model inclusive behaviour on a daily basis.
  • Use organisational data to review how well policies and practices are working.
  • Involve employees at all levels of the business by encouraging them to reflect on what inclusion means in their day-to-day role and what part they have in building inclusion.
  • Work with senior leaders to incorporate inclusion into the organisation’s way of doing things.
  • Embed inclusion into wider practices such as talent management, appraisals and skills development.
  • Communicate D&I policies to staff and explain why they are important.

People professionals also have a vital role in supporting line managers to carry out D&I policies and practices effectively. Do they understand inclusion issues, value difference and promote team inclusion? These are all questions people teams should be asking of managers in their organisation and supporting them to develop where needed.

This week it’s National Inclusion Week, which is the perfect opportunity for people teams to take stock and consider what they can do to improve inclusion in their organisation. To help them make a start we’ve devised an inclusion health checker, which provides tailored recommendations for people professionals wanting to build inclusion in their organisation.

Employers have much to gain from allowing all employees to thrive at work. The research evidence links inclusion with team knowledge-sharing, innovation, creativity, employee satisfaction, retention and wellbeing.

And businesses need to remember that improving D&I will allow them to take in a wide range of perspectives that understand their customer base. Increasingly employees want to work in a business that values D&I too, meaning that taking action on inclusion is key for employer reputation and brand.

While businesses alone can’t tackle inequality, they have a key role in enhancing workplace inclusion and making sure everyone can reach their full potential. This can only be beneficial for individuals, businesses and society.

Melanie Green is a research adviser at the CIPD