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Diversity is an important issue for any modern business. But it is not enough to hire people of different nationalities, races, genders and sexual orientations – everyone needs to feel like they are truly welcome, safe and free to be themselves in the workplace.
Inclusion should be a big focus for employers because it ensures that all employees, regardless of their background and experiences, can be connected with equal opportunity and create a healthier, more successful future. When people are comfortable and can express themselves they are more likely to perform better, which increases engagement and contributes to the organisation as a whole.
Below we discuss a number of strategies you can adopt to ensure you are building and creating an inclusive culture in your organisation.
Start from the top
As with any part of company culture, creating and encouraging a sense of belonging in your workplace begins at leadership level. The founders and senior leadership team must have a desire to build a diverse culture and hire people who are open to working with people of all nationalities, races, genders and sexual orientations for anything to be actioned. If diversity is not a company goal it will not happen. Organisations tend to hire the same sorts of people and are rarely challenged. Therefore a culture of inclusion must be promoted from the top.
Once your company's leadership sets the tone, it is easy to extend that attitude throughout the organisation. Take a close look at your company's recruitment process to make sure your approach to hiring considers diversity and inclusion. If necessary you should train employees to think outside the box, and work towards eliminating unconscious bias and this will help in building and nurturing an inclusive culture.
Invest in diversity training
Most biases are subconscious, which means we are not aware of them. Therefore, if diversity training is not delivered, bias within your workforce will persist. It is impossible for someone to overcome something they are not aware they are even doing. That makes diversity training essential to having an inclusive workplace. It is also important to make your diversity policies transparent and readily available to all staff in the business.
Provide safe spaces for employees
Inclusive workplaces go the extra mile to consider the safety and happiness of all employees, especially those from marginalised groups. For example, safe prayer spaces for Muslim employees with instructions on the direction to pray. Something as simple as this will allow them to go about their day as normal, and avoid any unnecessary embarrassment.
On a broader level, inclusive spaces can be created simply by spending time with one another, you could think about creating a space that your team can have lunch together. If your company is larger, creating an in-office support group or network for employees to help them connect with others who may share similar experiences or beliefs. For example, The Coop have adopted their Respect Network, a network for LGBTI employees to share experiences and work to ensure discrimination is not prevalent at any level within the organisation.
Connect with employees (but be sensitive)
One of the best ways to encourage to your employees to be themselves is to connect with them on a personal level. Be transparent with them about your own life – more often than not if you are open with them chances are you will get the same in return. Simple gestures like asking about "spouses" or "partners" (rather than assuming someone's sexual orientation and using gendered terms) can encourage LGBT employees to open up about their personal lives and feel included in non-work discussions.
Identify new talent pools
A huge step toward a more diverse workforce is a more creative recruitment strategy. Look beyond traditional hiring sources such as university programmes, specific job boards and industry organisations, and search for more unique talent pools.
Having a diverse workforce is no good if you do not have an inclusive culture. If people of different groups do not feel comfortable in the workplace, then they are not going to share their ideas and contribute in the way that will most help your organisation.
By taking on board the advice above, you will build a workplace where more people believe they can be their true self. And that will lead to a diverse and inclusive workforce that can give your organisation a major competitive advantage.