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What can we do about diversity and inclusion?

Diversity & Inclusion is something every organisation is thinking about. How do we make it real?

What can we do about diversity and inclusion?

Diversity & Inclusion

Practical steps for improving diversity

We all know the business case for diversity. It isn’t always easy to know what needs to change or how to make it happen

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2020 was an interesting year

There is a saying that goes, “May you live in interesting times.” 2020 was certainly interesting. 

We came to terms with COVID changing the way we work, live and interact. Businesses had to adapt and so did their people. Households with children appear to have been hit especially hard, as parents juggled work and home schooling. The World Economic Forum called COVID “the biggest setback to gender equality in a decade”. 

Some countries had other issues to think about. In the US and UK and countries around the globe,  Black Lives Matter became a turning point for change. People who have been waiting for change for many years are not willing to wait anymore. “You look at their board of directors..they lack any real diversity.”

Unconscious bias training was condemned by many as being a tick box exercise with no real impact. Although it builds on good intentions, it is unlikely to deliver behaviour change. The UK Equality and Human Rights Commission’s own report (2018) said, “we found no evidence to show that UBT can reduce bias to the extent that there is ‘neutral’ preference.”

Where do we start?

CLS is a diverse group of facilitators, trainers and specialists. We live and work across the globe and among us represent around 30 languages and cultures. We talk about diversity in our own organisation and what we can do to improve it. We don’t have all the answers but we do have some practical suggestions. Here are a few ideas from our facilitators. 

Jacqueline is the CLS Programme Director on the UNICEF ASPIRE programme for personal and professional development.   

For many the starting point can be data. Understanding the make-up of the workforce at each level provides important information. Jacqueline advises, “look at the make-up of the senior leadership team and Board and ask if it is fully representative – however you define that. Whether your answer is ‘yes’ or ‘no’, why is it the way it is? How did it come to be like this?”

People professionals – OD, L&D, HR – can all set a positive tone by saying “we don’t have all the answers yet.” It’s tempting to let those in charge make the suggestions. Kuwait’s new parliamentary women’s committee is comprised of only men and has been disparaged as a result. A classic case of the establishment – those systematically in charge – being the ones to decide what other people need. 

Jacqueline’s second suggestion is both sensible and simple. “Ask staff what they think about Equality, Diversity and Inclusion within the organisation. Ask them to suggest one thing to improve it.” You can quickly ask people what they think through a staff survey or poll. Asking people who know what needs to change is a fast way to create ideas and encourage suggestions and employee engagement. 

Sylvia is CLS Director of Coaching. Her delivery includes Respectful Workplace programmes.

Sylvia echoes this. “Ensure all voices are heard. Truly listen to people.” Listening may mean asking further questions, drilling down to understand what is meant by the person asking for change. “It’s also about enabling people to do things their way. There are so many ‘right’ ways of doing things. Let people do things the way that works for them.”

“It helps if we practice civility” said Sylvia. “Sometimes we can be judgemental about the other person – and we can also feel that suggestions for change are a criticism of us. If we listen, if we are civil, if we switch off that voice of judgement, then we can start to move to a new place. Above all, be curious.” 

Understanding the different experiences of people you work with can be fascinating, exciting and energising. That’s a great starting point for any conversation. 

Tim Sims providing a talk on ethical leadership

Tim advocates ethical leadership. His work includes leadership development with the UK’s National Health Service and housing sectors.

Tim offers ideas which can be used by individual managers and the HR/ L&D teams.

“Ask each of your team members to tell you when they feel most included and most excluded. The answers may surprise you.”

Tim makes a specific suggestion for managers to try at a team meeting.

“Invite each member of your team to upload a photo, to a designated photo board, that illustrates one aspect of how COVID has affected them or how they’ve responded to it. Volunteers can help with uploading if anyone is unsure how to do this. Then create the opportunity at the start or the end of meetings to have some of the team say whatever they want to about their particular photos.”

Benefits of diversity

When you are selling the idea of change in your organisation, it helps to have some ideas about where you want to move to, and why. 

Companies with higher levels of diversity tend to perform better financially, an important consideration when you are talking to the finance director. Diversity improves decision making in businesses too. That can be critical when you need to find new ways to exist in a turbulent world. 

It’s been known for some years, that more diverse organisations tend to be very much better at innovation than less diverse companies. When change is all around, innovation can be the critical difference in a business environment. There are other benefits too, which might be overlooked. The more diverse you are, the more likely you are to attract great talent. The better you are at developing and promoting diversity in your organisation, the more likely that talent is to stay with you. 

Ryan is an innovation specialist. He works with the agri-food sector to support developing positive environmental and consumer impact 

Ryan told us,  “Diversity is so important for every business.

The diversity and fresh perspectives of different people, based on their background, their learning, their beliefs, their experience, their culture; that’s what really drives innovation. By bringing together different people, you create innovation. It sounds obvious. Innovation helps organisations think differently and the best way to do that is through diversity of people. 

Living and working across Europe I have found that every culture has a different approach to the same task. Learning from that, accepting that difference, is a powerful tool for business.”

Next Steps for HR, l&D AND OD

What you do next is up to you. There is no one right answer. One of the important things to remember is that just because you are a people professional, it doesn’t mean you have, or have to have, all the answers. You can be the people who facilitate the conversation across the organisation. Just getting that started can be a positive action. 

Remember too that what works for other organisations may not work for you. It is dependent on your location, culture and legal framework, as well as your sector and people. The challenges in Germany are quite different to those in Canada, the UK, or France. 

If you want to talk it through, please get in touch. While we won’t give you simple answers, we can help you have the conversation and make the changes. 

Be the manager we all want to work for. Practical tips for better team management.

Try a practical tool to align your team and encouraging performance. 

Respect in the workplace. Sylvia discusses some of the issues to look out for

Psychologically safe teams, outperform all others. See what helps to improve team safety




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