The concept of diversity and inclusion (D&I) is far from new – in fact, it's been around for decades – but in today's society it's a critical consideration, and one that's gaining increased traction in the corporate world.
No longer a compliance responsibility assigned to HR, diversity and inclusion has evolved into a strategic priority, and organisations that make it such are seeing the value a diverse and inclusive workforce has to offer.
What is the meaning of diversity and inclusion?
Diversity and inclusion are inextricably linked, but the two terms have very distinct meanings.
Diversity is the recognition of personal traits and characteristics that make an individual unique. This not only refers to those which are visible, like race, age or gender, but also those which are less easy to determine, like socio-economic background or sexual orientation.
Inclusion is when diversity is embraced. In an inclusive environment, difference presents no barriers, and everyone is given the same voice, the same opportunity, and the same support.
What is diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Diversity and inclusion in the workplace refers to two things. First, it is the makeup of an organisation's workforce, and the environment that workforce is welcomed into. It's not simply about a representation of diversity, but total equality.
Second, it refers to the strategies and initiatives that an organisation adopts in order to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.
What is the goal of diversity and inclusion?
There's no definitive answer here. Of course you could say that, broadly speaking, the goal of diversity and inclusion is to create a level playing field for all walks of life, but that would be oversimplifying the concept.
D&I strategies in the corporate world focus on multiple goals. They include the removal of unconscious bias from the workplace, providing fair and equal opportunity in recruitment, and the retention of diverse talent. They consider pay, development and promotional opportunities, and they look at the representation of different groups across the organisational structure.
Ultimately, there is no one goal of diversity and inclusion, and every business will need to set its own priorities to achieve on D&I objectives.
One thing remains universal, however: a commitment to diversity and inclusion brings a competitive edge. When different perspectives are valued and collaboration of diverse talent encouraged, creativity and innovation flourish.
When employees feel respected in the workplace, they become more engaged, loyal and committed. And, because diversity and inclusion is a major priority for today's job seeker, organisations that see it of equal value will attract the best candidates.
Diversity and inclusion best practices
Although there is no one size fits all approach, there are some standard guidelines for devising and implementing a D&I strategy.
Start with an audit of your business. Consider it from multiple perspectives, including those of both internal and external stakeholders, and comparatively against your competition.
Understanding market perception is the first step to identifying D&I priorities. Once those priorities are set, follow best practice procedures:
- Compile a detailed and well defined case of what diversity and inclusion means to your business, inclusive of the desired outcome of D&I initiatives.
- Obtain universal buy-in, engagement, and ownership from top level management.
- Appoint roles and responsibilities that show D&I as a business priority, for example, a dedicated Head of Diversity and Inclusion, supported by departmental representatives.
- Devise strategies for D&I objectives, complete with action plans, key milestones and quantifiable goals.
- Encourage participation and commitment from all employees with clear messaging on your D&I strategy.
- Continually assess performance, measure results, and share the impact of D&I initiatives.
- Review your strategy at regular intervals, revising where necessary.
Diversity and inclusion strategies
Inclusion first, diversity second. Any approach that prioritises diversity over inclusion is doomed to failure. If the diverse talent you hire does not feel included in the workplace, the only result you'll see is a high turnover rate. Make sure your strategy begins with a focus on creating a respectful, collaborative and welcoming work environment.
Provide D&I training. This should be rolled out across the organisation as a whole. Too many people still view diversity and inclusion through the narrow lens of protected characteristics, failing to understand their own unconscious biases, and indeed the true meaning of D&I and its benefits. With the right training programme in place, you'll see much greater involvement.
Create a culture of change. While training is important, change doesn't happen overnight. It's a process that requires ongoing care and attention. Empower your staff to become advocates for change by giving them access to the right tools and resources.
Focus on retention. In the past, diversity has been too ingrained in recruitment alone. A 'token' hire is not an effective D&I strategy - your approach needs to cover recruitment, onboarding, performance management, development, and career progression. Diverse talent should be given every opportunity to grow.
Of course, there are many additional strategies to those listed above, but these are applicable to all organisations, and should form the basis of your wider approach.
Diversity and inclusion success metrics
No D&I strategy is complete without analysis, and for that you need quantifiable results. Again, these will depend largely on what your objectives are, but here's some key metrics to consider:
- Employee engagement and satisfaction - a key metric for inclusion, consider surveying staff anonymously to gather ratings.
- Retention and turnover rates - these should be categorised into retention and turnover among certain groups to give you a more insightful picture.
- Productivity rates - an inclusive workforce should promote productivity - if your rates are low, you need to revisit your strategy.
- Representation - is diverse talent fairly represented across your organisation as a whole? For example, how does the makeup of top level management compare to that of the overall workforce?
- Developmental participation - who's taking part in any development programmes you offer, and is this representative of diversity?
The key thing to remember with any metrics you choose to measure is that they are just one part of a bigger picture. Diversity and inclusion is not a short term objective. It's a rolling priority, and just because your analysis indicates success, it does not mean your D&I commitments are fulfilled.