When businesses travel along their diversity and inclusivity journey, it’s not uncommon for them to look to a diversity and inclusion (D&I) professional to come in with the hope of them being able to ‘fix’ their company culture.
This tick-box approach may raise your diversity levels at face value, but without involving everyone in the workplace within your inclusion initiatives, you will not be able to create the sense of belonging that is so important when establishing an inclusive workplace.
In this article for The Training Journal I explain why D&I is the responsibility of everyone and show the important role each level of the organisation plays.
D&I requires a strategic, holistic approach
As D&I has risen up the agenda, so has D&I as a specific job role. While this demonstrates it is now being recognised as the fundamentally important part of a business that it is, it has led to many ‘experts’ emerging who seek to cash in on its rise, and also the idea that businesses can delegate the responsibility to an outside professional and that is job done!
It’s important to balance professional perspective on areas in which you lack inclusivity at the same time as seeking views and experiences of those who operate within it, as this will help you to truly grasp your company culture.
This is why it is of critical importance for everyone at all levels to be included within the creation, implementation and futureproofing of your diversity and inclusion strategy. Without the support of each employee, it is unlikely to become an established working practice.
Similarly, issues surrounding D&I should not be considered stand-alone; they are weaved within recruitment practices, employee recognition and communication to name but a few.
When leaders create an environment where employees feel comfortable to contribute, inclusion strategies have a much higher chance of success
For an inclusion strategy to be successful, it needs to be holistic. Inclusion strategies require unity at all levels.
What can each group do?
Senior leaders across all business departments need to be involved in the creation and implementation of your inclusion strategy, not just those in HR.
Senior leaders are also vital in creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable to share their experiences and are valued for their contributions.
It is commonplace for the same people to always put themselves forward for projects and promotion. It overshadows the rich diversity of experience often from those in underrepresented groups and those who are not so confident to speak up.
It is also important for leaders to spend time engaging employees and demonstrating their authentic commitment to being an advocate and ally to all.
For example, advocates should continually be looking for opportunities to educate themselves about the experiences of others.
A strength of an ally is the desire to understand different perspectives, so they proactively seek to educate themselves.
Inclusive leaders are open to new things, they show support for others, help others to grow and confront unacceptable behaviours.
When leaders show the way and create an environment where employees feel comfortable to contribute, inclusion strategies have a much higher chance of success.
Engaged employees are particularly important for embedding your inclusion strategy. The colleague to colleague relationship is very powerful for inclusion.
If you focus on establishing meaningful relationships through initiatives such as team lunches, team-building days and diversity networks, they are much more likely to call out another employee who is displaying unacceptable behaviour or notice any concerning behavioural changes in others who may be struggling.
In addition, if every single employee feels like they belong in the workplace and at the organisation, they are much more likely to deliver their best work and be loyal.
3. External individuals
While they should not be solely relied upon, external individuals do have an important role within this inclusivity network.
They can provide refreshingly honest external insight into the true inclusivity of your business. For example, something which you may not consider a cultural hindrance, such as a prevailing long hours culture, could be brought to light through an outside perspective.
Similarly, as more diversity data becomes public, the public also have an important role to play as they can choose to boycott those not prioritising inclusivity to force them into action.
Social media can hold immense power and negative or disappointing experiences can spread particularly quickly. This can be harnessed for good and encourage non-conforming organisations into changing their strategy.
D&I advocates at all levels within an organisation are really important to ensuring fatigue does not set in. Inclusion should occur all the time and not just when people are looking.
It’s only when a holistic approach is implemented which involves everyone at all levels of the business that an inclusion strategy will really be able to take hold and true sense of belonging can be created.