Diversity in any sized business, should not be viewed as a requirement to fulfil, but rather as an opportunity to grow and succeed. There have been many studies to show that companies with a diverse workforce fair better then companies who do not.
Diversity means the practice of including or involving people from a range of different social and ethnic backgrounds and of different genders, sexual orientations, ages etc.
Diversity does not just refer to people working in an organisation but also at what level they work. For example, a company with a senior management team of 5 men but a predominantly female workforce would not be considered to have a diverse management team.
The Equality Act details certain protective characteristics. It is illegal to discriminate against people for these characteristics either directly – because someone has the characteristic or indirectly if the employee is associated with someone who has a protected characteristic (see diagram on the right for details) .
Below, are 5 steps to help with engaging employees and increasing diversity in the workplace, and how as a business you can embrace some of these differences and show support to all colleagues.
1. The first step to improving or introducing diversity within your business, is of course recruitment. Including a diversity statement in all job adverts is recommended:
‘We actively encourage applications from black, Asian and minority ethnic and LGBTQ backgrounds to apply for this (and all) roles as these groups are underrepresented in our business”
Whilst encouraging a diverse group of people to apply for jobs, it is also important to understand ‘positive discrimination’. Positive discrimination is defined as employing someone because they have a protected characteristic, this is as unlawful as negative discrimination. A candidate should always be selected due to their suitability to do the job and not due to having or not having certain characteristics.
During any recruitment process, particularly in the interview stage, it is a good idea to showcase a company’s support by showing a diverse recruitment panel. This may help give any applicants from a BAME or LGBTQ more confidence in the businesses understanding of including diversity within the organisation.
2. Formal training surrounding diversity in the workplace can be an effective way to address employees understanding of the subject. Diversity training has been found to work well, especially when it targets awareness and skill development and is consistently trained over a significant period of time, rather than a one-off training session. It may be beneficial to introduce formal training to your company, or you may feel that by doing some research, you could conduct your own in-house training provided by senior management. This would also demonstrate to all colleagues a level of understanding and support within the senior team of the organisation.
Diversity training within the workplace helps to address all of the unique things that can make employees different to each other, protected characteristics – but also elements such as socio-economic backgrounds, mental and physical ability, and the manner in which we all work together. This moves businesses into a state of learning how to embrace differences amongst their employees and includes the valuable inputs that people from all backgrounds can bring to the company.
3. Acknowledging and celebrating religious and cultural holidays other than those in the Christian calendar can be a good way of engaging employees and helping to show support to minority group holidays. Below are a few ways you might look to improve your businesses awareness of holidays that some employees may not normally celebrate, or even in some cases be aware of.
- Using a shared company calendar to keep track of upcoming holidays, perhaps having a system whereby employees can input holidays they celebrate
- Connecting with all colleagues regarding holidays they celebrate, or maybe even would just like to know more about, giving other employees the opportunity to show their solidarity and support.
- Ensuring any practical elements of religious holidays can be carried out. This includes for example having a quiet space for prayer or meditation.
- Using company social media accounts to post about holidays, showing support to different ethnic minority groups and an understanding of their religious calendars.
- Small things, for example calling a ‘Christmas Party’ an ‘End of Year Party’ to be more inclusive.
- Encourage the sharing of special dishes relevant to different cultural and religious holidays during celebrations in the office, educating employees during these times perhaps through talks and discussion groups.
4. Perhaps one of the most effective ways to show solidarity and support within a company is by ensuring all members of senior management have a good understanding of the company’s diversity objectives. Dependent on an individual organisations business structure, these managers can ensure that these are kept on the agenda within their own teams and departments. A person in a senior management role can help to initiate difficult conversations between colleagues and, with training, can help to ensure that discrimination is never present within the company environment.
5. Talk to employees about their ideas for increasing diversity in the workplace, they may be able to identify obstacles that management is unaware of. For example, offering more flexible employment terms may encourage more female applicants. Supporting training schemes may appeal more to younger candidates and having an inclusive and supportive company culture – which is also visible externally, will help encourage other groups from different backgrounds apply for roles.