Workforce diversity is widely accepted as the key to a business success, but ignoring the need to enhance inclusion is a “classic diversity mistake”.
However, companies which focus solely on getting the right mix of employees without realising why they’re doing it, or how a multifarious workforce can contribute to the organisation, are making a “classic diversity mistake”, Todd Sears, founder of Out on the Street, a forum aimed at engaging discussions among gay and straight leaders within the financial sector, said.
“That’s what I call Diversity 1.0, where you’re just managing diversity.”
“What companies should be doing is engaging differences. That difference could be anything from race, gender, sexual orientation to national origin. Your goal should be to create diversity of thought and perspective, not just race and gender; only then can you achieve inclusion.”
He says by focusing on the minority, companies are sending two very incorrect messages into the workforce.
“One, you’re telling the men that you don’t value them because there are too many of them, and two, you’re telling the women you only value them because of their gender. Neither of those messages creates inclusion.”
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So what can you do to help create a more diverse and inclusive culture in the office?
The first step for many organisations could be gaining senior leadership buy in. Building a culture which is accepting of all forms of diversity could require considerable amount of change management, therefore having a senior leader act as a sponsor could may a huge difference.
Regardless if that diversity involves employees who love sports, are single parents, or identify as LGBT, knowing they are acknowledged and supported by top management is critical to building a culture of openness.
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Companies could also provide training or awareness programmes for employees who may not be as familiar with certain aspects of diversity.
This was something Joe Tofield, head of diversity at the British Council, did when he joined the company last year.
“Since I joined in April 2013, I’ve moved more towards doing talks with staff and bringing speakers in – things that will be more interesting for staff which may also help them in their actual day-to-day life as well,” he said.
Tofield added he was also very conscious about not “saying to staff ‘This is how you should think’ or ‘This is how you do things’”, especially when it came to an event the British Council hosted with Pink Dot, a non-profit organisation which supports LGBT rights in Singapore.
“I pitched it as an event where staff can learn about why Pink Dot is here, know more about them and make their own decisions.”
Tofield said leaders keen on building stronger diversity and inclusion efforts within their companies should consider getting in contact with those who are already active within the area.
“If you work in a bank or technology company, there are a lot of things already happening that you can get involved in,” he said.
“Talk to your peers and see how they did it within their organisations.”