What do inclusive cultures really look like?

Workplaces may be more diverse than ever, but true inclusion remains a pipedream for many

As we hurtle towards another International Women’s Day (IWD), many employers will be finalising plans to promote gender equality within their organisations and hoping that this year their attempts are not scuppered by Twitter’s arbiter of equal pay the Gender Pay Gap Bot.

In March 2022, the account @PayGapApp, became a thorn in the side of social media teams across the business world when it began retweeting organisations’ IWD platitudes alongside their gender pay gap.

Within hours the account had amassed over 200,000 followers and 150 million impressions. Over the course of IWD Week, the bot repeatedly went viral for doing the very simple but effective work of scratching the surface.

Inclusion in the workplace

Why real inclusivity starts with inclusive leadership

How to break the diverse leadership paradox 

Over half of UK employees have felt excluded at work 

Of course, the gender pay gap is caused by a host of systemic practices, not all of which are within the control of an employer, but beyond the accusations of hypocrisy there was a more meaningful conversation to be had about why seemingly progressive and diverse organisations appeared to be neither equitable nor inclusive.

Recent research by the CIPD may give some clues as to why this is. Its Inclusion at Work 2022 report revealed only 47% of employers had a diversity equality and inclusion (DEI) strategy in place and 25% admitted that their DEI activities were in response to arising issues (including societal events) or reporting requirements.

With the latest Census data revealing the UK is now more diverse than ever, there is likely to be a renewed scrutiny of DEI agendas. The challenge for employers now will not simply be to reflect the diversity of today’s Britain but to offer truly inclusive workplace cultures. But what does that look like? And how can HR ensure their organisation isn’t overlooking the I in DEI?

Shereen Daniels, managing director of HR Rewired and author of The Anti-Racist Organisation – Dismantling Systemic Racism in the Workplace, believes that where exclusionary practices exist, employers try to hire their way out of the problem, leading them to concentrate too heavily on diversity.

“The problem with that is you can have the most representative business in the world but if the practices that lead to over-representation of certain groups [are] not addressed, it’s literally like a leaky bucket,” says Daniels.

She argues DEI often work starts and ends with diversity because people aren’t prepared for the uncomfortable conversations that inclusion brings.

What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done

Jack Painter, diversity and inclusion lead at Women into Science and Engineering (WISE), agrees that not only does inclusion require more effort in terms of engagement, it is also harder to measure, which may deter some.

“At WISE, we always say ‘what gets measured, gets done’. But the opposite is also true. What doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done,” says Painter. “A diverse organisation will have good representation across protected characteristics, but there are so many more factors like development opportunities or line manager attitudes that influence inclusion yet are harder to measure.”

Inclusion may be more difficult to measure, but often a deep dive into your data can help provide the insight needed to spark change. “To really move the dial on diversity and inclusion, organisations need to be deliberate about it and not expect evolution to naturally occur,” says Mark Lomas, head of culture at insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London.

“Take the time to gather the data, analyse and take action in accordance with the data. Fixing the people won’t work. Focus on fixing the processes that impact on diversity and inclusion. Be open about both your challenges and successes and ensure you use the data to make informed and targeted decisions.”

To make those targeted decisions, you have to ask the right questions in the first place, says David Blackburn, chief people officer at the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS). He recalls one employee engagement survey in which the FSCS scored highly as a caring, inclusive workplace, yet a small minority of respondents selected ‘prefer not to say’ on other key characteristic questions.

Blackburn says that good communication and role-modelling were key to improving the quality of their inclusion data. “I spoke to colleagues and explained: ‘Nobody sees this data except me. But as an out-LBGT, older worker, I’m telling you that I cannot tailor my support for you and understand your lived experiences if I don’t know what lived experiences there are in the organisation’,’’ recounts Blackburn. His authenticity and openness resulted in a 34% increase in disclosure rates and further improved feedback on inclusion.

Airline Loganair carried out a similar consultation of its workforce prior to investing £300,000 in a new programme of DEI training. Lyndsay Kennedy, head of HR, says the airline’s ‘Flying’s For All’ programme will have key ambassadors across the business to ensure that the organisation is living and breathing the training.

However, DEI training is often met with accusations of being a tick-box exercise which doesn’t result in deep change. Waseem Ali, CEO of management consultancy Rockborne, says that training only has the desired effect if the leadership understands how it fits into a broader strategy.

“For me it comes back to the ‘why?’ Why are you doing this? What is the environment you’re hoping to create and do you see the value in what you are doing?” says Ali. “If you are doing this because you have targets associated with the diversity agenda, then you don’t see the value in the training, and neither will your workforce.”

Kennedy recognises this too. “It can’t be a case of doing a one-off exercise and hoping that it’s going to fix everything,” she says.

“You’ve got to keep moving and progressing. Doing one training programme and standing still risks undoing that necessary cultural shift, that’s why we’re already planning the next stage of this work, looking at our menopause policies and the return to work after parental or adoption leave.”

In aviation, women are usually over-represented in cabin crew and rarely seen on the flight deck, but that’s not the case at Loganair where 13% of the airline’s pilots are female, more than double the industry average of 5%. Evidently, targeted action and representation are core pillars of a successful inclusion strategy.

“One of the biggest things that creates an inclusive environment is if you can see yourself represented,” says Blackburn.

“Can you see yourself on the board? Can you see yourself in senior leadership? And if you don’t, you’re sure as hell not going to feel like you belong because you can’t see a community in the organisation.”

Through targeted action programmes, FSCS has increased the number of black, Asian and minority ethnic managers from 10% to 17% in just three years, and reduced its gender pay gap from 18% in favour of men to 1.3% in favour of women over the same period.

“We’re unashamed about doing that,” adds Blackburn. “We want to take positive action to level the playing field.”

According to Daniels, how successful an organisation is in achieving inclusion depends on whether they choose transactional or transformational change.

“Transactional change is pretty much akin to recognising that there are barriers but putting all your energy and effort into teaching the people who were most affected by those barriers how to jump higher, how to become better hurdlers, rather than taking down the hurdles in the first place,” says Daniels.

On the other hand, Daniels describes transformational change – the kind that helps to create inclusive cultures – as “not only examining where there are issues and structural barriers that prevent progression and prevent certain people from joining the business… But you’re getting to the root cause of inequalities and you’re putting in programmes that address the root causes rather than paper over the symptoms.”

There is broad consensus that HR should not bear the responsibility of that transformative culture shift by itself; that is for the board and senior leadership. But HR has a critical role to play in encouraging and supporting the uncomfortable moments in that journey, leveraging its data and creating the framework for a culture of true belonging.

The full piece of the above appears in the January/February 2023 print issue. Subscribe today to have all our latest articles delivered right to your desk.