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The diversity playbook: how to rethink what you know about inclusion and diversity

Heeral Gudka
Image of Heeral Gudka, founder of Convergent

You don’t have to look very far for evidence that Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) are now front of mind issues in the modern workplace.

Along with Environment, Social and Governance, the subject of how we celebrate and champion difference has not only become an issue of moral and ethical corporate best practice, it is also increasingly aligned with investor and shareholder decision-making.

In short, getting your EDI processes and policies right isn’t just good for your people – which in the end is what should matter most, it’s also good for your profitability and growth.

Recently during an open webinar session we ran a completely anonymous poll to really get under the skin of the real-world experiences of the HR professionals who attended, and the results raised some interesting questions about where our priorities currently lie, and where they might be refocused.

Sharing your voice

How you speak, particularly on social issues, is – or should be – closely tied in with your values, so consistency is key. If you’re not walking your talk in your day-to-day operation, or if you’ve been selective in when you’ve chosen to talk your talk in the past, prepare to be challenged, and remember – once it’s out there, it’s out there for good, and your employer brand is at stake.

Avoiding bias in recruitment

We’re all biased. That isn’t the problem. The problem is how we choose to interrupt or remove that bias in how we deal with the people who currently work with us today or might work with us tomorrow. A key question, then, is how we adjust our recruitment and promotion processes to be more fair and less open to bias.

It starts at the top

If you’re a business or HR leader and you’ve got this far you already know that this stuff is important. So, deep down you also know it can’t be delegated. EDI isn’t about just saying the right things and drawing up policy. It’s about you and your executive teams really believing it’s your core priority and then persuading your teams through action that it’s theirs, too.

Everyone needs to know the basics

So, you have an employee handbook. That’s great! It’s just a shame that no one reads it. Just like they don’t read those important emails about HR policy or understand the law around harassment and bullying. So, how will you bring the culture and values of your business to life for them? Because until you do that, no policy you create – around EDI or anything else – will be worth much of a damn outside an industrial tribunal.

Not everything is all-out war

Social behaviours can be graded like the Richter Scale. Just above inoffensive banter lies banter that has an unkind sting and then micro-aggressions, the place where the social vibration of offence being taken is felt. The problem is that lots of businesses treat this cold breeze like a hurricane. Everyone walks around on eggshells, or an HR ‘process’ is started, and what gets destroyed is mutual trust. Taking stuff seriously without ratcheting up tension and bad feeling is an art underpins all successful EDI work.

Talk isn’t always cheap

In an EDI context, talk is often priceless. The art of conversation goes a long way to helping to create the inclusive culture you’re striving to achieve. Or, more specifically, the art of starting conversations does. The problem is your managers probably don’t know how to start them – maybe because they’re scared of saying or doing the wrong thing, and it’s up to you to teach them.

So, if you look back at all of this, what you’ll probably notice is that nowhere have I talked about what policies or processes you should implement. That’s because policy and process is not your starting point – and most businesses struggle with EDI strategy because they’ve wrongly assumed it is.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I believe the majority of businesses that already have EDI policies and processes in place would change them in a heartbeat if their leadership teams sat down with an inclusion and diversity specialist and started somewhere else.

Heeral is the founder of Convergent and helps HRDs have brave conversations about inclusion and diversity.

To find out more about how Convergent can help you to rethink everything you thought you knew about inclusion and diversity and how to create a successful workplace culture that your employees value; register here for a introductory webinar on 23rd November.

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