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Three simple steps to improve Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in your workplace

Three simple steps to improve Equality, Diversity & Inclusion in your workplace

28th June 2022 - Published by

The increasing importance of “EDI”

If you feel that you are hearing about equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the workplace more than ever, then you are not alone: research carried out throughout the Covid-19 pandemic reveals that nearly 80% of UK companies are taking action to increase their commitment to EDI. Employers are reacting to the world around them in which employees are becoming increasingly aware of social issues and cultural movements, such as Black Lives Matter, MeToo and the Climate Crisis.

Whilst EDI is not new, it is as relevant today as ever, and for good reason. A recent study ranked the UK as one of the worst countries for promoting equality in the workplace, coming bottom for recruiting employees from diverse backgrounds. Combined with other studies that reveal more than two thirds of Muslim employees have suffered islamophobia at work and three out of every four women of colour have experienced racism at work, it is easy to understand why employers are increasing their commitments to EDI.

Benefits of an inclusive and diverse workforce

Aside from their moral responsibility to tackle exclusion and inequality at work, employers stand to benefit from EDI practices as ultimately EDI is good for business. An inclusive workplace culture keeps staff happy, motivated and subsequently productive and it gives a company an edge over competitors. Having a greater variety and diversity in thoughts, experience and skills can greatly benefit a business, fuelling creativity and innovation. In the post-pandemic period which is proving a difficult climate for recruiting and retaining employees, a diverse and inclusive workplace culture can both attract and retain talent. Applicants are prioritising companies that value wellbeing and address societal challenges: in a recent survey by Deloitte, over half of employees surveyed who are aged 18-24 and who do not intend to remain in their business in the long-term are not satisfied with their employer’s progress in creating a diverse and inclusive environment, demonstrating the importance that young employees place on EDI practices. Equally, it provides employers with an opportunity to appeal to socially-conscious applicants who may otherwise be attracted to competitors. It is common-place for job applicants to scrutinise a prospective employer regarding the steps it is taking to promote EDI, and a weak response could result in the best talent going elsewhere.

Where it can go wrong

Companies who do not commit to EDI practices risk exposing themselves to reputational damage. It is becoming easier for employees and consumers alike to judge companies on their diversity and inclusion credentials. The introduction of Gender pay gap reporting for companies with over 250 employees exposes companies who have made little effort to bridge the gap in pay between men and women. The embarrassment that this can cause to companies was recently demonstrated by a Twitter bot that automatically responded to companies that were sharing posts regarding International Women’s Day to set out their own gender pay gap data. This Twitter bot has nearly 250,000 followers and companies with the worst pay disparities were subject to hundreds of retweets, focusing attention on their pay inequalities. Whilst not the law, businesses are encouraged to report data on other areas such as disability, mental health and well-being, all of which are made public.

Reputational damage suffered by a company causes further problems by acting as a barrier to recruitment. In the age of social media and online job review sites such as Glassdoor, it is easy for applicants to identify the commitment (or lack of) that a company has to EDI and given the current climate is hostile for employers looking to recruit, it is a hurdle to attracting skill and talent that employers would prefer to avoid. For current employees, having to disassociate from their authentic identity can detrimentally affect their mental health and wellbeing and may increase rates of sickness related absence, subsequently damaging their performance and productivity.

Finally, employers may be more vulnerable to legal challenges where EDI is not taken seriously. Not only does an employer have duties to prevent discrimination and harassment at work under the Equality Act 2010, but they are also liable for an act of discrimination by an employee which is done within the course of their employment, even if they are unaware of it. Encouraging diversity and inclusion within the workplace can help prevent acts of discrimination occurring in the first place and therefore reducing the likelihood of a costly Employment Tribunal claim.

The three steps that employers should take to improve EDI in the workplace

1. Build an inclusive culture

It is not possible to create a diverse workforce without having an inclusive culture. Employees from all walks of life and of all backgrounds, identities and circumstances must feel accepted, valued and respected, without feeling the need to act differently to fit in. An inclusive culture can be built by initially starting a conversation at work and to actively review how the business is performing in respect of EDI. Employers should be prepared to ask some challenging questions as part of the initial conversations. Carrying out business-wide surveys can be an effective way to review the impact that current policies and procedures have on employees, or to identify current obstacles to inclusion.

Ensuring that employees have the confidence to report any instances of discriminatory or exclusionary behaviour is fundamental to a culture of inclusion. Staff must have trust and confidence that any complaints are taken seriously. Line managers should always be prompt when dealing with complaints, following a thorough process and being prepared to carry out a disciplinary procedure if necessary. As well as displaying support, acting quickly sends a strong message of zero tolerance and will encourage employees to make complaints internally, rather than heading to the Employment Tribunal. Kuits can guide you through any investigation and disciplinary and provide advice throughout the process.

Finally, the company should make their dedication to diversity and inclusion visible. Including diversity and inclusion goals in a job description or advertisement or embedding them within the business’ values sends a message to potential candidates that the company is committed to EDI and demonstrates that inclusivity is integral to the organisation.

2. Training

Whilst it is important to provide equality, diversity and inclusion training for employees at all levels, it is particularly fundamental to properly train line managers. Like many aspects of employment, senior colleagues must lead by example and take a top-down approach in relation to EDI. Line managers must have the knowledge and understanding to identify harassment or exclusion in the workplace and be confident in dealing with any incidents. Training should not be a one-off act but be carried out regularly. Discrimination law is in constant flux, reflecting the continuous changes in societal standards. Diversity training from even five years ago is therefore likely to be outdated and managers will not be in touch with the best practice, risking the potential mishandling of complaints and exposing the company to legal challenges. Kuits offers comprehensive and practical EDI training that ensures line managers are fully informed of their responsibilities.

Setting up EDI committees, steering groups or networks can be an effective way of distributing training to colleagues. These groups not only display an organisation’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, but provide a supportive environment in which employees of all backgrounds can work together to share ideas and experiences that can shape workplace policies and procedures. The collaborative nature of these groups empowers colleagues to have their say, demonstrating that their opinion is valued, irrespective of their background or seniority in the company.

3. Implement EDI workplace policies

A company cannot claim to be committed to creating an inclusive and diverse culture without codifying this by way of a workplace policy. Standard policies include equal opportunities and anti-harassment policies, which set out the minimum standards of behaviour expected of employees in avoiding and preventing discrimination and harassment, reducing the risk of legal action. These policies provide an additional benefit in that they can help an employer avoid liability for discrimination committed by an employee, as they can help prove that an employer has taken all reasonable steps to prevent any unlawful acts of discrimination and harassment. Workplace policies set a tone and are a further visual reminder of an employer’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, helping to build trust and confidence. These policies should be included in employee induction programmes during the onboarding process to raise awareness.

In addition to the standard policies, an employer can benefit from implementing policies that are specific to certain groups, for example a transitioning at work or menopause policy. Line managers should be adequately trained to correctly apply the procedures set out in workplace policies. Kuits is able to draft bespoke policies suited to your business and advise you on best practice.

There are many benefits to creating a workplace that is equal, diverse and inclusive and it is in an employer’s business interests to take the above steps.

Get in touch with an Employment lawyer today

If you would like to discuss equality, diversity and inclusion further, or require any assistance with training and the implementation of appropriate policies, please contact one of our Employment experts on 0161 832 3434 or email jakemcmanus@kuits.com.

You can also watch our most recent HR Breakfast Club by clicking here, which covers some of the recruitment and retainment challenges mentioned in this article.

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