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How to promote diversity in the workplace?

ragil ratnam, Educator, Leadership Advisor, Keynote Speaker.

Ragil Ratnam
Educator, Leadership Advisor, Keynote Speaker

Promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace begins with awareness. Organisations and their leaders need to truly see their importance and the business benefits, and be sufficiently self-aware to understand where they are personally in their acceptance and inclusion of diverse peoples.

Most people would not argue with the fact that diversity is important, and the growing database of evidence that it increases productivity and profitability adds to the intellectual argument. However, if this were enough we would not be talking about it so much. It would just be happening, in the same way, that improvements in technology and processes are quietly adopted by all players in an industry. Diversity and inclusion are different in that there is a strong emotional component to incorporating this new way of doing things, and it affects each of us as human beings. People that are used to doing things in one way that has been positive and beneficial to them, often struggle to see that there might be other ways.

This can be a major challenge for companies that have historically been homogenous, where things work smoothly and everyone has similar perspectives on how things should be done, and what is right and wrong. Diversity of thinking can sometimes appear to slow things down. If only lip-service is paid to it, it cannot provide the benefits and advantages of implementing it properly.

While policies and procedures that promote diversity and inclusion are a good place to start, for true inclusion organisations need to create opportunities for staff to engage. Forums for discussion and challenge are essential, to allow dominant voices to express their concerns alongside the less represented, more diverse voices to share their ideas and understand where the organisation is at any given time.

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Suki Sandhu OBE, Founder, CEO, Board Member, Philanthropist

Suki Sandhu OBE
Founder, CEO, Board Member, Philanthropist

The organisations that have been most successful at doing this have combined a top-down approach with a bottom-up approach.

Firstly, it is crucial that leadership considers diversity as an absolute business priority and clearly communicates their support and drive for diversity-based initiatives. There is also key work to be done in ensuring that all formal processes within a business are reviewed with diversity in mind – from HR policies to marketing activity and recruitment processes.

Secondly, it is important to understand the lived experiences of diverse talent already within the organisation. Providing a space for these individuals to talk openly about the challenges they face, and putting forward solutions to those problems, will help diverse thinking permeate all levels of the organisation. Amplifying these minority voices will help those within the majority groups in the organisation to understand their experiences, support inclusion, and become active advocates for change.

Thirdly, companies need to be able to track that their actions for a ‘diversity mindset’ are resulting in real-world change when it comes to diverse hiring and development. Collecting data on the make-up of the organisation, and tracking this over time, will show whether there is equality in employment and progression for minority groups at all levels, and allow targeted actions to be taken where there are not.

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Monika Hamori, Associate Professor of Human Resource Management at IE Business School

Monika Hamori
Associate Professor of Human Resource Management at IE Business School

Those that perceive that a diversity initiative may harm their interests tend to oppose it. Therefore the buy-in from managers and executives is key, especially if they are not the beneficiaries or targets of diversity efforts. Policies that induce such buy-in tend to work well: for example, asking senior male managers to sponsor lower-ranking female employees and provide them with social support and career advice. Involving senior managers in recruiting efforts to hire diverse talent, or sending them to campuses to attract such talent, are practices that are effective in boosting the proportion of gender, racial or ethnic minorities at the workplace.

Practices that make job opportunities more visible for minorities are also effective in increasing minority representation. For example, actively reaching out to professional associations that cater to minorities, or using internal job boards to make internal job opportunities visible to every employee in the workplace, are effective in boosting the proportion of minorities.

Policies that create transparency for managerial decisions, increase managers’ responsibility for these decisions, or those that hold managers accountable for their decisions regarding hiring, performance appraisal, or discretionary pay increases for example, also tend to work well. Diversity managers, diversity task forces, or a higher representation of minorities (e.g. women, racial minorities) at higher managerial levels, may facilitate such accountability because these groups are more likely to scrutinise organisational pay-setting or performance appraisal practices.

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Stephen Frost, Founder CEO of Included

Stephen Frost
Founder and CEO of Included

1. Strategy: Working with CEOs, HR directors, and senior management to position diversity and inclusion to support the core purpose and impact of the organisation.

2. Data: Calculating diversity, modeling future diversity, and measuring inclusion to identify targeted interventions.

3. Governance: Creating key frameworks and accountabilities to support the delivery of inclusion programming.

4. Leadership: Gaining buy-in for inclusive change across all levels of the organisation through keynotes, fireside chats, coaching, mentoring, and digital learning solutions.

5. Systems: Analysing processes such as recruitment, retention, product creation and procurement to identify potential bias.

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Flooris Van Der Walt
Author, Executive, Mindset Transformational Coach

I believe that the promotion of diversity and inclusion can easily lead to tokenism, and that is counterproductive to anything that diversity and inclusion stand for.

From my perspective, working on the self-image of the leaders, so that they can develop better internal security, is the only way to ensure honesty and openness from leaders to allow others' perspectives to influence them.

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Tahmid Chowdhury
Policy Programme Manager and Diversity & Inclusion Coach

One way that diversity and inclusion get promoted is via events – awareness-raising, be it panels or info sessions. These are particularly successful when you have people from certain groups talking about their personal experiences – staff finds these particularly engaging as it is people they work with every day, rather than a mythical external speaker talking about some issues that feel quite distant.

Past events though, real change requires steady and consistent work. This means building workstreams examining how diversity and inclusion underpin what the wider organisation is doing, rather than a bolt-on at the end. For example, if you have a performance management system that favours those who are more visible, this will inherently undermine organisational efforts to have wider diversity as it will penalise carers, part-time staff, and women who tend to have more childcare responsibilities.

As such, diversity and inclusion are like any other piece of work – they require dedicated resourcing with planning and professionalised support to ensure success within an organisation.

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