A homogeneous workforce is no longer the norm. Global diversity and inclusion has become the mainstream value with 75% of companies identifying it as a priority. Large areas have become more racially and ethnically diverse, and HR professionals can no longer write policies that only benefit the majority.
When you develop company manuals and job descriptions that are fully inclusive of your employees, your business is more likely gain the respect and approval of job candidates, current team members, and the wider public. However, a great reputation is only one of many benefits that can result from inclusive policies.
This article explores what diversity and inclusion policies should entail, why they’re valuable in the workplace, and how you can develop and incorporate them into your business.
What EDI Policies Entail
When people think of equity, diversity, and inclusion policies, they often think of the obvious non-discriminatory rules – such as no racist jokes, no hiring on the basis of gender, ethnicity etc. If you want to build a highly inclusive team, however, your company should also implement policies that aren’t only about diversity and inclusion — but one that furthers the initiative through shifts in the overall company culture.
For example, you can promote inclusion by clearly stating policies and procedures for conflict resolution – where everyone has a fair chance to state their case when issues between employees arise, and therefore enforcing the idea that all employees will be treated equitably.
Building diversity and inclusion policies should also involve the use of inclusive language. Gender-neutral language, for example, goes a long way in avoiding perpetuating stereotypes about masculine or feminine workers.
How EDI Policies are beneficial
Creating clear policies that promote equity, diversity and inclusion do more than just contribute to a great external reputation. It can help your HR team and managers earn your employees’ trust.
All too often, employees from minority groups find it difficult to voice their opinions and concerns to both higher-ups and peers. Although black and minority ethnic (BME) individuals are the most likely to be overqualified for their position, a clear lack of representation in the workplace makes it difficult for them to feel seen, or heard. Feeling able to speak up at work requires psychological safety, a perception of being valued, and a sense of availability of peers and management. Implementing inclusive policies will make your HR team a lot more approachable and open to hearing multiple points of view.
As a result, more employees may be willing to trust your HR team to be a supportive and neutral resource for historically underrepresented groups. Everyone wants to feel and be heard and included, so this may encourage employees from all backgrounds to stay loyal to your company for years.
Great policies also pave the way for more harmonious collaboration and active, intentional listening within your organisation.
A culture of inclusion isn’t created the moment you go live with your diversity and inclusion policies. If you want employees to embrace your changing culture, they need to buy into the rules and norms you’re trying to establish. Otherwise, it’ll be difficult to enforce.
To garner employee buy-in, it’s important to avoid focusing on the consequences of going against new policies. Your team members don’t want to feel forced to do anything — even if it’s as simple as not using offensive terms in the workplace — and penalties cause them to align with your culture out of fear rather than agreement. Instead, spend some time creating awareness and shedding light on why these policies are important to every person in your organisation.
Staying open to comments and critiques can help leaders become more inclusive. Be willing to have conversations with concerned team members so you can persuade hesitant individuals that your policies are in the best interests of everyone. When implementing equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) training, consider the following aspects at all costs:
- Listening – pay attention to verbal and nonverbal cues. Without your ears to the ground, you won’t be able to notice if a member of your team is, for example, uncomfortable with terminology on a work poster or feel marginalised and ignored by upper management or even within their own teams.
- Observation – take note of uncomfortable interactions in order to see them first-hand and learn from them. Keeping a tangible record of observations will allow you to remember them and chart how your EDI efforts are changing the environment. You can take note of anything from questionable comments made by an employee, to a general observation of a certain team member becoming more isolated. This way, you can start to see patterns and make connections that will better inform your policy-formulation and framework strategy.
- Communication – have a dedicated space for questions, comments, and concerns and a knowledgeable, open facilitator. Not everyone will feel comfortable coming forward with EDI concerns, but letting employees know that they have a safe space to do so will help. As with observations, take note of the feedback you are receiving to inform your next steps.
- Personalisation – meet employees at their skill level and create learning modules that match their interests/departmental situations. This can be learned through careful observation and solicitation of feedback. For example, if you notice that certain employees aren’t completing the required EDI training modules, have an open and honest discussion about why and how they could be more motivated in being able to do so.
- Strategy – use these points of reflection during training to inform goals going forward. Use the connections you have made during the previous steps to create a solid EDI strategy. This will, of course, ebb and flow with time. Each step is ongoing. For instance, you may implement a rule to include everyone in after-work activities, but certain employees may express to you that they don’t feel comfortable declining invites. In this case, you would reassess that particular part of your strategy.
- Commitment – include everyone in EDI trainings regardless of seniority. Once you have the foundation in place, including the aforementioned cycle of steps, make sure that all employees are on the same page. Make sure that they know that EDI efforts are ongoing, and provide them with resources intermittently. For example, don’t just disseminate an EDI training course and leave it at that. Continue connecting and communicating with your teams to find out how they feel about the new efforts.
- Prioritisation – make EDI training a priority, incorporating it into other important tasks to keep it top-of-mind. This involves creating those ongoing touchpoints. For instance, you could set up automatic emails to go out monthly, letting employees know about EDI goings-on in the company. These could include inclusive events in the area, regulation updates, or even personal anecdotes.
Successful EDI training will leave everyone asking questions, even if these questions don’t have an immediate answer. There should be room to observe, learn, and grow. Reflect on interactions your employees have during this time, and use those reflections to guide your diversity and inclusion strategy.
Channels That Support Inclusion
Once you achieve employee buy-in for your new push toward inclusion, you can continue developing and incorporating new policies that align with your progressive culture. One area you can consider focusing on is communication. When you have effective communication channels in place to help employees express grievances — which can even include anonymous surveys — historically underrepresented groups will feel more supported since they won’t have to deal with an excess of red tape.
You can also develop communication procedures to improve remote collaboration between teams. For example, make it part of your virtual meeting process to record videos and share screens, which keeps every employee in the loop, promotes constructive dialogue, and helps team members produce quality work together.
The more diverse employees work alongside each other, the more they’ll develop a sense of understanding of their peers from different departments and backgrounds.
Establishing a requirement for managers to provide regular feedback to employees while accepting feedback themselves is also a great way to build trust and transparency using communication policies.
Updating your hiring policies to provide more inclusive employee benefits can also be incredibly valuable in the workplace. When your company offerings don’t show any preference toward any group or characteristic, employees will feel more appreciated. For example, by offering a 12-week parental leave policy to all new parents, you can provide equal support to mothers and fathers, including those who adopt.
Making it your policy to offer mental health support to every employee can also help you enhance your inclusive culture. Mental health issues can be exacerbated if an employee feels isolated or targeted because of their identity, so offering helpful resources can go a long way to improve employee relationships and inclusion. Plus, the majority (79%) of employees consider mental health benefits in their career decisions.
a Team That feels like a team
EDI is growing widespread especially in the post-pandemic world of work. While many companies are embracing EDI training, enhancing the overall workplace culture requires greater attention and more policy changes than the obvious. Organisations can benefit from communication, hiring, and feedback policies that promote transparency, active listening, and openness across teams and departments.
As a result of implementing ever-improving policies, previously hard-to-approach departments and management teams can feel much more approachable. This can then lead the way toward a more inclusive team. Start implementing clear and inclusive policies now, and you will reap the benefits of higher employee engagement sooner rather than later.