At its most basic level, equality, diversity and inclusion is making sure no one feels left out at work due to their age, ethnicity, gender, culture, language and many other factors. Regarding our workplaces, diversity should be recognised and there should be an appreciation of how this can benefit any organisation. 

Every individual perceives the world in a different way, and the value of that shouldn’t be overlooked. We will identify individual differences, describe the key terminology and outline why you as an employer, HR professional or employee should really care. There will also be some advice on what can be done to improve and ensure a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion.

The Individual

Equality, diversity and inclusion are personal to each individual. They will illicit different thoughts; these biases are part of being a human and categorising people is as natural as breathing. 

The cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky found that different languages shape the way we think. An aboriginal community in Australia use cardinal directions such as north and south, instead of left and right. They are naturally better at orientating themselves due to it being ingrained in their culture through language. 

Let’s talk facts and stats for a minute; the latest UK census data (2011) is old but fit for this purpose[2].

1.   Population of UK: 63.2 million individuals

2.   51% female individuals; 49% male individuals

3.   66% individuals aged 15-64; 18% aged 0-14 and 16% aged 65 plus

4.   12.9% individuals who are regarded ethnic minorities

5.   22% of individuals reported a disability (Family Resources Survey 2016-2017)[3]

Everyone traditionally has 5 senses which they perceive the environment around them with. This results in the UK having 316 million different senses perceiving the world in different ways.

“The Big Five” is considered an accurate personality model and is used by many businesses the world over. The name is a key indicator as to how many different personality scales make up the model (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism). Again, the point would be the vast number of combinations available in the UK.

The question is this. In an era where social justice and political divisiveness is highly publicised, what can businesses do to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion of its individuals?

One of these individuals is Nisha. She’s a 34-year-old mother of two who enjoys going to the gym, watching The Great British Bake Off and has an unusual love for Shark Week. 

Since the age of 18, she has visited 3 cities in a different country each year, mostly just for a few days, to experience different cultures. Nisha is the daughter of Indian immigrants; her father is an engineer and mother a mathematics teacher. They raised her to speak fluent Hindustani, alongside her native English. 

From an early age she enjoyed taking things apart to see how they went back together again. By the age of 10, she had decided she wanted to be an engineer like her father. 14 years later in possession of a Master Degree in Mechanical Engineering she gets her first job as an engineer at a top organisation.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

So, what are we talking about?

In this context, we’re looking at fairness which is ‘impartial and just treatment or behaviours free from favouritism or discrimination.’ 

This definition leaves room for ambiguity. The primary reason for employment tribunals is that somewhere along the line individuals either choose to be explicitly unfair or misinterpret what it means to be fair. While informed by laws and the social contract, each individual will have different perceptions of what is just based on experiences and perception. 

This is the reason for clearly outlined codes of conduct and ethics in the workplace to provide a structure which all individuals work within. This idea of fairness and justness underpins equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and its importance cannot be understated.

According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, “equality is about ensuring every individual has an equal opportunity to make the most of their lives and talents”

To business leaders and HR professionals this word may be perceived less controversially than it is to frontline staff or those just starting their careers. During my time in management, I would regularly hear statements such as, “she only got that position because she’s a woman.” This is sadly true in some cases.

This misinterpretation of equality and in some cases, positive action, is harmful not only to those individuals making those statements but also the individuals in question. I have spoken to females who have doubted the legitimacy of rewards they’ve received even when completely deserving. 

Equality is in opportunity, not necessarily in results, trying to have equality in results without equality in opportunity is counterproductive and importantly unfair.

For a workplace to be considered diverse, there would have to be a wide variety of individuals. Earlier, I talked briefly about some of the ways in which we are all individuals and differ from each other. Regarding our workplaces, diversity should be recognised and there should be an appreciation of how this can benefit any organisation.

Having a diverse workforce is only achievable long-term by having an inclusive environment. This is a celebration of the diversity of people and where benefits are actively sought from the differences between people. It was key to ensure that all in the workplace feel equally valued and involved, sharing their differences to promote better decision making. If individuals in the organisation don’t feel included, they will either lose motivation or leave, no matter what efforts have been made by management.

Nisha after just less than a year of starting her dream career, is given supervisory responsibility of a project. This promotion is an increase in pay and to her friends and family is seen as a just reward for her hard work. 

Historically, there has been a perception that engineering is a man’s job meaning the drive for equality and diversity within this field is high. Nisha’s organisation is seen as progressive and innovative,as it is recruiting and promoting more and more women every year. 

This fact is mentioned in every job advert, on the website, in the monthly meetings, company newsletter and in other company literature. This celebration of diversity is very positive and why not empower women to work within this predominantly male orientated profession.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

So, why should we care and what are the benefits?

There are three key groups of reasons why equality, diversity and inclusion are important to an organisation:

1.   Legal

2.   Moral

3.   Economic

Legal – In 2010 the government were very thoughtful when naming the key piece of legislation surrounding equality, kindly naming it the Equality Act (makes it more memorable). The law effectively protects individuals from discrimination and inequality if the reason for it is because of a protected characteristic. There are nine protected characteristics:

1.       Sex

2.       Sexual Orientation

3.       Gender Reassignment

4.       Race

5.       Age

6.       Disability

7.       Religion/Belief

8.       Marriage/Civil Partnership

9.       Pregnancy/Maternity

Discrimination is a very serious offence within the workplace and can happen at any point from recruitment to when individuals leave the employment of an organisation. Essentially it comes in two forms, either direct or indirect, and can be either conscious discrimination or unconscious discrimination. 

Direct discrimination is absolutely unjustifiable. It can rear its ugly head in the form of abuse, harassment or pay on the basis of one or more of the nine protected characteristics. Indirect discrimination could come from something as simple as the wording of job adverts e.g. “the ideal man for the job” or by only having stairs to access a building. 

In accompaniment to the Equality Act there is other legislation around pay, flexible working, maternity / paternity and more.

Moral – While this point seems fairly obvious, I would be remiss to not at least briefly discuss it. It was mentioned earlier that fairness can be subjective, what is a fair process or outcome in one country may not be fair in another. 

The UK strives to be an accepting and multicultural nation. London is the most diverse region with 44.9% of people recognised as White British and some 40.2% as Ethnic minorities[4]. 

There is an acceptance culture in the UK which begins with children. They are taught about the major religions of the world, cultural differences and working within codes of conduct. These dont allow harassment, bullying or discrimination of any kind. 

What is morally right is ultimately determined by society, a business will not last long if it is found to be morally corrupt. Quite simply organisations should strive for equality and diversity, if for no other reason than because it’s the right thing to do.

Economic – Some research has shown significant financial gains can be made by investing in a diverse workforce. McKinsey and Co. found that businesses in the top quartile for gender diversity was 21% more likely than the 4th quartile to have above average profitability[5]. There is also the argument that the workforce should at least be as diverse as the target market for businesses. As mentioned earlier, seeking commonality is natural, it would therefore make perfect sense for the workforce to mirror its customers.

How businesses can do more?

There are many ways in which an organisation can increase equality, diversity and inclusion. The first step however is to develop a strategy, a plan from which to go forward. For more information; see Mary Jones’ article on Developing an Integrated HR Strategy. The basic idea is to have specific and achievable planned goals anywhere from 1 week to 5 years and pivotally how to get there.

There are four key areas in which an organisation should focus if they wish to achieve their inclusive objectives. Removal of any single area would undermine the entire agenda and therefore activities should be carried out within each.

1.   Measure and Analyse. Equality, diversity and inclusion need to be measured and analysed in all aspects of the organisation such as performance and processes.

One of the key aspects of achieving any goal is measuring it. Employee surveys should be used to assess and understand the blockers to progression. Exit interviews could include questions regarding the leavers’ feelings around inclusivity in the organisation. Individual wellness should be considered as part of the employee experience and as such should be regularly measured.

2.   Inform and Train. Ensure all employees gain appropriate knowledge and training on the value of a diverse workforce and how to ensure inclusivity.

Diversity should be defined to include neurodiversity; far too often is diversity just based on physical appearance. Ensuring new recruits are trained on the importance of valuing what different people offer and performance reviews should include questions on inclusivity. 

Continuous development is about ensuring that all individuals have the skills and tools to do the job. Vision, mission and values should leave employees feeling inspired and included. Managers should support diversity, and not only be trained in legislation, but also on potential biases and how to avoid them. 

They should also be trained at spotting the candidates most and least likely to feel included.

3.   Unbiased processes and policies; all processes need to be unbiased such as recruitment, succession planning, performance.

Objectivity is key to reduce the impact of bias on processes which could include pay, performance management, recruitment and many others. Pay should be regularly reviewed to ensure it remains, fair, equal and transparent. 

ACAS offer an advisory booklet that can be followed to reduce the risk of going to an employment tribunal for unfair performance management. With recruitment, language should be carefully considered and location of adverts whether that is on job sites, social media etc. It could be that some individuals don’t have social media and they could be the perfect fit for the job. 

Furthermore, when selecting an individual for employment, interviewers should be aware of what adaptations can be made to cater for specific needs. When succession planning there should be an objective and transparent plan where performance is the determining factor. 

The commonly under-utilised ‘flexible working’ policies should be more widely used, and more time invested in considering how specific jobs/job roles could be applied.

4.   Accountability for all leaders; responsibility to ensure the organisation can attain and retain a diverse workforce inclusively falls with its leaders. As such, all team leaders should be measured and performance in this category held as a KPI.

Without accountability the whole circle collapses. Leadership positions should model inclusive behaviours and promote inclusive communication. Line managers and HR business partners have an obligation to actively seek out employees who may be becoming excluded and attempt to correct this. 

Diversity and Inclusion should be deemed important by all levels of management from the top down. Leaders should be promoted based on inclusive leadership with it added as a KPI.

Nisha believed there were far better people for the job than her, all of whom were men. She turned down the promotion and left the company, her exit interview consisted of three generic questions by her line manager. 

When she was asked why she left, her response was that she felt the job was only hers because she was a female and a British Indian. Her managers had been constantly talking about how they needed to promote diversity and get the figures up. She was feeling disrespected and couldn’t take that position away from a person she felt more deserving.

After 3 months of unemployment Nisha started at a new place of work. After 18 months she interviewed for a promotion and got it, this time she was overjoyed. The difference being, while the new company had goals for diversity and were promoting in their literature, they did 6 monthly performance reviews and PDP’s with all staff. 

Nisha and her colleagues were regularly involved in decision making and leaders valued individual opinions. They interviewed all candidates who showed an interest and who scored highly enough on their performance reviews. Her achievement was celebrated with the same amount of excitement and garnered the same coverage in company correspondence as all her counterparts. 

Eight years later, she now works four days and is part of a team from across the organisation that ensures the diversity and inclusion strategy remains purposeful and effective.

All levels of management should deem diversity and inclusion important; leaders and HR professionals can promote diversity and inclusion and remove the barriers. There needs to be a cultural change within organisations as there is no one activity that would lead to a diverse and inclusive workforce. This inherently means that it isn’t a quick fix that could be done overnight. Some activities such as leaders driving inclusivity and measuring it within an organisation aren’t just one-off exercises.

Finally, every individual is valuable.One idea, from one person, at any one time, could be the difference between success and failure. But then this was written by one individual and their perception of the subject matter, does that make it valuable? Well that depends on how you perceive it!

Article written by Dean Bruce, Lincoln University student, studying for his Level 5 Intermediate Diploma in Human Resource Management. 

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion in the Workplace

[1] Ted Talk – Lera Boroditsky – How language shapes the way we think

[2] DWP – Family Resources Survey 2016/17

[3] 2011 Census: Population Estimates for the United Kingdom, March 2011

[4] www.gov.uk – Regional Diversity Figures August 2018

[5] McKinsey & Co – Delivering through Diversity Report – January 2018