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How can businesses create a more inclusive workplace

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Kevin Dowd has worked on a range of inclusion programmes and campaigns, as well as inclusive design initiatives. Here, he shares his advice on how businesses can create a more inclusive workplace for their employees.

Highlighting key barriers to inclusion

LGBTQ+ people continue to face discrimination and exclusion in the workplace. As a community, we often ignore or brush these things off, reluctant to “create a scene” – like many, I’ve been in that situation countless times in my career.

In February 2021, CIPD published a report about inclusion at work for LGBTQ+ people – the statistics made for tough reading.

One in five LGBT+ people still experienced discrimination during recruitment or promotion processes, and 40 per cent felt their organisation’s policies and procedures were inadequate.

A significant number of people said they wouldn’t feel confident reporting homophobic bullying in their workplaces. Shockingly, one in 10 said they’d been outed by colleagues without their consent.

We know that all of this has a detrimental effect on employees’ mental health and productivity, and ultimately, the business loses out when talent leaves.

As we celebrate Pride Month, it’s useful to consider how businesses can be more inclusive for their underrepresented communities in a way that goes beyond a tick box exercise, and promotes meaningful change.

1. Know where you’re at on your journey

To better understand where we want to get to, we first need to know where we’re at on our journey. The best way to do this is to talk to your people, and gather data about their experiences.

Depending on the size of the business, this could be an anonymous survey created with a free online tool. If there are fewer employees in the business, anonymous surveys might not be so anonymous, so keep this in mind when thinking about the questions (and answers) that will give you the most insight.

It’s also important to give the option for written feedback from participants, as you might find something unexpected in their responses.

2. Set an ambitious vision

Once you know where your strengths and weaknesses lie, you can set an ambitious vision for your business, underpinned by practical actions that will promote greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of finding the perfect vision – it should simply anchor a point in the future where meaningful progress has been made in whatever way is right for your business.

While a vision is important for rallying others to the cause, it’s also helpful to remember that this isn’t just the right thing to do – businesses that are more diverse and inclusive consistently outperform other businesses. It’s a win-win.

3. Lead inclusively and with humility

As a business owner, you’re both the leader and the most senior role model for inclusive behaviour. At the same time, you can’t be expected to have all the answers straight away.

As you learn more about DEI, acknowledge you’re on a journey. This will encourage others in your team to acknowledge where they have more work to do.

4. Foster a culture of learning

This is relevant for any business of any size. As well as leading inclusively, you can bring in speakers or have team workshops that encourage your employees to discuss different themes or topics. And to keep the momentum going, be sure to keep the discussion front of mind through business updates at regular intervals.

5. Look for hidden expertise

You might not know that someone in your workforce has experience in this space, and this includes lived experience. Forming a working group around DEI with an open call can lead to unexpected results, and sends the message that this isn’t top-down, but something we’re all in together.

A caveat here is that you should be mindful of approaching someone directly to be involved because they’re part of any underrepresented community. This can make the individual feel like they are a “token” figure. Instead, put the call out to everyone, and see who’s passionate about making a difference in this space.

And if you’re looking for more inspiration, keep an eye out for the great work coming out of all kinds of organisations, big and small. For example, Netflix published an inspiring and insightful report in 2021 (albeit with a blockbuster budget behind it!).

6. One size fits nobody

There’s no single way to get this right. Your business is unique, and so is every inclusion programme. So think about how to get it right for you and your people.

For example, you may have identified that women have a higher turnover rate than men, or that the banter in the office is culturally insensitive. The insights you gather can inform the actions you’ll take next.

When considering LGBTQ+ employees, sensitivity and discretion is vital – as these employees might not be out, nor fully comfortable discussing their sexuality or gender identity.

This is where your judgement is essential. As long as you’re visibly making an effort to create a more inclusive workplace, your under-represented communities are likely to respond positively.

7. Be patient, this is a long game

We’re not going to solve homophobia, discrimination, and exclusion overnight. While some of these tips might make for a good starting point, don’t expect to make great strides straight off the bat.

The challenges and opportunities of DEI will take time to understand and address, but small steps make a big difference. Just by reading this article, you’ve made a start on creating a more inclusive workplace for your team.

How meaningful the change you introduce is depends on your resolve to go further, and do more, to make sure your people feel they belong. But it’s worth the effort – your people, and your business, will be better off for it.

How do you think your business is doing on your journey to being more inclusive? Let us know in the comments.

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