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Diversity and inclusion: defining the difference for HR effectiveness

Published 31st January 2018 by Investors in People
Diversity and inclusion at work

The number of executives recognising inclusion as a top priority has risen by 32% since 2014. Two forces are driving this increase: greater public awareness of diversity issues and increased understanding among organisations of how diversity stimulates competitive advantage. But when we talk about organisations taking action on diversity, do we really mean diversity, or do we mean inclusion? In this article we define the terms and show how HR can take action on each one.

Diversity: what does it mean?

At a basic level, diversity the degree of variation in a group of people on various visible and non-visible characteristics such as race, gender, social background, physical characteristics and personality. Diversity exists on a spectrum: organisations can have a good gender mix, for example, but poor representation of BAME employees.

For some people, diversity stops here: it’s a statement purely about the makeup of the workforce. For others, it’s also about the extent to which organisations are aware of difference in their workforce and celebrate it internally. The CIPD, for example, says that diversity is where “difference is recognised and emphasised.”

Diversity doesn’t cover two things: firstly, it says nothing about the way people feel within the group. You can work in a diverse organisation and yet feel very isolated. Secondly, it doesn’t refer to group dynamics. That group could be high-performing or dysfunctional and everything in between.

This is where inclusion comes in: inclusion is focused on active measures to make diversity healthy and productive.

Inclusion: what does it mean?

Miller and Katz (2002) define inclusion as: “.. a sense of belonging: feeling respected, valued for who you are; feeling a level of supportive energy and commitment from others so that you can do your best.” This is the first dimension of inclusion at work: are organisations making people feel included and respected?

The number of executives recognising inclusion as a top priority has risen by 32% since 2014.

Secondly, does the organisation use this sense of belonging to drive greater personal and team performance? And to what extent does the organisation create formal structures, initiatives and dynamics that allows natural diversity to act as a catalyst for greater performance?

The final dimension is about interpersonal dynamics. Does the organisation recruit people who have respect, tolerance and empathy for people around them that are both similar and different? How does the organisation encourage these behaviours?

This final dimension is critical: if organisations are nothing more than collections of people, then inclusive organisations are organisations made up of inclusive people.

3 ways organisations can increase diversity

Start measuring it

You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Clarity and transparency are great catalysts for action. After the BBC honoured a statutory requirement to report on its gender pay gap, it pledged to end the pay gap by 2020.

Measuring diversity allows action to be targeted in order to achieve greater levels of diversity. For example, if you know that a certain group is underrepresented you can direct your recruitment efforts accordingly.

Audit your talent pipeline

Talent pipelines are often dominated by one or two channels that bring the bulk of employees into the organisation. But as we increasingly recognise that a talented workforce is a diverse one, it’s important that talent pipelines do not overweight the importance of a specific channel, such as links with universities, or the workforce recruited will be overly-represented by people from that channel. Auditing the talent pipeline is the first step in recognising where new links should be made in order to tap more diverse talent.

Critique your recruitment processes

Recruitment processes can unknowingly prevent certain groups from applying for jobs. For example, your insistence that applicants meet 100% of the criteria before they apply may be affecting the gender mix in your organisation, as a widely-reported study suggests that women will only apply for jobs if they meet 100% of the criteria. For men, it’s 60%.

Alternatively, your rigid online recruitment process may be putting off those who aren’t confident applying for jobs on the internet. Don’t assume this is a small number: digital inclusion charity Doteveryone believes 10 million UK adults lack basic digital skills.

3 ways organisations can improve inclusion

Celebrate all dimensions of participation

Organisations must ensure inclusion initiatives aren’t biased towards the initiative sponsor’s definition of what it feels like to be included. There are many ways to feel or not feel included at work. A study by Janssens and Zanoni (2008), based on a survey of ethnic minorities in the workplace, identified five dimensions of inclusion:

  • Social (“I belong to this community.”)
  • Economic (“I am valued for my work.”)
  • Non-discriminatory (“They don’t discriminate me for my culture.”)
  • Cultural (“There is a place for my culture.”)
  • Ethical (“They give me a chance.”)

Invest in self-awareness training

Many organisations say that they are inclusive, but their workplace practices tell a different story. This is often driven by a lack of awareness in how their processes are inhibiting inclusion.

For example, it’s easier for managers to recognise their own strengths in others and therefore they may be more likely to publically recognise behaviours aligned to these strengths, negatively reinforcing difference within the team.

Inclusion is focused on active measures to make diversity healthy and productive.

By becoming more aware of these biases, managers are more likely to recognise a broader spectrum of strengths, increasing feelings of inclusion in their team.

Reframe traditional interventions as performance enhancements

In an inclusive environment, we bring our whole selves to work, including the things that make us different from others. But when we feel difference is not celebrated or leads to unfair treatment, we are more likely to hide difference from others.

Take someone with chronic back pain: they may be in considerable pain and half as productive as normal, but don’t want to cost the organisation money. They may also be worried that the organisation will think twice about promoting them in future.

In organisations that recognise wellbeing as a personal characteristic, unique to that individual, a person with chronic back pain will find it much easier to ask for and receive help. It would be even easier in organisations that don’t only recognise wellbeing as a diverse characteristic of individuals, but also the link between wellbeing and performance.

What about dyslexia? Many people have tried to hide their dyslexia, convinced employers will become concerned they won’t be able to do their job properly. And yet there’s simple assistive software available to help dyslexic workers work more confidently and efficiently.

Performance is fluid, changing on a daily basis. It’s driven by factors universal to human beings, of course, but also factors unique to individual employees. Inclusive employers recognise this, celebrate it, and aren’t afraid to make individual investments in productivity for their staff.

Committed to the diversity and inclusion agenda in your organisation? Take a look at our articles on how to develop a more progressive definition of diversity and why diversity ramps up performance in the workplace.