Four ways to make workplace diversity stick

It’s great to see organisations throwing everything they’ve got at improving workplace diversity. But no amount of quotas, unconscious bias training or minority representation can guarantee lasting, meaningful change.

Adopting a “build it and they will come” mentality may be effective in attracting diverse talent, but without a long-term cultural shift this talent will leave your organisation sooner rather than later. It isn’t enough to simply hire a diverse team and sit back, hoping that the culture change that leads to genuine inclusion will naturally follow. 

At two recent Six Degrees events, we hosted a panel of diversity experts who discussed some of the ways to make diversity stick in the workplace. If you’re part of, or leading, a diverse team, or in the process of diversifying your workforce, here are some effective steps you can take.

1. Implement inclusive measures 

Making small changes that acknowledge and accommodate diverse team members can have a big impact on employee satisfaction. Christina King, Head of People and Culture at Youfoodz explained, “We’ve really tried to be proactive with our inclusion measures. For example, Youfoodz started sending out communication in multiple languages, which had a really positive reaction from employees”. It’s about making a conscious effort to pre-empt policies and procedures that make everyone feel seen and included. Communicating the intent of diversity and inclusion in everything you do is important for making it stick. 

2. Practice what you preach 

When diversity measures don’t align with the organisation’s code of conduct there’s a big problem. The same goes for a code of conduct that says all the right things but isn’t readily enforced. Unfortunately, there will always be those who doubt diversity and inclusion measures, do their best to resist or ignore them and spread bigoted ideas throughout the workplace. When incidents involving minority groups are ignored or overlooked, it sends a clear message to the entire workforce: you can get away with making inappropriate comments, discriminating against others and not engaging with the organisation’s diversity programs. Ultimately, it implies that any diversity measures are tokenistic.

This creates a hostile environment for people belonging to minority groups. Anthony Heraghty, Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Super Retail Group, takes a strong stance on this. “When starting to create a more diverse workforce, you get the backlash. And if you don’t deal with this in a very acute and directive way it can actually put you back very quickly.” There needs to be a standard that you set and you must not accept any behaviour which fails to meet that standard, he argues. “When you end up with bullying issues or people acting very poorly, they have to be terminated.”

Of course, this should never come at the expense of fair and reasonable debate. Inclusion should accommodate everyone (and their opinions) as long as no harm or offence is being caused.

3. Identify workplace heroes 

Celebrating diversity in the workplace is an important step to building an inclusive culture. For Anthony, it’s about applauding the heroes, stars and stories of the organisation. Positive storytelling helps fix the disconnect between what some employees might perceive to be enforced diversity measures and the real people behind them, who are significantly contributing to the organisation. “Who are the heroes, stars and the stories that appropriately recognise the diverse culture you want to create?”

When profiling diverse employees, it’s important to let them tell their stories, in their own way, when it is relevant and appropriate. It can be beneficial to make use of allies within your organisation who champion the culture you are trying to create - people who will get behind diversity initiatives, turn up to events, support colleagues when they see injustice and educate others on the importance of these initiatives.

4. Listen to everyone

Employees from minority groups, who might already feel marginalised within the workforce, could be less inclined to raise concerns or bring their problems to the table. Therefore, it’s important to create opportunities and safe spaces for everyone to speak up and give feedback on their experiences within the organisation. This could come in the form of regular appraisals or via diversity networks. As Christina King argues, “We really want to include everyone [and give them] opportunities as much as possible to have a voice and contribute to the development of our programs.”

Another way to help educate the workforce on diversity and inclusion is through implementing a reverse mentoring programme. Employees from minority groups mentor members of the senior leadership team to educate them on existing D&I issues challenges within the organisation, their suggestions for improving the culture and their lived experiences. This builds understanding and ensures that any measures being implemented are directly applicable to the organisation’s diverse employees. 

Get in touch with a Diversity and Inclusion expert at Six Degrees Executive today to discuss how to make cultural change stick on your organisation.