written by
Jenni Murto

Actionable strategies to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace

6 min read

There is no diversity without inclusion. Many companies have loudly committed to improving their Diversity & Inclusion policies and plans. Still, overall progress has been slow and candidates often find it’s more nice words than real action.

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce are clear. Statistics show that businesses with a diverse workforce and inclusive workplace are 35% more likely to outperform their competitors. They’re also 70% more likely to capture new markets. Employees that don’t feel included are almost three times more likely to leave within six months than those who do feel included. Additionally, inclusion is a top driver of employee engagement. Some other benefits include better decision making, driving innovative outcomes, higher job acceptance and attaining top talent.

However, savvy leaders also understand that diversity does not equal inclusion. Inclusion is the key to creating and maintaining a diverse workforce and its benefits. Companies need to put in active effort to create inclusive workplaces to avoid completely missing out on the benefits. Companies that have a solid, transparent plan and offer truly welcoming and inclusive workplaces will stand out.

So where to start? We’ve listed some actionable first steps anyone can take towards building their inclusion strategy.

1. Start at the top and educate the leaders about inclusion

The first step in developing an inclusive workplace is to change the mindset of its leadership. Leadership must embrace and believe in the value of D&I, as it will be reflected in the organisation. If prioritising inclusion doesn’t start at the top it’ll be difficult to prioritise it in the rest of the organisation. When leaders and managers are on board they can integrate inclusion into the company’s core values. They’ll be great allies and resources for creating an authentic inclusive environment for all.

2. Listen to employees

Encouraging a culture of trust and feedback between employees and employers can work wonders for the employee experience. When employees feel safe to share their honest feelings and needs, employers can take action to improve the workspace for all. Creating opportunities for conversation, check-ins and “open door” policy for 1-on-1s should be a priority as well. Quick, easy-to-answer surveys can be a great way to collect feedback and get a sense of employee satisfaction and concerns. The data should also be segmented according to gender, generation, ethnicity, geography, and others. Otherwise HR pros may miss the whole picture and an opportunity to identify issues about those groups.

3. Create safe spaces

It’s important to think about the different needs of employees and how they can better be served to achieve authentic inclusion. Some companies have already created nongendered toilets which is a great start but it doesn’t stop there. Companies could take inclusion a step further and create prayer or meditation rooms, quiet work spaces for those who get overstimulated in loud and busy areas, or lactation rooms for new mothers.

Safe spaces should apply to remote workers too. Managers could encourage blocking out time for these personal needs in their calendar or use of pronouns in email signatures. Words also matter; it’s important to be aware of and encourage inclusive language in daily interactions as well as company documentation.

4. Accessibility is a must for inclusion

Everyone should have equal access to tools and tasks required to perform their role to ensure true inclusion. Barriers in the physical as well as digital and home environments should be removed. Many disabilities are not visible. Again it is important to listen to employees and provide a safe space for feedback on how their work space can be improved.

5. Acknowledge and honour multiple religious and cultural practices

Offering floating holidays to accommodate the religious or other cultural preferences of everyone, rather than just the ones who celebrate Christmas, will go a long way but more can be done. It’s a good idea to create organisation-wide awareness of culturally diverse events by marking them in the calendar, and acknowledging and celebrating a wide range of events important to employees across the company. This will increase the sense of inclusion and safety for authentic self expression.

6. Create a workforce inclusion committee

A group of people that’s passionate about inclusion can bring the culture to life and realise the vision. They can bring new initiatives to leadership and communicate and support updates and changes to the workforce. They’ll serve as a bridge between the employees and leadership.

Whilst the group itself should be diverse and represent the varying demographics and job functions of the company it’s crucial to be respectful and make sure no one feels tokenised. Nor should people who experience discrimination be the ones responsible to do the extra work to educate the rest. Instead, it should be a group of people who are truly willing, and offered dedicated time during their regular hours for the role. They shouldn’t be the sole driver of inclusive policies and communication in the company either.

7. Strengthen anti-discriminatory policies and change the complaint system

Forbes reported that 76% of Black employees and 58% of Hispanic employees have experienced racial harassment at work. Yet, in the last 20 years (1997-2018) there have only been 710,052 cases (roughly 1%) formally reported.

Employees need to feel safe to voice their concerns and any discrimination they experience. This is particularly important in the case of discriminatory behaviour by managers or anyone higher up in the hierarchy. It should be possible without the fear of an exhausting corporate procedure that may include filing detailed official complaints, formal hearings, probations or legal action, additional stress and even fear of more discrimination or friction between employees. It’s advisable to hire a neutral contracted mediator to ensure a true sense of neutrality, rather than rely on HR for this role. The complainant should not feel pressured into an “all or nothing” approach, or left alone to push things forward when that’s needed.

8. Open a dialogue and transparency in raises and pay inequality

Women in technology in the UK are offered on average 4%, but up to 28%, less salary than men. 61% of the time men are offered higher salaries than women for the same role at the same company. While there are no huge amounts of quantitative data about ethnicity pay gaps in tech in the UK research shows that people of colour face an even bigger pay gap.

The higher you climb the corporate ladder the wider the pay gap becomes. Companies should consider internally tracking the salary and performance based on gender and ethnicity to measure the true equality of employees. Raising awareness about pay discrepancy will activate social accountability and making appropriate adjustments, let alone improve inclusion. Clear communication about salary ranges, expectations, goals and top performance should be standard practice in any company wishing to truly be inclusive and close the gap.

9. Eliminate bias in hiring

Firstly it’s important to seek to understand what hiring prejudices are and how they operate. Awareness training is a first step to unravel unconscious bias. It allows people to recognise that everyone possesses them and identify their own. This should lead to open conversation about the steps the organisation can take going forward.

Organisations can implement a variety of approaches and tools to support this strategy. Reworking job listings to replace stereotypically gendered words to be more inclusive can make a big difference in who feels comfortable applying for the job. Software for unbiased recruiting will help to improve the chances of including the most relevant candidates and uncover some hidden gems that might have otherwise been overlooked. Companies can also take steps to establish the importance of inclusion and diversity in the interview process. The current policies in the workplace should be included in the onboarding process at the latest.

Unlearning bias takes time and education and we will dive deeper into the topic and available tools in our next blog.