Employers must think more creatively and strategically about becoming inclusive if they are to reap the social and commercial benefits of having a more diverse workforce.

 

National Inclusion Week

 

The call comes from the trade body Inclusive Employers which is behind National Inclusion Week (26th September - 2nd October).

"Being an inclusive employer fuels innovation, boosts productivity and helps to retain talented employees."

- Richard McKenna, Director, Inclusive Employers

“There are too many barriers to inclusion at work, including unconscious bias, dominant cultures and the exclusion of people from decision making which can restrict product and policy innovation,” Richard McKenna says. “Employers can only think creatively about harnessing people’s differences, if they understand that differences are actually assets. Many of our members engage with individual employees directly to discover how someone’s culture and background might bring business benefits.”

 

Commercial benefits

 

Culture change can take time but McKenna says this should not be an excuse. The working environment must value everyone equally, whatever their age, disability, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. “Some organisations understand their social responsibilities around inclusion and do not need a bottom line argument. For others we have to articulate the commercial benefits around innovation, recruitment and brand reputation of becoming more inclusive.”

He adds: “This is an important area to get right because over the past decade consumers have become more interested in the ethics of the brands and organisations they work with and buy from.”

"Employers can only think creatively about harnessing people’s differences if they understand that differences are assets."

McKenna says there are pitfalls employers must avoid when looking to improve their inclusivity. “It is important not to limit the focus to one characteristic, perhaps gender or sexuality, because this can create inclusivity silos,” he says. “People do not want to be put in a box at work so the whole workplace culture must be inclusive. Employers need to think in broader terms.”

Practicing employee inclusion

 

Inclusive Employers was established in 2011 and has around 70 members. They are embedding a culture of inclusion within their organisations, including setting time frames and targets to drive change. Organisations are encouraged to develop role models and appoint diversity champions, and ensure all internal communications are inclusive and that managers receive relevant training. This includes coaching on the benefits of demographic diversity and being aware of how issues such as mental health can have an impact on people at work.

"The working environment must value everyone equally, whatever their age, disability, gender, race, religion or sexual orientation."

“Companies should assess whether their training sessions are structured in a way that lets everyone get involved and ensure their employee benefits are accessible to all.  Staff must also feel comfortable expressing their needs and opinions at work.”

McKenna says that once inclusion is entrenched within an organisation its positive effect can be measured through improved employee engagement and the generation of new ideas from different parts of the business.