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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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sush bastola - ew group

Sush Bastola
Sales Director, EW Group

Over the past few years, we’ve seen many organisations be very reactionary to what they may have seen in the media, or from requests by staff – it’s completely understandable, but promoting diversity within your organisation should always start with taking the time to take stock and understand your unique strengths and challenges regarding diversity and inclusion.

A good place to start promoting diversity in your organisation is by undertaking a diversity audit. This will help you develop a meaningful DE&I strategy that should communicate your objectives. It will help you set out targets, initiatives and actions to be deliver that will drive diversity and inclusion across the organisation.

To promote DE&I across your organisation, adopt a holistic approach in which diversity, equity and inclusion are embedded and considered in every aspect of the business. From recruitment (how inclusive are our processes and are we reaching diverse talent?) through to staff retention (is our talent being retained and are they engaged), processes, policies and communications that weave DE&I into their core will soon show benefits.

However, the catalysing force behind anything like this will always be one thing; support up to board level. Even if that means starting a process with a specific workshop or targeting a facilitated session with the senior leadership team, engagement at the top of the business is a crucial factor in promoting any diversity initiative.

Finally, effective communication and transparency into what you are undertaking are crucial. Working with your marketing teams to develop solid internal communications will boost engagement with any initiative you undergo but also provide clarity into the reasons behind it, what actions may transpire from it and where you’re going as an organisation.

This can also translate into a fantastic external marketing piece to show the wider world what steps you are taking to promote diversity within your organisation.

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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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Plamena Solakova, Included Global Business Development Manager

Plamena Solakova
Global Business Development Manager, Included

To promote diversity in the workplace, one must first understand what diversity means. For example, it includes the nine protected characteristics in the UK (race, gender and disability included), but also what accents people have, what languages they speak, where they grew up and whether they completed higher education, their prior work experience, leadership styles, work habits, communication styles, and more.

Ideally, an organisation would look to diversify their workforce across all of these dimensions, and not just concentrate on demographics. To promote greater diversity in the workplace, I recommend starting with a review of the entire recruitment process to ensure it’s debiased as much as possible.

Analysing the attraction, application, shortlisting and interview processes from a diversity and inclusion lens is essential. Some tips include always interviewing in pairs or panels so that multiple assessments are made, and discussing as a group only after each interviewer has spoken to all candidates and has completed their independent scoring and notes.

Once the recruitment process is reviewed, it is important to also look at the broader employee experience and talent processes, including promotions and retention, and target interventions to ensure diverse talent stays in the company and progresses their careers further.

Here is where inclusive practices, policies and behaviours are of primary importance, and we should absolutely be asking 'How to promote inclusion in the workplace, not just diversity?'

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Stephen Frost, Founder CEO of Included

Stephen Frost
Founder and CEO of Included

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

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

  4. 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. 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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Priya Radia, Included Associate Consultant

Priya Radia
Associate Consultant, Included

Given the vast range of methods available, developing a strategy is the best place to start to align direction across the business.

Assess your existing position against best practice, identifying areas that need addressing in order to develop an action plan.

It’s key to remember that whilst diversity is an excellent place to start, promoting diversity without consideration for inclusion could ultimately lead to less diversity in the workplace – e.g., if more individuals from marginalised groups are hired but do not feel safe, valued, or respected, they will likely leave very quickly.

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