We hear a lot about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, or in general, but terms like this can easily be seen as management-speak buzzwords, which can in turn impact how successfully any move to improve diversity and inclusion is implemented, or can detract from their perceived value or importance.
And whilst we usually hear ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ together, they don’t mean the same thing, so breaking it down can be helpful.
Diversity is all about our differences – recognising that everyone has different characteristics and circumstances, and that they bring different perspectives to the workplace.
Many see diversity as being inextricably linked to discrimination. And of course diversity can be differences in terms of the nine ‘protected characteristics’ under the Equality Act 2010 (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation), and there is specific protection in respect of these particular characteristics that any small employer needs to be aware of and take into account.
But diversity goes wider than that, and incorporates both visible and non-visible factors, whether or not these are specifically legally-protected.
Cultural and economic background, personality types, learning styles and approaches to work are all relevant to the diversity of the workforce, and recognising the importance of diversity is acknowledging that incorporating the range of perspectives brought by a diverse workforce to decision making can be beneficial, as can the impact of a workforce being representative of customers, and of the local population.
Inclusion is about ensuring that everyone’s differences are valued, and that regardless of their personal characteristics and diverse backgrounds and approaches to work, all employees feel able to contribute and feel their contribution is recognised and encouraged.
An inclusive workplace will recognise people’s differing needs and have fair policies and practices in place taking into account the diversity of the workforce, and not making anyone feel as though they have to conform, but instead can be themselves and feel valued and supported.
Inclusion means all employees feel they have a voice, and equal access to opportunities, resources and support. They all feel valued for who they are, and for their differences.
An inclusive workplace will prioritise eliminating bias from decision making, and preventing discrimination and harassment.
Diversity and inclusion are not just important for bigger organisations. Even the smallest employers can take steps to acknowledge, value and improve the diversity of its workforce, and ensure that everyone feels valued and included.
It doesn’t mean having lots of policies (although confirmation of any employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in writing is important), inclusion means genuinely prioritising and valuing diversity and taking the time to consider inclusion as part of decision-making.
If you’d like further advice on diversity and inclusion, do get in touch.