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We share practical actions companies can take to work towards a fair, equitable & diverse workplace.

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There are a range of reasons why companies should care about inclusion and diversity (I&D). The sales pitch to both business leaders and boards of directors has often been that having a diverse workforce improves your bottom line. And it does. But increasingly, inclusion and diversity is understood to be about so much more than mere dollars and cents.

Potential customers are increasingly looking at whether a company reflects them and their community; potential employees are asking companies about their inclusion and diversity strategy and the makeup of their senior leadership team. Indeed, more than anything else, I&D increasingly matters on principle.

For well-established companies filled with employees who generally all look, act, and sound alike, moving towards genuine diversity and inclusivity can seem overwhelming. It’s by no means a quick process. Instead, it should be seen as an ongoing journey, one that we are currently embarking on here at Ignition.

To offer some insight into what this journey looks like, and for suggestions as to what practical actions companies can take to work towards a fair, equitable, and diverse workplace, please read on.

Firstly, it’s crucial to understand that I&D shouldn’t be grouped together as one and the same, without distinction. Achieving a diverse workforce is one thing – but maintaining it requires an inclusive working environment and culture.

Consider re-examining your current hiring process

In order to achieve diversity, you may well have to re-examine your current hiring process, starting with the language used in your job advertisements. For instance, work to omit gendered language and only stipulate something to be a ‘requirement’ when it is absolutely necessary.

This is especially important given that women typically won’t apply unless they meet all of the requirements. In comparison, men will typically apply when they meet just 60% of the requirements. Your job advertisement should also highlight your company as an equal opportunity employer and convey that potential applicants can request assistance with both their application and with the interview process itself. The aim of this is to encourage candidates who might otherwise not apply, explaining that your company offers candidates assistance at each step of the interview and assessment process.

Rethink where you’re sourcing your talent pool

To attract a diverse set of candidates, you may also have to rethink where you’re sourcing your talent pool. Consider a range of different sources, such as academic institutions, community organisations, professional bodies, and recruitment agencies that commit to providing a diverse candidate shortlist. You need to be thinking about your interview process as soon as you begin your I&D journey.

This goes beyond simply sourcing candidates. You should also try to ensure that candidates will be interviewed by a diverse interview panel, so as to ensure diversity of thought in the hiring decision. This approach to hiring should be taken across all role levels – a company has not achieved diversity until it’s evident in its leadership team.

However, hiring diverse talent is merely step one. Once you have a diverse workforce, you then need to ensure that you cultivate an inclusive workplace culture in order to benefit from this diversity and retain employees over the long term. This is something that we’re actively working on here at Ignition.

Understand your employees’ experiences

You need to understand each of your individual employees’ experiences. Your employees are the fabric of your organisation, so you can only truly understand your organisational culture if you first get to know the people who make it tick. By making an effort to understand each individual – their likes, dislikes, beliefs, history, and preferences – you enable employees to feel comfortable bringing their ‘whole self’ to work.

That said, you might not know how to begin this process. If this is the case, consider sending out an anonymous survey asking your employees about their experiences of being included/excluded in the workplace, whether they see others being included/excluded, and what your company could do more/less of to nurture an inclusive culture. This will provide rich feedback you can then use to build out an action plan so as to create positive change through meaningful action.

We’re all in this together

Ensuring an inclusive workplace is everybody’s responsibility. While it starts with business leaders and managers, and is further enforced by HR or People & Culture, you'll only create a truly inclusive culture if everybody buys in.

All employees should be aware of your company’s zero-tolerance attitude towards discrimination and should understand the process to go through if they experience discrimination in any form. Leaders and managers will likely need training on unconscious bias, inclusive communication practices, and how to tackle microaggressions.*

Remember that we can all be guilty of unconscious bias. In fact, more often than not, we’ll be completely unaware that we’re being unconsciously biased. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that all business leaders and people managers are equipped with processes that ensure as much objectivity as possible when it comes to assessing performance, succession planning, and promotion.

Having clear performance metrics – and behavioural competencies aligned with your organisational values, mission, and purpose – move things away from a subjective view that’s largely informed by our unconscious bias.

Starting the conversation

I often think that people steer clear of talking openly about inclusion and diversity in the workplace because they’re afraid of getting it wrong. To normalise positive dialogue, company leaders need to act as role models – acknowledging that while they may not always get it right, they’re willing to be vulnerable, to admit their mistakes, and to actively seek to improve moving forward.

A company-wide ‘commitment tree’, where every employee commits to doing one thing to foster I&D, is a great way to start the conversation and bring a company together. Once it’s been created, it should then be publicly shared throughout the organisation and be discussed at both a company and team level.

I couldn’t be more excited about the journey we’re currently embarking on here at Ignition. We know that this isn’t easy work, that it’s challenging, and will take our continued commitment. However, it’s such integral and rewarding work when you consider it from all lenses – from that of our employees, our customers, and our shareholders.

Good luck as you continue your company’s journey towards creating a more inclusive and diverse future. Remember: we won’t get everything right immediately from the get-go, but we should never stop trying to improve.

*Microaggressions are indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalised group.

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Meet the author

Francesca Deery

VP People & Culture  Ignition

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Published 24 Feb 2021 Last updated 19 Mar 2024