Most employers are keen to play their part in ensuring that everyone has a fair and equal chance and recognise the benefits of ensuring their business really delivers when it comes to such initiatives.
The problem is though, there’s a lot of information out there that you might have come across that isn’t entirely accurate. When you’re dealing with the complexities of human behaviour, as well as the intricacies of the law, things can become a little complicated, and it can be tricky to work out exactly what your responsibilities are.
All too often, there are some common myths and misconceptions that can actually hold you back from creating exemplary diversity and inclusion practices. We want to ensure that you don’t fall into this trap.
Before we get into anything else, it’s worthwhile to consider what we’re dealing with here. ‘Equality, Diversity and Inclusion’ are often used interchangeably, they don’t have the same meaning.
Equality is about ‘creating a fairer society, where everyone can participate and has the opportunity to fulfil their potential’ (Department of Health, 2004).
Diversity means difference. In this context, it’s about recognising individual and group differences within the workplace and ensuring that everyone’s needs and requirements are understood and met.
Inclusion is the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalised, such as those who have physical or mental disabilities and members of other minority groups.
If you’re passionate about getting things right, then first of all you need to recognise the mistakes that you might be making when it comes to EDI. The most common cause for this is having the wrong information. Read on to find out more about the myths and misconceptions about EDI at work.
Myth 1 – You have to treat everyone the same
It’s a very common misconception that to promote EDI in your workplace, you simply have to treat everyone the same. After all, this seems like a common sense approach. Every employee, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs, race, and so on, simply gets the same treatment, and that makes everything fair and equal.
It doesn’t quite work this way though. Sometimes, by treating everyone equally, you’re accidentally legally discriminating against certain groups. Let’s consider an example to demonstrate the point.
Suppose that your business has created shift patterns that require workers to start at 7am. You may have an employee with a certain disability that is worse first thing on a morning, and they may require a little extra time to get ready. They may have to take medications, for example, before they’re able to face the day, or have physiotherapy sessions every morning to get them up and moving.
In this situation, it would be reasonable to give them a slightly later starting time. In fact, if you want to ensure that they’re treated equally, it would be essential.
This doesn’t mean that they have ‘extra privileges’. You’re simply giving them the opportunity they need to perform and excel in their role.
It’s not about compromising business needs. It’s simply about taking a flexible approach and recognising that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t often the right approach. To treat individuals as equals, you will sometimes have to accommodate their differences. Rather than processes, it’s about outcomes.
Myth 2 – There’s never any return on this kind of investment
It’s true that if you want to get things right when it comes to your EDI practices, it’s likely that you’ll have to invest time and money. The exact amounts will depend on a wide variety of factors, including the size of your business, your existing policies or processes and how fit-for-purpose they really are, the culture within your organisation, and so on.
This isn’t time and money wasted though. There is the potential for a huge return on your investment, and there are many ways in which this can be realised.
In the most basic terms, you can protect your business against being taken to court to contend with a legal battle around discrimination. You might be surprised to discover just how expensive this can be.
Let’s take a look at disability discrimination, as an example. The maximum award that a tribunal has issued for a disability claim was £4.6 million in 2013 against NatWest bank. The average award in the latest published figures of 2019, was £28,371, and that’s before your costs!
The financial impact can be very real, and for small businesses, devastating. Don’t forget that you should also take into the account the damage that such circumstances would do to your reputation. Customers and clients are likely to hear about the case, you may find it difficult to recruit top talent, and you could find that it ends up having a very real impact on your bottom line.
It’s also important to look at things from another angle. Imagine what it could do for your business if you made sure that you got everything right, and went above and beyond the call of duty.
It could lead to a solid reputation as a fantastic employer. Your business being able to take its pick from the cream of the crop when it comes to the very best people when you are hiring. Winning business awards and the associated PR that comes with this. But most importantly, solid EDI practices will make your workplace a much happier, motivated, and productive place to be.
The bottom line here is that there is a real business case for getting it right.
Myth 3 – It’s a box-ticking exercise
There are certain responsibilities that you need to make sure that you meet legally. You need to be compliant with the relevant legislation, and you should be able to prove that you’ve taken the necessary steps to promote EDI in your workplace.
It runs much deeper than this though.
Best practice should be engrained into working arrangements, and sometimes, cultural shifts will have to be managed to get your business to where it needs to be.
You may collect information about the characteristics of your workforce, for example. On the surface, this could be seen as a box-ticking exercise. Collecting data is only the very first part of the story though.
There are many ways in which you could translate this data into something much more meaningful. You could pinpoint any problems that might be at play in terms of representation of certain groups at management level. You could create initiatives that seek to tackle underlying issues. You could benchmark against other businesses and organisations and share this data with your management and leadership teams to show how you compare to some of the leading example organization with EDI. There are some great examples here; https://www.inclusivecompanies.co.uk/9509-2/
Its important to recognise that boxes do sometimes have to be ticked, but that the real value comes from what you do with this information and how you make it work for your business.
Myth 4 – We’ve got a policy – we’ve done our bit!
A good policy is of course essential when it comes to EDI. However, you need to ensure that your staff are aware of their rights and responsibilities, that they know what to do when they feel that something has gone wrong, that they understand the provisions in terms of wider business goals and objectives, and so on.
Too often though, a policy is seen as an end in itself, and this is not the right approach to take.
Getting your policy right is more complex. So, let’s consider:
- How will you ensure you take into account the views and needs of a representative cross-section of your workforce?
- How will you carry out consultations with all your employees at various stages of policy development to ensure that you don’t miss anything important?
- How will you communicate any changes to your staff?
- When will you review and update your policy?
- How will you assess its effectiveness?
- Who will have ownership and responsibility for the policy?
- Do you need to seek advice from a legal professional, an HR professional, or other relevant bodies and organisations?
- How will the policy link to the other people practices and processes within your business, such as recruitment and promotions, or your disciplinary and grievance procedures?
A policy should never simply be just a piece of paper, or a document on your computer system that is forgotten about.
It should form the basis of your working practices, and steps should be taken to embed it within your company culture and become the accepted ways of doing things.
Myth 5 – The solution is always an online training module for all staff
These days, many people are familiar with e-learning or online learning solutions. It’s likely that at some point or another, you’ve completed an online course about EDI yourself, I know I have! Maybe it was during your time as an employee in another business, or maybe you’ve looked into this option as a way to bring your own staff up to date. There are a few things to consider here.
Firstly, don’t underestimate the power of e-learning. In many cases, it can be a very cost-effective solution that can help you to get to where you need to be. It requires less time away from the day job than many more traditional forms of training, and it can be highly effective. More and more companies are making the investment into training this way, and they wouldn’t be doing so if there weren’t a solid business case.
Secondly though, take a look at the bigger picture. E-learning could indeed be a great solution for your staff in terms of them gaining an understanding about EDI and their responsibilities in making sure they understand any new policy you may have or making the cultural changes needed. But what is important here is that you don’t see this solution as yet another box-ticking exercise.
If you want to create real change in your business – the type that gets you the results that you’re probably hoping for – then e-learning, or indeed any kind of learning solution – is only one small part of the solution.
Myth 6 – It’s just about your staff
At the moment, we’re talking about EDI in the context of your HR practices. So naturally, we’ve discussed your people policies and practices a fair bit. It’s worth recognising though that the issue is much wider than this.
The most successful businesses, and the ones that are paving their own way as up and coming forces to be reckoned with in their industries as far as EDI are concerned, are taking a more holistic approach. They’re ensuring that EDI is implemented across the board, in all areas of their operations.
If it’s not HR related, then why are we mentioning it here? It’s simple. Because if you want to maximise your business’s chance of success, you need to make sure that all parts of the business are working together towards a common goal.
Your HR team or the HR professional you choose to work with on this, should play a role in the wider EDI business objectives. There are some examples below of areas in which you need to consider EDI that you may not have thought about. But why not get your leadership and management team together and brainstorm your initial ideas. Once everyone’s priorities and challenges are on the table, you’ll find that you’re in a much better position for moving forward.
- Choosing suppliers that cater for a variety of needs
- How you can play an active role in promoting relevant issues within the local community in which you operate
- Working with clients and customers in a way that recognises their needs and their differences
As you made your way through this blog, you might have spotted a few mistakes that you have been making in your business, or assumptions that have been holding back your EDI practices. It’s worthwhile recognising that there are very few companies who get everything right first time, and making significant changes like this, should be viewed as a learning process.
If you can couple a desire for your business to be better with some specialist HR advice and expert help, you’re on to a winner. You don’t have to struggle on your own, but you do have to make a decision to seek and follow advice from an expert dedication which is also a demonstration of being a great leader – as great leaders aren’t afraid to seek help!
Are there issues at play in terms of EDI in your company that you know you need to tackle? Are you uncertain about how to manage the task, or where you should even begin? If so, we’d be delighted to help. You could come along to our next Zoominar on Friday 30th July at 10am where we will be looking at how you can improve your EDI. Zoominar – Equality & Diversity – Meraki HR
Can’t make it? We have a wealth of experience in EDI solutions and training. Get in touch today with us to arrange a free consultation about your EDI via firstname.lastname@example.org or you can book your free consultation about EDI with Emma or Rachel here: