Diversity and inclusion; they go together like needle and thread. One just doesn’t work effectively without the other. Here we explore 5 important steps organisations can take in order to avoid the tokenism trap, and create a culture that fully embraces diversity.

It’s pretty easy to monitor and control diversity in the workplace, and most large organisations do it routinely. But what makes the difference between knee-jerk responses (short term fixes, which only kick the issue further down the street) and meaningful strategies (which engage your whole business in a sustainable and long term culture shift)? The answer is simple: inclusion.

Without a proper and considered approach to inclusion, diversity strategies can backfire and ultimately do more damage than good. And there are some jaw-dropping examples of well intended, but deeply misguided attempts. There’s the (unnamed) law firm, which issued a memo to its employees urging them to interact with ‘diverse hires’ via 20-minute chats over lunch or coffee, all of which, they said, should be time-logged in order to ‘verify compliance’. Then there’s the Tory MP, vilified over social media, during the 2015 Election campaign, after her suggestion that people with mental illness should wear different coloured wristbands (denoting their condition) in order that they could be better aided by the public. And even Starbucks sparked a Twitter-storm over their #RaceTogether campaign, which was seen as a superficial PR strategy, and a lukewarm attempt to thrust a message of diversity on customers during their morning coffee dash.

Of course these are extreme examples. But what steps can organisations take to ensure that they effectively and appropriately embed a culture of inclusion into their organisations. The answer is that it is not a quick fix. It takes more than a bit of lip service and a one-off quirky corporate initiative. If you’re serious about diversity, here’s how to make it inclusive and make it work.

1)Take The Temperature

Whatever the size of your business, large or small, it is important to start with understanding its current diversity profile. Use audit tools such as those provided by great{with}diversity to measure not only the demographic make up of your business, but also the levels of engagement across all majority and minority groups. The results can be very revealing, and will help not only to define the status quo, but also to create a benchmark and set short, medium and long-term goals for change. It isn’t uncommon to discover pockets of greatness in an organisation’s approach to diversity, sitting side by side with serious problem areas. An audit will help you to identify what you’re doing well, but also how you can progress towards being consistently great with diversity across your whole business.

2)Train Your People

Most induction programmes feature at least one cursory PowerPoint side on the subject of equal opportunities. But, increasingly, there is a move towards more focussed training on topics such as unconscious bias. We are all guilty of it; it’s human nature. But recognising the patterns and knowing what steps to take to minimise it is critical towards building an inclusive and diverse organisational culture. Your audit results can provide interesting direction and insight into what sort of training is most needed, and how you can support your people at all levels in the business to understand what your organisation really means when it talks about ‘diversity’ and ‘equal opportunities’. It’s about making it more than just a document in an employee handbook, but an adopted culture that your workforce can carry through to their own day-to-day roles.

3) Build Networks and Appoint Champions

So, you’ve completed your audit. All well and good, but why not keep the lines of communication open permanently. Internal employee networks can be a great way to foster inclusivity, generate ideas on how to improve diversity practices, and maintain an ‘always on’ approach to communicating with under-represented groups within your business. Diversity Champions, appointed from all levels within your workforce, can also be a fantastic means of voicing the needs and concerns of people in the business, and allow you the opportunity to act immediately on any suggestions raised. Above all, it demonstrates a refreshing employee-led approach to diversity. If you can successfully engage your workforce in inclusivity, managing diversity will happen organically.

4) Create Awareness

And we’re not just talking about sticking up a few Equal Opportunities posters. Think role models, cultural awareness events, diversity and inclusion awards, involvement in national diversity initiatives, and use of intranet and online tools such as Yammer and social media networks. The diversity calendar includes key dates, which focus on and celebrate, for example, National Worklife Week, National Inclusion Week and the National Diversity Awards. Social media is rife with employer networks’ tweets and status updates informing followers of their views, opinions and activities around diversity related matters. It’s time to get involved – not only will it widen your network, it will also build your knowledge and understanding of best practice, and above all sends a message to your employees that you genuinely care about inclusion in the workplace.

5) Take a Holistic Look at Your Business

Don’t make the mistake of ‘fixing’ diversity in one aspect of your organisation, such as employee engagement, whilst simultaneously flying in the face of equality in other areas, such as supplier diversity and CSR. There’s nothing more likely to smack of tokenism than a mixed message. If you want diversity to count, review your practices business-wide and make a commitment that sends an unequivocal message to your staff, customers and suppliers that diversity matters in all parts of your business.

As Verna Myers summed up so eloquently in the title of her book, ‘Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.’

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