Diversity and Inclusion

4 challenges to diversity in the workplace & how to overcome them

Teresa Norman, Diversity and Inclusion Consultant at EW Group, discusses the biggest challenges organisations face in achieving diversity and inclusion best practice.

EW Group has had the privilege of working with thousands of clients. Many already understand the business, moral and legal case for focusing on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). However, navigating through their DEI journey isn’t easy or straightforward and organisations often come to us to support them on where to start and how to achieve their DEI goals.

There are societal challenges – working for a fairer organisation and playing our part in making a more equitable society can be dismissed by detractors as ‘woke’. There are organisational challenges – how do you bring everyone with you? How do you make your organisation a welcoming place for members of under-represented groups? How do you encourage a diverse range of applicants?

Our experience has taught us that every organisation has unique diversity and inclusion challenges. We help our clients identify their specific needs and challenges and recommend the best approach, supporting them in developing realistic aspirations or targets and delivering programmes that achieve these objectives.

However, there are common barriers we see in achieving diversity and inclusion best practice:

Four common challenges in achieving diversity and inclusion best practice

1. Lack of inclusive recruitment practices

Your approach to recruitment is vital in creating a diverse workforce. It takes skill and understanding to make sure that your job advertisements, job descriptions and person specifications and selection methods follow best practice. We know that accidentally giving out the wrong message or using your jargon will stop candidates applying. Getting it wrong may lead to losing out on the right candidate, recruiting only in your image and also to legal challenges.

EW Group can offer the following: training on inclusive recruitment, advice on how to write inclusive recruitment literature, and a review of your whole approach.


2. Poor staff retention

Success in today’s economy often hinges on the ability to attract and retain the best employees. High staff turnover is extremely costly for businesses. Some studies predict that every time a business replaces a salaried employee in the UK, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. Meanwhile, in the US, the cost of replacing an employee can range from one-half to two times the employee’s annual salary.

Developing an inclusive culture is vital to staff retention. You may have made a huge effort to recruit diverse talent but if people do not feel their unique contribution is valued, they will not stay. Sometimes organisations achieve a staff profile that represents or exceeds the local population, but it does not last because the culture is not right, and people feel like outsiders.

We know that under-represented groups may frequently experience being talked over, not being credited for their ideas or being criticised for their ‘tone’. Inclusive cultures and good management prevent this and make work rewarding.

Retaining diverse talent means taking meaningful steps to change the overall culture so that individuals feel they can fully contribute, and that they belong.


3. Low staff engagement

It is a challenge to engage everyone in the conversation and to commit to DEI. We have worked with organisations where specific groups can feel that this does not apply to them. Or some may feel there is a focus on one under-represented group rather than on creating a level playing field for everyone. An isolated, strand-specific approach will lead people to think this is something ‘being done to them’.

We believe that organisations need to engage all staff in creating a working environment that lives and breathes DEI. Everyone needs to feel that they have a stake in this. This means creating great communications and diversity initiatives that address intersectionality – the compound layering of disadvantage – if they are to bring everyone into the conversation.

This also means an understanding from the people with power that the systems that worked so well for them do not work well for everyone. Through our training, we can help show how advantage and disadvantage work and how to address it. This is not about creating blame, but it can be about making what is implicit, explicit. So, this could, for instance, mean making it clear how people are promoted and what you need to do or making sure that the stretch opportunities that enable you to move on are fairly distributed.

Our philosophy is not that privilege should be a source of angst but the question we would ask, is how can you use it for the good? We have seen how rewarding it is for senior executives to be allies to under-represented groups and to make a difference.

We support organisations in developing strategies, action plans and communications that communicate the importance of DEI and that it matters for everyone.


4. Inappropriate behaviour by members of staff, managers and leaders

Making sure everyone adheres to boundaries is a key part of DEI.

Every day there is an example in the news of someone behaving inappropriately at work, either in what they say or what they do. This is not only awful for the person at the receiving end of verbal or physical abuse, but also very damaging to the reputation of the organisation.

An organisation needs to be ready to act when bad behaviour happens. EW Group can provide expert support with policies and support communications from the top team so that if an incident occurs, management action is clear.

There must be clear policy within organisations on where the line is and what is okay. Our training can help managers and leaders create clear boundaries.


How to overcome diversity challenges and where to start

So, you want to make a difference but where do you start? It can be difficult faced with a big agenda to know where to begin.

A thorough diversity audit is the most effective place to start. An audit involves a review of your policies, processes, data and also includes qualitative research. It gives you our expert analysis together with recommendations and the foundations of your action plan. The audit process brings together the knowledge we have gained over the last 35 years.

And from here map out the current position and state of employee engagement. Working closely with you and your employees, we develop bespoke programmes to create a more inclusive culture – where people don’t feel tokenism operates – in a way which is embedded in everything the organisation does, and every decision taken.

A diversity audit allows you to systematically break down barriers and provide a sustainable and measurable approach.

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