The Importance of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace

21st March 2022

Diversity, Equity and inclusion (DEI) are more than policies, programs or headcounts.

Inclusive teams improve collective performance by up to 30% in high-diversity environments. In a BCG study, companies with diverse management teams had a 19% increase in revenue compared to their less diverse counterparts.

Fiscal success is what every business strives for, but the benefits of diversity exceed the numbers. Creating a company culture that reflects the morals and worldviews of your employees will increase their happiness at work.

In this article, we will look at what DEI actually is, why it is important and how you can start implementing best practices today.

What is the difference between diversity, equity and inclusion?

Put simply, diversity is the “what” and inclusion is the “how.” In order to form a diverse workforce, you need to include people from all walks of life. Equity is there to ensure processes and programs are impartial, fair and provide equal outcomes for every employee.

Understanding the distinction of diversity, equity and inclusion isn’t about picking one area to focus on over the other. As a leader, you should understand that the two come hand-in-hand — in order to create a truly equal workplace, diversity, equity and inclusivity intertwine.

Let’s break this down further.

Diversity

Diversity is defined by the characteristics of your workforce. Making the effort to source, recruit and hire people from the following groups is your key to creating a welcoming work culture that celebrates diversity.

  • Gender: acknowledge and accept men, women, non-binary and transgender people.
  • Race and ethnicity: including but not limited to Black, Asian, Native and Indigenous people.
  • Age: a younger candidate’s capacity to learn can be as valuable as an older candidate’s industry experience.
  • Sexual orientation: including gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual and other queer people.
  • Disabilities: these are both visible and invisible. For example, wheelchair users, deafness, epilepsy and autism.
  • Long-term health conditions: the flexibility to work from home is valuable for people who struggle with their mental health, endometriosis, arthritis or immune deficiencies. This is especially important as COVID-19 continues.

Equity

Workplace equity means providing fair opportunities for all of your employees based on their individual needs.

An organisation will recognize that each employee has varying access to resources and privileges. Those with less access may need more support in order to take fair advantage of opportunities within a given company.

Examples of equity in the workplace are:

  • Focus on skills-based hiring.
  • Make job descriptions accessible for all, including transparency around salaries on offer.
  • Provide equitable benefits. For example, parental leave can extend to fathers and mothers equally.

Inclusion

Inclusion is a measure of culture that enables diversity to thrive. For example, an act of committing to inclusion is writing strategies that focus on making sure every member of your team is listened to, valued and accepted.

Examples of promoting inclusion in the workplace include:

  1. Becoming an equal opportunities employer and pledging to enact policies that maximise equality, diversity, equity and inclusion.
  2. Acknowledging religious and cultural holidays by sharing happy wishes in company communications.
  3. Celebrating successes of all kinds to make everyone feel valued.
  4. Using inclusive language when releasing reports or company statements to make everybody feel seen and heard.
  5. Holding employee forums to encourage collaboration and boost team morale. 

Why are diversity, equity and inclusion important?

When employees are included, they feel a sense of belonging — and that’s something every human wants. 

Being included assures employees that they’re an important part of the team. They’re more comfortable to share their experiences and ideas with colleagues that they know support them.

This all amounts to a positive working culture that improves employee experience, enhances innovation and gives them the space to improve leadership skills and abilities.

Types of discrimination

Discrimination can be split into 3 categories under the UK Equality Act 2010:

  • Direct discrimination: prejudice that targets how someone looks. This is an unconscious bias rooted in misconceptions about a certain group of people.
  • Indirect discrimination: polarising a group of people through restrictions like excluding genders from specific events.
  • Harassment: negative behaviour towards a fellow employee, which humiliates, intimidates or excludes them.

How to tackle discrimination in the workplace

Take every complaint seriously

Go into all situations with the belief that everybody’s experience is valid and it’s not your job to place blame. Employees who have been discriminated against, whether that be for gender, race or sexuality, shouldn’t need to fight to be heard or to see results. Psychological safety at work is just as important as physical safety.

Problems relating to discrimination at work can be emotionally-charged — especially when you reach the disciplinary stage. 

Reactions to criticism can be defensive, so focus on providing clear communication. This means laying out the problem, telling the employee under review what repercussions they can expect (for example, temporary suspension, writing an apology or mandatory training sessions) and how you expect their behaviour to change.

When dealing with prejudice-driven misconduct an HR leader should: 

  1. Acknowledge your employee’s experience.
  2. Find the source of the problem.
  3. Arrange disciplinary meetings with the employee(s) responsible for misconduct.
  4. Ensure that repercussions are actioned.
  5. Find ways to educate your wider teams to ensure acts of discrimination do not happen again.

See our How to Have Difficult Conversations article for more advice on navigating tricky situations at work.

Appoint a DEI Officer

As an HR leader, your diversity efforts won’t succeed without the support of your leadership team. Hiring a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer can help your organisation understand what it means to create an inclusive and diverse culture.

Only 23% of C-suites are made up of women and just 4.7% of executives are from a BAME background.

For company culture to transform, growth has to be modelled, emphasised and encouraged. That means having both allies and people from underrepresented backgrounds in senior roles.

Colleagues who share their own experiences set the pace for their organisations in more ways than one. 

The role of a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer is to create an environment where difference is embraced and individuals flourish. Other responsibilities include:

  • Promoting good relations and practices towards different minority groups. 
  • Supporting people who experience some form of discrimination.
  • Delivering diversity workshops to communities, staff and volunteers.
  • Analysing qualitative data to identify any risk of exclusion and work to pre-empt problems.

Invest in employee training

It’s important to remember that it’s not the job of the discriminated individual to educate their colleagues on the issues that they face in and out of the workplace.

Diversity training helps employees understand how cultural differences can impact how people work and interact in the office. It can cover anything from language and communication styles to self-identity and dealing with conflict.

An InStride study found that 92% of business leaders agree that a strategic workforce education program is key to achieving DEI goals.

Driving a culture of continuous learning is a core tenant of HR professionals. You can do it by bringing in a coach or a course on mentoring and encouraging inclusion across teams.

Training sessions will give all employees the tools they need to actively change the way they think and form a better working culture as a result.

It’s also important to communicate why training is taking place, sharing the problems you’re trying to solve and what comes next. This will keep employees motivated and also help them understand how their learnings tie back to broader company goals.

You can search for training programmes near you, or learn how to develop your own internal courses at The Diversity Trust, EW Group or Inclusive Employers.

Start employee resource groups

Creating employee resource groups (ERGs), also known as affinity groups, is an approach you can use to build a more inclusive environment and addresses diversity, equity and inclusion in a more holistic, community-based way.

ERGs provide a forum for employees who share common interests, issues or concerns to meet regularly and discuss how to overcome barriers to DEI within their workplace. ERGs encourage collaboration between employees and nurture meaningful conversations that can improve the diversity of recruitment, retention, mentoring and leadership development in the long-run.

Though groups like this should be run by employees, HR leaders can get the ball rolling by sharing announcements on cloud-based platforms, emails and in group chats. 

All you need is one person to sign up and more people will follow. It’s all about empowering your employees to make their voices heard and make positive change that lasts.

Recruitment and equal opportunities

47% of millennials say they actively look for DEI when sizing up potential employers. So if you want to hire the best talent from the younger generations (and maintain long-term success), your workplace should be diverse and inclusive across the board.

A positive approach to diversity allows you to select the best person for the job based on merit alone and not on factors that aren’t relevant to the person’s ability to do the job. For example, age, disability, gender or race.

We have some tips on how to make your recruitment and hiring process more inclusive for a diverse pool of candidates.

Application forms

When it comes to building a form, the language you use has a meaningful impact. Using inclusive language helps ensure that each of your form’s readers feels welcomed, understood and affirmed. What you might consider an insignificant question could shape an applicant’s entire experience. Let’s make them feel accepted from the beginning.

Before creating your application form, consider the questions you’re planning to use. For example, it may seem common to include a field for gender, but it’s not necessary information.

Asking, “What are your pronouns?” is a simple way to determine a candidate’s identity without unintentionally excluding any groups. Being attuned to culture in this way will establish you as a modern employer, making you more attractive to future talent.

If you do need to ask more personal questions, add a ‘prefer not to say’ option and justify why you need the information — people appreciate transparency from the beginning.

Make a statement about your company’s commitment to inclusivity and diversity in the ‘job roles’ section, too. It’s important to show that you care about your employees from the get-go. Here’s an example from Google: 

“We are proud to be an equal opportunity workplace and affirmative action employer. We are committed to providing equal employment opportunities regardless of race, ancestry, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability or Veteran status.”

Interviews

Adjusting your interview process to ensure equality and inclusion opens your reach and makes the process easier as a result. 

Take the time to refine your best practices now and they will soon become the new normal — and highlight the working life that future employees can expect to experience in your team. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Standardise the interview: HR can craft an initial list of questions that align with the base requirements of the role. Take the questions to a line manager thereafter to refine the search.
    Also ensure that multiple people either sit in on the interview or conduct their own interview to vary perspectives and enhance inclusivity.
  • Re-think your question structure: putting the focus on capabilities instead of direct experience boosts the inclusivity of your process, meaning people of varying backgrounds and perspectives can share their thoughts. For example, instead of asking, “Have you done x or y or z?”, ask, “How would you approach doing x or y or z?”
  • Ask for sample work: examples of work lets you see the candidate’s skills for yourself, as opposed to relying on the candidate’s own assessment of their ability. If 2 candidates are both given a work sample test, they can be evaluated side by side based on quality, not the employer’s unconscious bias.

“Meet the team”

An opportunity to meet members of the team in person or on a simple video call can be used to test the chemistry between candidates and current employees, ultimately gauging whether they will blend with your company culture. 

These also provide an opportunity for shortlisted interviewees to decide whether your team aligns with their own ideals. This shows that you appreciate and encourage their autonomy even before they’ve joined the team. This should make them feel heard and respected by your organisation.

Simple everyday steps to improve equality and diversity

Acknowledge holidays of all cultures

A balance of perspectives leads to more innovation, 87% better decisions, and often prevents big mistakes. However, it’s unlikely that your diverse talent will share their perspectives and ideas if they don’t feel included.

The best way to know what your employees care about is to ask. Some questions to consider asking are:

  • What holidays would you like to see recognised in the office? 
  • What cultural celebrations are important to you? 
  • Is there anything else we should know about the holidays that are important to you? 

Using first-hand feedback like this lets you tailor holidays to everyone in your organisation. Making the effort to acknowledge employee’s lives outside of work really does make them feel valued — and happier to spend time with colleagues. 

Using the right tools — like online employee engagement platforms that let you gauge the feelings and opinions of your employees in real-time — make this process easy.

Some ways to make your systems and policies inclusive: 

  • Representative HR leadership teams provide varied perspectives to avoid insensitive mistakes. 
  • Offer flexibility for holiday celebrations. 
  • Multicultural calendars. 
  • Upload the holidays that employees celebrate in the company calendar, or create a separate calendar to be displayed in the workplace. 
  • Holiday announcements and celebrations for all.. 
  • Consider incorporating a monthly Trickle post about upcoming holidays. 

It’s important to bear in mind that some employees might not want to share information from their personal lives in this way — and that’s OK! 

Privacy should always be respected. Let employees answer polls or submit feedback anonymously to show that you care about their boundaries and encourage autonomy, too. 

Celebrate success

Celebrating the success of all colleagues is a simple (but very effective) way to boost morale and make sure everyone feels appreciated and included. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying “thank you”. Doing so in a face-to-face catch-up will show that you value their work enough to take time out of your schedule to celebrate them.

Acts of celebration include:

  • Incentives and rewards
  • Company wide announcements – in group meetings, online platforms, newsletter etc
  • Allowing people time to celebrate on the day of the event
  • Posting their success on your company LinkedIn page 

Assess company policies

If your company has been established for some time, you might have content that includes biassed or outdated language. Get a team together and educate them on terms to avoid that may be offensive or exclusionary. 

You can put this into action by reviewing your existing literature and content for anything that doesn’t represent the direction your company is moving in.

These are some inclusive phrases and positive messages that leaders can include in company mission statements, policies or announcements:

  • Diversity extends beyond race, so avoid arbitrary gender separation or terms like ‘craftsman’ that are inherently binary. Take care not to use slang terms that might be offensive, like ‘lame’ or ‘crazy’.
  • BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) is used more widely instead of POC (People of Colour). 
  • Don’t refer to someone without a disability as ‘normal’. Use ‘able-bodied’, because employees with disabilities are ‘normal’ too.
  • ‘Transgender’ is the correct term for a person who has completed their transition from one gender to another. If a person is going through the process, you say they are ‘transitioning’.
  • If you’re unsure how to refer to someone, ask what their pronouns are. It’s not rude! Asking is courteous, polite and can be validating if re-entering the workspace after announcing the change.

Senior members can pave the way for change by adding correct terminology to their everyday vocabulary. Simple things like adding pronouns to their email signature or sending positive messages to team chats in the name of yearly cultural markers like Pride Month, Black History Month, Diwali, Chinese New Year, Hanukkah, International Mother Language Day and more. 

Track progress long-term

An organisation’s diversity, equity and inclusion success should serve three purposes: identify issues, find solutions and monitor the success of these solutions. 

Let’s start with identifying issues and defining the metrics you want to monitor. Think:

  • Do events make employees feel included? 
  • Do they feel safe from prejudice in the workplace? 
  • Do your policies reflect your inclusive company culture? I.e. Are regulated repercussions for team members who discriminate against other members of the team listed?

Now, let’s look at how to find solutions:

  • Start membership employee groups like ERGs, as we previously discussed.
  • Organise staff events that take everyone’s needs into consideration. For example, if you’re doing a food tasting class, make sure you include gluten-free and meat-free options. If you’re doing a drinks tasting, offer alcohol-free versions of everything. If you’re holding some sort of event during Lent or Ramadan, ensure they don’t revolve around eating or drinking at all.
  • Organise meetings with C-suite leaders to enact changes in policies and mission statements. Make sure to announce these changes to acknowledge that employee feedback has been taken into account.

Finally, let’s look at how you can monitor the success of your solutions. This step should centre around the opinions, feelings and feedback from your employees. This acknowledgement of their value in the company is what boosts inclusion and encourages diversity of thought in the workplace. 

Here are some simple identifiers:

  • Attendance numbers at staff events
  • Engagement with training sessions
  • Number of sign ups for ERG groups

You can monitor all of the above via employee engagement platforms like Trickle. This real-time employee experience for the modern workplace brings your organisation together under one digital roof.

Collaboration, engagement, recognition and wellbeing are at the heart of Trickle, keeping your employees connected, engaged and happy at work.

How Trickle can help

Enhance inclusivity and diversity in your workplace with Trickle’s innovative platform. Some key features are:

  • Fist Bump — this is a great way to give praise; to recognise someone for their efforts and encourage peer-to-peer support.
  • MoodSense — this lets you gauge employee feelings in real-time, helping you identify where grievances lie so that you can jump on issues before they become long-term problems.
  • Flares — these allow employees to anonymously flag any issues they’ve experienced at work, from problems with policies to highlighting discrimination.
  • Shout Abouts — share news and celebrate wins with Shout Abouts. Post announcements in the Activity Feed for everyone to ‘high-five’ and support virtually.

Find a comprehensive list of all Trickle’s features here

Book a free demo or sign up for a free trial today.

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