6 ways to embed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion into your business

Having a diverse and inclusive workplace is important not only ethically but also for improving employee morale, boosting innovation and enhancing business success.

It’s not enough for employers to express their commitment to diversity and inclusion in their mission statements and policies. Employers must ensure the concept is embedded in their organisations and that their equality, diversity and inclusion policies are implemented fully and reviewed regularly.

1.Train people managers in diversity and inclusion

A working knowledge of discrimination law is crucial to the successful functioning of any organisation. It is something that line managers will need to draw on to help create and maintain an environment in which employees are treated fairly.

Organisations should not assume that discrimination will not occur as long as everyone is treated the same. Employers may have to treat people differently to comply with the law. Managers are responsible for a wide range of matters including allocating work, setting goals and targets, conducting appraisals, managing performance and dealing with disciplinary and grievance issues. Unfair (and possibly discriminatory) treatment could occur when they are carrying out any of these functions.

2.Be aware of protected characteristics – but think beyond them

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination “because of” a protected characteristic. The term “discrimination” has a very specific meaning in a legal context because it occurs only when it is because of a protected characteristic. Bad treatment that is not connected to a protected characteristic is not discrimination. There are nine characteristics that are protected under discrimination law:

  • age;
  • disability;
  • gender reassignment;
  • marriage and civil partnership;
  • pregnancy and maternity;
  • race;
  • religion or belief;
  • sex; and
  • sexual orientation.

However, if organisations wish to create a workplace that is equal for everyone, they must go beyond compliance with their statutory obligations. They need to ensure that the opportunities available to everyone to participate and reach their full potential in the workplace are not defined or limited by any personal characteristic, including less visible and obvious forms of diversity.

For example, employers can benefit from having a neurodiverse team and capitalise on the strengths of employees who think and work differently. However, in order to recruit a diverse workforce, employers will need to demonstrate on their website and on vacancy pages that they are an inclusive employer, and that they welcome applications from people with disabilities and different diversities of all sorts.

Employers should think really carefully about their recruitment processes too and that includes reviewing their advertisements and application forms to their interviews process itself and ensure that they are not using practices that are going to disadvantage applicants with disabilities. And when it comes to managing a team that is made up of neurodiverse staff and neurotypical staff, managers should be flexible, adaptable and open to doing things differently through talking, listening and accepting that we are all different, our brains work differently and we might process information differently.

3.Address your unconscious bias

As part of the commitment to creating and cultivating a workplace that embraces equality, diversity and inclusion, it is important that the whole workforce takes steps to address any negative biases that limit opportunities or creativity, and that can lead to discrimination.

While unconscious biases exist, they do not operate as an excuse to take decisions that the employee can simply attempt to justify as being out of their control. Recognising biases, or allowing others to call them out, means that they are no longer unconscious.

By acknowledging the possibility of bias in a particular situation, employees are more likely to ask themselves whether or not they are being fair and inclusive. For line managers, decisions that are taken under pressure, or without sufficient time, are far more likely to allow unconscious biases to operate. This is based on a person’s instinctive response to reject any person that might be “different” or present a conflicting view. It is therefore important that line managers take decisions at a pace that allows them to review and reflect, minimising the risk of unconscious bias coming into play.

All conversations held at work, whether they are between the manager and their team, with stakeholders or with clients, must be conducted within a framework of fairness, respect and dignity. Employees should ensure that they are open to the perspectives of others; contrasting viewpoints can minimise automatic biases. Organisations that foster and further conversations about biases to cultivate a culture of proactive measures and reassurances will enable employees to call out biases when they occur.

4.Promote and support employee networks

Employers that wish to promote inclusion can create and support employee networks. Typically, employee networks provide an opportunity for employees with common identities to come together to share experiences, gain peer support and facilitate personal development. Networks can inform an employer’s commitment to inclusion by helping to raise awareness of workplace issues and how different employees can be better supported. Networks also enable the wider workforce to understand the experiences of particular groups and be allies for change.

It is good practice for employers to support employee networks, because they can benefit their members and their organisation. Employee networks can:

  • help employees who are in a minority group develop confidence through access to peers and mentors;
  • help employers wishing to canvass the views of employees on specific workplace issues, for example
  • an employer could consult the members of a network on the design of an employee survey, or for feedback on how the organisation’s equality policies are working in practice;
  • help to promote wider understanding of practices and cultural sensitivities by running awareness events for all employees;
  • provide development opportunities for members, for example skills in chairing or organising events

In many organisations, senior managers are executive sponsors of employee networks to raise the profile and influence of the networks, and to provide opportunities for members to engage directly with leaders and share issues of concern. Managers should be encouraged to show support for employees who are, or wish to be, involved in an employee network.

Employers could also support different networks that hold joint events to raise awareness of how different identities intersect with each other, and what impact this may have.

5.Gather, report and act on diversity and inclusion data

Collecting and analysing data on gender, ethnicity, disability and other characteristics helps to identify under-representation in the workplace as a whole and within particular occupations and grades. Monitoring provides employers with a better insight as to whom they are recruiting, who is progressing and who is leaving the organisation.

Monitoring at key decision points allows employers to better understand who is being affected (or excluded) by decisions. Without systematic monitoring, employers are unable to identify where the gaps are in relation to achieving a diverse and inclusive workplace. This provides the evidence to inform priorities for action and provides a baseline for measuring progress.

As well as quantitative data, employers should seek to obtain qualitative data through employee engagement surveys, to gain an insight into the extent that employees feel they belong. Asking employees for their views and experiences of training and development opportunities, management behaviour, the appraisal processes, opportunities for promotion, instances of harassment and bullying, and discrimination and then disaggregating where possible, responses by protected characteristics will highlight inequalities, and provide a focus for action. Conducting anonymised employee surveys, at least biannually will also enable an employer to see what progress is being made on tackling inequality and bias.

Reporting monitoring data and progress on actions to achieve equality, diversity and inclusion to the board will allow it to discuss the issues identified, determine the strategic priorities and be accountable for the progress. Communicating this information to the wider workforce will encourage buy-in and a belief that the employer is determined to make real and lasting change. Publishing anonymised monitoring data, for example in annual business reports, will show external audiences including prospective employees that the organisation is committed to  equality, diversity and inclusion.

6.Protect the organisation against discrimination – reasonable steps defence

An organisation has a potential defence to a workplace discrimination claim if it has taken “all reasonable steps” to prevent an employee from behaving in a discriminatory way.

The organisation’s equal treatment policies and procedures are particularly relevant here because they demonstrate its attitude towards equality and diversity in the workplace.

Employment policies and practices that are objective, justifiable and transparent are essential in ensuring an inclusive workplace. Robust policies that are consistently applied help new and existing employees understand the behaviours that are expected in an inclusive workplace.

Employers should regularly review the scope, content and implementation of all policies to check that they take account of legislative changes, and good practice, and are free from bias. However, the policies are of little use if they are left to gather dust in a drawer – they must be actively implemented. Line managers have a key role to play here in ensuring that:

  • their team members know about the policies and understand their implications;
  • they and their team members have received training on the policies together with ongoing training
  • on equality and diversity issues in the workplace; and
  • they have records showing that their team members are aware of the policies and have received the
  • relevant training.

The publication of a diversity policy enables the organisation to send out a strong message of commitment, both internally and externally. Although the diversity policy is a fundamental part of the organisation’s diversity strategy, it will be brought to life only if it is reinforced by a focused and structured strategic diversity plan. In order to do this the organisation will need to commit to processes in areas including leadership, policy development, training and education.

How can we help?

Our next Meraki Academy Training session will be on Equality Diversity and Inclusion on the 7th October from 9:30am-12 noon and will be led by Prisca Bradley; Meraki HR’s employment lawyer. Whilst wanting to be fully inclusive of course, (!) this session is aimed at Business Owners, Managers and Team Leaders/Supervisors, to help them understand their business obligations surrounding EDI in the workplace. You can book your place here.

A recent tribunal case highlighted that “stale” EDI training (more than 12 months old) could not be relied on by the employer to give them a statutory “reasonable defence” to discrimination claims.

Under equality law, anything done by an employee in the course of their employment is treated as having also been done by the employer, regardless of whether the employee’s acts were done with the employer’s knowledge or approval.  Therefore, employers can be “vicariously liable” for discrimination, harassment or victimisation committed by their employees.

However, there is a defence to such claims if the employer can show that it took “all reasonable steps” to prevent the employee from doing the discriminatory act or from doing anything of that description.

So – what are “all reasonable steps” and when should they be taken?

Reasonable steps will usually include:

  • Having and implementing an equal opportunities policy and an anti-harassment and bullying policy, and reviewing those policies as appropriate.
  • Making all employees aware of the policies and their implications.
  • Training managers and supervisors in equal opportunities and harassment issues.
  • Taking steps to deal effectively with complaints, including taking appropriate disciplinary action.

This training session will help you evidence three out of the four reasonable steps. Plus, there will also be an opportunity to sign up for a review of your related policies following the session. You can book your place here

 The training will also contribute to the following and you may then wish to roll out this training to your internal teams via Prisca or Emma;

  • reducing the level and nature of complaints from clients or between staff members about discrimination or poor culture;
  • providing better EDI credentials when tendering for contracts as this is an increasing requirement from our clients;
  • furthering your commitment to Environmental, Social and Governance Issues, which are currently one of the biggest priorities for all organisations. These are a regulatory obligation for larger companies, but SMEs will eventually be brought into scope and may want to adhere to the standards early;
  • increasing productivity and staff morale;
  • retaining and attracting the best talent;
  • reducing turnover and staff absences;
  • limiting the financial and reputational costs associated with having to deal with complaints of discrimination.

This will be an excellent, and popular session, so make sure you book your place here.