This guide will help you to turn the caring into doing, to make well-meaning into impactful, and will provide you with a range of steps to positively influence a culture of equality and embed the practice of inclusion in your workplaces.
What is diverse by design?
This Diverse by Design guide captures the 15 key elements that are fundamental to helping you embed fair values, practices and behaviours throughout your organisation. These steps will support local government employers to explore and understand the workforce issues around implementing effective EDI strategies and practices. They will help employers to understand the broader context and then decide which piece of the whole puzzle will most help them meet their ambitions for their staff and customers.
1. Gather data
Race in the Workplace, McGregor-Smith Review 2017
How do you know if you are a diverse and fair organisation? Simple: by gathering information and getting data. But data is just a collection of numbers until you turn it into a story. Data’s job is to tell you what happened. Data can help to build a picture, see new things or show you what you think you know in a different way. You can then use these new and different perspectives to make plans and take action.
However, getting right data is essential. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the data available. Therefore, it’s important to have a clear and objective understanding of what you are trying to achieve by being a fairer and more inclusive organisation and this will help you to understand what data counts.
The fundamental purpose of gathering and analysing this information is to have a way of evaluating whether all staff are treated fairly in your workplace. It is a way of seeing differences between groups, identifying trends over periods of time, investigating the reasons for these differences, and, crucially, putting suitable plans into action to address any imbalances you find. Ongoing, proper monitoring of your organisation means you can see what has worked well in your interactions with staff - and what hasn't.
Types of information to that may be useful to monitor are:
- How many people with a particular protected characteristic apply for each job, are shortlisted, and are recruited or promoted?
- How many staff already in your organisation have a particular protected characteristic and where are they employed, and at what level, and how these staff have been able to progress in their careers within your organisation?
- What are the satisfaction levels of staff with a particular protected characteristic compared to the satisfaction levels of those staff without protected characteristics?
- Whether disciplinary action is disproportionately taken against workers with a particular protected characteristic?
- Other equality-related areas that might be useful to monitor are the levels of internal complaints and/or the number of staff using the grievance or harassment and bullying procedures.
However, as well as gathering numerical data you should consider ways of measuring the current experience of staff of what it is like to work in your organisation. Ways to get information could be through:
- questionnaires and staff surveys
- interviews, although time consuming, are a useful way to get detailed information on what staff, volunteers or service users think of your organisation
- focus groups: getting a group of people together to discuss your equality and diversity practice in structured ways is an easy way to gather information and can allow people to discuss issues more fully and can often result in more productive responses
- involving already established staff networks to encourage their members to provide structured feedback.
Once you have the data it’s important to share it with your staff. Transparency is critical. Sharing data and information about the experience of your staff can help to identify and agree what your equality challenges are, it can help your decision-makers to fully understand how your policies and decisions impact differently on different employees, and can help to talk to staff about what needs to change and to engage them in making change.
You could also consider setting targets. It is true that what gets measured gets done so it’s important to ensure your equality goals are clear and realistic, and that progress towards them can be tracked. “Improving gender equality at my organisation” or “reducing my organisation’s gender pay gap” can be overarching goals, but they are not specific and they therefore risk being unsuccessful. One way of increasing the likelihood that goals will be reached is by setting specific, time-bound targets: what change will be achieved, and by when?
Creating cultural change in an organisation is not easy but identifying what ‘good’ looks like in your organisation and finding ways to recognise it will help you to plan how to make meaningful change and to measure your progress.
2. Redefine equality and fairness
For many organisations, equality has traditionally been understood as treating everyone the same and as employers we have often enshrined this version of fairness into our policies and procedures.
However, this version of fairness suggests that everyone is at the same starting point; that everyone needs the same level of support and would therefore receive the same benefit from being treated in the same way. Treating everyone the same doesn’t necessarily lead to equality.
The evidence is now clear that those employees who may have experienced disadvantages at different stages of their personal or working lives are not starting from the same place as others. This can result in instances where your policies, although good, may not have the desired impact. Now may be the time to start thinking about fairness in terms of equity, rather than equally.
Equity aims to give everyone what they need to be successful. It focuses on ‘equality of outcomes’ which more naturally leads to discussions of how policies, processes and decisions can unintentionally put particular groups at a disadvantage. Equity, on the face of it, appears unfair because it accepts that people can be treated differently, but it promotes success by ‘levelling the playing field’.
Organisations that want to be fairer, more diverse and more inclusive are looking at ways to build equitable workplaces, but this will look different for each organisation, depending on what your data is telling you about who your employees are and what they may need in order to be successful in your organisation.
Designing the same blanket set of rules, benefits and employee engagement activities without considering the unique, demographic-related needs in your organisation has been likened to “providing the same meat-based meal for everybody, knowing that you have vegetarians and vegans in the group” and could lead to an unfair work environment.
Consider this: without equity, even the most diverse organisation will have a one-dimensional leadership team in charge of making decisions. Recent reports by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that women make up 70 per cent of the global healthcare workforce, but there are "too few women" making decisions and leading the work. In other words, the representation of women in this workforce may be equal, but their opportunities and ability to reach leadership levels using the current policies and procedures are not.
This gap is also a potential major loss for an organisation that could use the knowledge and abilities of this workforce to inform council policy and direct services to areas of greatest need.
To be more equitable, organisations should evaluate all the different ways that employees interact with the organisation and attempt to identify their specific needs and requirements by looking at differences such as ethnicity, nationality, age, gender, etc.
Activities such as targeted development programmes, positive action in recruitment, sponsorship of under-represented groups at senior levels, can be tailored to different employee needs to try to level off that playing field.
Trying to address the different needs of each group by bridging the gap between minority and majority groups will change your employees’ experiences and make fairness central to genuinely enabling the success of all employees.
Your communication with your employees will be an important part of these changes. You should consider an internal communications campaign to help staff and their managers to understand what this new version of equality is and how the organisation will behave differently by using this and how these behaviours are going to be measured and reported back to all.
3. Appoint senior diversity champions
Many organisations are familiar with using Equality and Diversity Champions. These are usually members of staff who take on a role of demonstrating positive behaviours to colleagues and help to raise awareness of the organisation’s equality and diversity policies.
However, there are important advantages to also having more senior level champions. For example, appointing councillors as senior equality and diversity champions can help to demonstrate the organisation’s commitment to integrating fairness and inclusion as fundamental to the success of the organisation.
As well as being very visible role models for diversity and inclusion, senior champions who have enthusiasm and capacity for the role can provide high profile leadership, taking responsibility for ensuring that diversity values are embedded into the organisation’s vision and strategic planning.
They can do this by, for example:
- working with the lead equality officer in the organisation on equality action plans for the organisation and regularly reporting back on progress to the leadership team
- ensuring equality and diversity issues are included as an agenda item at leadership meetings whenever appropriate
- ensuring that SMT/leaders fundamentally include equality issues when making decisions
- making clear, strong commitments to ensure equality, diversity and inclusion values are embedded into the recruitment processes and appointments of senior officers in the organisation
- being a high-profile credible voice to staff and other stakeholders on the commitment to and progress on equality issues for the organisation
- providing executive sponsorship for equality and diversity plans and being accountable for understand and reporting on the organisation’s progress.
The organisation’s leaders play a key role in providing the solutions that enable the organisation to be fair and inclusive. Shifting the practices and culture of an organisation needs broad support at senior levels and takes concerted and sustained action to ensure that the fundamental principles of equality, diversity and inclusion underpin all decisions and interactions throughout the organisation.
4. Agree how to talk about equality and diversity
Diversity encompasses characteristics that make each person unique, such as our gender, age, and race. The overall aim, as our workplaces go beyond relying on stereotypes, is to allow all employees to bring their whole self to work. This means we enable people to avoid self-censoring where they might be mindful of how others perceive them.
However, many people are uncomfortable talking about diversity and about these differences. People often believe issues related to colleagues’ experiences or differences are too personal or maybe too emotional. Or more often, people fear saying the wrong thing or using the wrong language and this makes them avoid these conversations.
Yet talking about equality and diversity is important. Inclusion can only come when workplaces create environments that encourage understanding and respect of these differences. While these discussions have the potential to stir strong emotions, if managed respectfully and sensitively, discussions about our differences can increase understanding and help to encourage people to connect.
We know this can be difficult to navigate but by openly and sensitively addressing this issue, organisations can provide their employees with encouragement, permission, advice, and a safe environment to have these discussions. They can then agree and support the ways that people in that organisation can talk about diversity in ways that make each other feel valued and respected at work. They can find the language that works best in their organisation to understand diversity and inclusion, work out the ways to encourage it the behaviour and acts that fit with this – and importantly to challenge behaviour that doesn’t.
A good place to start is to acknowledge that the conversations about the issues are difficult and to acknowledge that no one in the organisation will have all the answers. We all know that language evolves and that language in equality develops too so it’s about helping everyone to be aware of that. The important thing is to have the conversations, genuinely exploring the issues that matter to your employees and to your organisation.
While discussions with staff to agree what respectful and inclusive ways to talk about difference are vital to being authentically inclusive, it is equally important not to rely on minority groups to educate others on what inequality and discrimination feels like for them. The discussions should be with all staff and as an organisation you must decide what qualifies as harassment, discrimination, bullying, unethical actions, and other disrespectful behaviour in your workplace.
There are lots of different ways to show employees that you respect their culture or traditions and to create opportunities for your employees to discuss and increase understanding of their experiences. For example many organisations find ways to join in celebrations or awareness raising activities of particular groups, eg by marking the ‘Day of…’ or ‘Month of…’ mental health, menopause, Black History Month, or important religious occasions as a way of getting to know each other and increase understanding and reinforce and celebrate the message of acceptance of all different backgrounds and lifestyles.
There are a range of charities and organisations that can help employers to celebrate employee differences and raise awareness of different cultures and lifestyles, for example, Stonewall, Age UK, Working Families, etc.
5. Rethink recruitment processes
Very often, the first thing an organisation thinks about is the existing staffing demographic and the gap between that and where they would like to be. How can you ensure your recruitment processes are genuinely transparent, unbiased, and inclusive and support your organisation to hire the best and most diverse possible candidates?
In life we tend to gravitate towards people that are like us. We respond to people on many different levels and in many different ways, and it goes beyond age, gender and race but it can influence recruitment and selection decisions. Things like class, hobbies or even the candidate’s favourite football team can influence a recruiter’s opinion on them.
Even worse, unconscious bias could have a negative impact before we even meet the job candidate. Everything from the choice of wording in the job description to the way managers shortlist candidates for interview could negatively affect the diversity of your organisation.
Some have suggested that taking people out of recruitment and selection and replacing us with Artificial Intelligence (AI) will remove the bias but think about lessons learned from Amazon. Between 2014 and 2015, the multinational’s AI specialists built an algorithm to review CVs with a view to automating their recruitment process, but they uncovered a big problem: their new recruitment engine did not like women.
Although automation has been crucial to Amazon’s success as a business, programming AI algorithms needs human beings and the biases they brought to the task influenced their programming and undermined the company’s efforts to create a fair and equal recruitment process. The system therefore learned to judge applications by analysing patterns in CVs submitted to Amazon over the previous ten years. It looked at those who had been successful (men) and favoured the use of more typically male language. All of this reflected the existing male dominance of the tech industry. Amazon’s model was built on who was currently successful, not who might be in the future. So, it built in bias. Amazon no longer uses this recruitment tool.
The answer to having fair and inclusive recruitment and selection processes that support having a diverse workforce is to look at every job vacancy with fresh eyes. Jobs and the technology available to do these jobs are constantly evolving. This means that every time you recruit, you should think about and question what it is you need from the job to ensure you are doing everything to attract the best candidates and allow them to succeed.
Of course, there is a complex framework of employment law relating to equality in recruitment that supports organisations to ensure their processes don’t directly discriminate against candidates. However, it can be the unintended, or unconscious, thoughts and actions that can bring bias into how and who we recruit.
Employers need to consider all the ways in which bias could be embedded in their organisation’s recruitment and selection processes alongside ways to avoid that bias. Consider these measures:
Have inclusive job descriptions and adverts
One of the first steps is to think about what the purpose is of the vacant job. Look at the current job description and think creatively about what the role actually does. Consider how various tasks could be split up and possibly reassembled to create new roles that may be accessible to a wider candidate pool than the previous versions were. For example, if a job requires a lot of desk work and maybe some lifting of boxes, consider reallocating the lifting tasks so that the rest of the job can be done by a fantastic candidate who might not have applied in the first place because they read in the job advert that lifting boxes was a requirement.
To try to ensure your vacancy appeals to as diverse a range of applicants as possible by thinking differently about what skills are needed for the job. Try not to reflect educational, gender or ethnic bias (unless there is a genuine requirement) and reduce the number of essential requirements on each job description, person specification and job advertisement.
Challenge sector-based stereotyping
We don’t just stereotype men and women - we stereotype jobs. Many jobs are gender stereotyped. How many times have you used the phrase ‘fire man’ instead of ‘fire fighter’? This is because firefighting is often viewed as a man’s job, whereas nursing is thought of as women’s work.
Research has shown that these stereotypes – which shape our expectations about whether a man or a woman is a better “fit” for a given job – are powerful because they build bias in to how we approach recruitment. For example, they influence how we talk about or advertise the job, which in turn affects whether more men or women will apply for the job, whether he, she or they will be hired, the pay each would receive and even performance evaluations that determine promotions.
Excluding individuals from employment opportunities because of sector norms and stereotypical perceptions maintains or encourages ingrained bias, for example having an unspoken understanding that women and older people make better carers.
We can often take these biases into how we advertise our vacancies because it filters through into the words we use to talk about the job, and these can have a powerful impact on the people that apply for your job. You might be surprised at how a seemingly harmless phrase has an impact on your applicant pool. Words like ‘ninja’ and ‘rock star’ may be fashionable, but according to a variety of studies they also tend to prevent women applying for roles.
For the same reasons, you should review images used throughout the recruitment process. Using images of people from a wide range of backgrounds in your advertising will appeal to a broader range of possible applicants. Research shows that minority groups respond to adverts that reflect their social identity or culture.
Have diverse interview panels
Panel-based interviews can be intimidating, but they can also help to reduce inherent bias if there is a diverse panel with a more representative mix of men and women, cultural diversity and a broad age range. This can combat the influence of unconscious bias and helps uncover and fix any blind spots in the interviews and eradicates decisions made on “gut feeling” or how well individuals will “fit in”.
Having a lack of diversity on your interview panels makes the selection process more vulnerable of being affected by the biases of an interviewer who may fall into the trap of hiring people ‘just like them’. A range of different people interviewing should provide more of a variety of perspectives on each candidate and give you a greater chance to hire the best people because they truly are the best for the role, not just because they are like you.
Having interview panels comprising people all with similar backgrounds and experiences also sends a message to your candidates that maybe you need to be a person like ‘us’ to advance within this company. This could affect how your candidates perform during the interview, as they may feel that some of their experiences are not relevant to mention to these people or they may feel they can’t be themselves during the interview for fear of being different.
The bottom line is that a diverse panel shows candidates that your organisation cares about providing equal opportunity to their employees. It signals to the people you’re interviewing that you are serious about diversity and inclusion and that you are open-minded to that diversity of thought that a diverse panel would appreciate.
Inclusive interviews: set the right tone, ask the right questions
A structured and rigorous process is always recommended, for example sticking to a basic script (including some icebreakers and easier questions) during the interview. This might not sound like the most appealing way to interview candidates, but it is the best way to remove inherent bias from the interview.
Interviewers need the appropriate training and should ask the same questions of every candidate so their comfort level with some prospective employees (that might come from similarities in their backgrounds) doesn’t bias the process. Interviewers should also decide in advance what a great, an acceptable and a poor answer to each question looks like. This can help to mitigate the effect of unconscious bias in the interview process.
You can also do a lot to set the right tone. For example, as we’ve seen above, having a diverse panel of interviewers can help candidates to feel more comfortable and demonstrate that your organisation is inclusive and welcoming, and keeping the atmosphere friendly rather than tense and aggressive will do a lot to attract diverse candidates to want to work in your organisation. A diverse panel may also encourage the interviewee to feel comfortable expressing themselves and being able to demonstrate their skills, experience, and suitability for a job in their own way.
Challenge the notion of ‘organisational fit’ in selection decisions
The criteria of ‘fit’ is well embedded in recruitment thinking but recruiting and promoting people for how well you think they might get on with other team members or be able to conform to the organisation’s ‘norms’ doesn’t always support good talent management practices or promote diversity.
Of course, when an employee’s personal and professional values and beliefs align with and complement those of the organisation they work for there can be a good fit. However, interviewers making this judgement need to understand exactly what that looks like and how to measure it.
It’s also worth considering how candidates who challenge organisational norms and culture could create a more diverse and inclusive workspace in the long term. Could you use recruitment processes to seek candidates who will add to and enhance your culture rather than fit it? These candidates could bring something new and fresh and mix things up a bit, interrupt ‘group think’ and offer fresh perspectives to how things are done.
Offer workplace policies that are more appealing to diverse candidates
It’s one thing to claim that you value diverse recruiting strategies and teams, but important to proactively implement policies in your organisation that will appeal to a diverse range of candidates.
Government research found that one of the most valued workplace policies to attract diverse candidates is flexibility. A PricewaterhouseCoopers survey found that compared to older generations, Millennials place more importance on a company culture that emphasises work-life balance.
Consider reviewing your flexible working policies, or perhaps offer flexibility around religious/cultural holidays, (a choice of when time is taken – for other cultural days instead of traditional public holiday eg Easter) or talk about the important role staff networks have in supporting diversity in your organisation.
6. Have role models
Good role models inspire us, give us new ideas and show us that things can be different in a good way. Celebrating a range of different people doing well and succeeding in the 800 professions we employ in local government is important because until your employees can see people like themselves doing well, it may be hard for them to believe that they can.
Diverse and visible role models at all levels of your organisation break stereotypes and fuels the ambition of others. The impact of role models in creating fairer and more inclusive workplaces can be huge. Having people from a range of different backgrounds, and at different levels in the organisation, signals that diversity is welcomed and valued and progression is not only possible and encouraged but it is real.
Role models can also promote the visibility of underrepresented individuals in your organisation and help to increase understanding. Providing ways for these employees to talk about themselves and their work can offer opportunities to celebrate people who are not usually celebrated and to showcase the range of talent at all levels of your organisation. Role models can be visible examples of the standards your organisation is trying to convey and that visibility is hugely important because it is a signal to your staff, or potential new employees or partners you work with, of how your organisation thinks and behaves.
Many studies show that role models are an incredibly effective way to encourage employees and potential employees to make different choices about how they engage and progress through your organisation working on the concept of ‘if I can’t see it, I probably can’t be it’.
Showing a range of people doing a range of jobs can also provide role models to challenge stereotypes because it enables other people to imagine someone different in those jobs. For example, in some organisations it may be hard for men to imagine women or a person with disabilities doing a particular job if they don’t see many of them. It’s simple, when you can see someone doing it, you know it’s possible.
For these role models to be a success and have the impact on staff and their behaviours, you should ensure that you find and celebrate role models that staff can relate to. Feedback suggests that inviting highly successful or very senior females to speak about their experiences to younger, more junior female staff can have an unintended impact and may actually discourage these women if they look at the successful person and believe that it is so far away from their own experience that they can’t imagine themselves in that position. You should celebrate roles models who have realistic, relatable, and attainable traits that are meaningful to your staff.
- My life as a chief executive with mental health issues
- Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council (MBC) councillors share personal stories on the importance of having conversations about their mental health challenges.
7. Make equalities a business strategy
Diversity must be regarded as strategically important to organisations. This doesn’t mean building the business case for equality. That has already been proven: the evidence is clear that fair, diverse and inclusive organisations and workplaces are more successful by every measure. However, it should be noted that organisations that embrace diversity and inclusion in all aspects of their business perform even better.
Therefore, organisations need to look top down at the extent to which diversity and inclusion is integrated, not just into the HR plan, but the business strategy at an equal level.
Being strategic about equality and diversity means more than merely complying with legislation. Of course, our policies make sure we are not actively discriminating against minority groups but being ‘actively inclusive’ is something very different from having a truly diverse and equal workplace. Keeping within employment law shouldn’t be the measure. Equality and diversity at work cannot be a reactive process – it must be proactively driven by a bigger plan to be achieved. The key to this lies in bold leadership, comprehensive action, and an empowering environment.
Senior managers must understand and be able to explain what an organisational strategy that embeds diversity and inclusion looks like by translating this into action for each level of business and developing a framework in which everyone can take part. The senior team should establish and communicate a clear and unambiguous goal which is tightly linked to the business results and customer outcomes it wants to achieve.
Successful delivery of the strategy will therefore need senior managers to describe what they want to achieve and explain how progress of diversity and inclusion targets will be measured. Processes and performance management systems must be set up and developed to help the organisation influence key performance indicators. This will turn theory into practice and make change happen.
By making this fundamental shift, organisations will ensure that equality is baked into every decision, at every level. Anything short of this is simply an initiative, a short-term goal, a gesture, that will cost money but not deliver change and/or improvement.
8. Rethink your equalities training
Step 8: Rethink your equalities training
For many years’ organisations have relied on equality training as a way of creating – and proving – fairness in their organisations. However, there is now growing evidence that, while training may raise awareness of prejudice, it doesn’t change people’s behaviour at all.
The Behavioural Insights Team (a social purpose organisation partly owned by the UK Government) research shows that training is mostly ineffective at changing behaviour and can potentially backfire if the training is compulsory and participants resent being sent on the course. Diversity training courses may also fail if they create the illusion that the organisation has now “fixed” its diversity problems, when this doesn’t reflect the experience of employees who may feel marginalised by the organisation’s employment practices.
Traditionally, equalities training courses have had an emphasis on do’s and don’ts, and for most employees this has tended to be little more than a form of rules, causing many employees to feel more worried about saying “the wrong thing”.
This training allowed organisations to show that it had been done with all employees and that relevant equalities messages or learning points had been delivered. However, this can often be superficial and purely functional, done once to show compliance and not genuinely focussed on a ‘return’ in in terms of changing behaviours.
Unfortunately, this rules-based training did not help to create more understanding and inclusion but instead left many managers feeling less confident, worrying that they would forget the rules, and often organisations saw an increase in the need for ‘scripts’ or highly detailed procedures to use in discussions with staff.
As we began to understand the limits of this compliance-based training, attention turned to unconscious bias training. This attempted to challenge prejudiced ways of thinking or behaving that could unfairly influence decisions - such as who might get a job or a promotion – and change the stereotypes about others that people may not be aware they have. This focus on changing the learned views of individuals assumed that if people know about their unconscious biases, they will change their behaviour. However, we now know that it is impossible to understand all the ways these biases intersect and permeate an individual’s identity and decisions. There is now substantial evidence that this training fails to deliver the changes to behaviour and culture that organisations would like to see.
A CIPD review found that diversity training is more effective if it not only builds awareness about biases, but also develops people’s interpersonal skills in a way that reduces bias.
The CIPD review also suggests that training interventions must not be isolated activities that focus on individuals and their behaviour, but instead are integrated with other diversity-related initiatives into broad cohesive programmes or strategies that challenge systemic bias, prejudice and discrimination.
So, qualities training cannot by itself create the conditions to support a diverse and inclusive workplace. Instead, the power of this training lies in helping to increase the awareness of equality and diversity issues in the organisation as part of a bigger programme of changes within your organisation that are supporting minority groups to join, stay, succeed, and rise through the ranks of your organisation, such as targeting different audiences in recruitment campaigns, or normalising a range of flexible working patterns for all staff, or investing in development programmes for underrepresented staff.
Equalities training programmes can be used to invite people in your organisation to safely share how they have observed or experienced inequity and bias and empower them to be part of the design of the solution. Your training programmes can help staff to develop the critical-thinking skills necessary to consider and challenge the organisation’s services, processes, systems, code, events, communications and seek opportunities to redesign these for increased equity and inclusion, and reduced bias.
9. Create and engage staff networks
If set up and supported correctly, staff networks have incredible potential to change the culture of their organisation.
Networks can play an important role in the planning and implementation of diversity and inclusion strategies. They can be a powerful way to engage people in diversity and inclusion because they are in a unique position to create awareness about the needs and aspirations of the employee groups they represent.
Staff networks are a group of employees who know your business; they know your clients, customers and partners; if set up well, they understand the way things get done in your organisation and are invested in helping make sure it is a workplace where everyone can thrive at work.
Supporting and engaging with staff networks has many positive outcomes, both for staff and organisations. They can be a way to build empathy, provide support to colleagues, challenge mindsets, influence policy, increase employee engagement, generate innovation and can often be a critical friend to the organisation. Business in The Community explores some of the benefits of staff networks in their factsheet setting out the steps to starting and running an employee network.
Setting up and running a network takes time and effort from both staff and the organisations that want to support them. One common challenge for networks is the workload involved for the volunteer chairs and committee members, who are often juggling their day job as well as their role in the network. Organisations can do a lot to help the network’s volunteers succeed. For example, the organisations can offer paid time to the volunteers and help to ensure line managers appreciate the importance of the work and allow time away from the day job when possible. Also, organisation could encourage different staff to participate in the networks by allowing additional time off and payment for travelling from other offices for meetings.
Networks are most effective when their aims fit well with their organisation’s objectives, so they must be open and transparent, with clearly defined equality and diversity targets.
Another crucial factor for the success of your networks is senior leadership buy-in. Having a visible senior manager working with the network, understanding and sponsoring their work and giving them a voice at the top table for issues and ideas that are important to all will help to break down the barriers the networks may meet as they work towards their objectives.
It is also important for your networks to be as inclusive as possible by being open to everyone in the organisation. Even if employees don’t feel personally affected by the network’s concerns at that time, involving more people can increase awareness and understanding of the issues across the organisation.
Engaging anyone who is interested in the equality and diversity topics or helping the organisation to be a good place to work will support a culture of inclusivity and help to make meaningful and sustainable changes to how things are done.
10. Have transparent and fair reward and recognition schemes
Iris Bohnet, Roy E. Larsen Professor of Public Policy and director of the Women and Public Policy Program, Harvard Kennedy School
Reward and recognition schemes come in all shapes and sizes, but they all have an underlying requirement to be equitable and they also play a significant role in employee engagement.
Fairness should be an integral part of the way we value and reward jobs and the effort and skill our employees bring to them. This goes further than simply looking at amounts of money in absolute terms. Fairness is also about pay inequalities or the perception staff have of feeling judged and paid fairly compared to others, both internally and possibly in other organisations.
Perceived fairness of employee recognition and reward (or the lack thereof) is often at the root of why employees leave their jobs. It can be difficult to give employees that sense of ‘fairness’ but showing that appraisal and remuneration systems are unbiased is a positive step. This will primarily come from clearly demonstrating transparency in pay and reward processes.
Transparency means being open about processes, policies and criteria for decision-making. This means employees are clear about what is involved, and that managers understand that their decisions need to be objective and evidence based.
The building blocks of pay transparency and reducing pay inequality are:
- having a job framework that is the right ‘fit’ for the organisation
- developing explicit remuneration levels attached to this framework and applying them consistently
- making clear links to other ‘people’ areas such as personal or career development, opportunities for progression in the organisation etc.
Employers are legally required to ensure men and women receive equal pay according to their role and experience. Having a consistent, gender-neutral method for assessing and comparing the value of different jobs is vital to achieving equal pay and can be the key to making sure you are acting lawfully. Although not mandatory, job evaluation is one of the most important tools employers can use to review and assess their pay systems because they evaluate the job, not the person, and judge the demands of the job in a way that is as objective as possible.
Although originally developed to deal with equal pay, job evaluation schemes also help to reduce judgements related to biases or stereotypes across the other protected characteristics.
Any element of discretion in reward systems can introduce bias from stereotypes about the value of different types of work or staff. Introducing a clear framework of how discretion can be applied and adjudication or assessment criteria at regular periods can help to ensure equitable and consistent decisions are being made across the organisation.
Another way to reduce the impact of bias, is to analyse the pay gaps of different groups of staff. Inequality in pay for men and women in the UK resulted in legislation to introduce mandatory gender pay gap reporting for employers. This has now been in place for a few years and has helped many organisations to think about the different ways they operate or make decisions that can affect pay equity for women.
There are similar concerns about inequity in pay for black and ethnic minority staff and for those with a disability. In 2019, the Office for National Statistics published analysis of ethnicity pay gaps in Britain using data from the Annual Population Survey. This data showed, among other things, that those in the “Black African, Caribbean or Black British” and “Other ethnic group” categories earned on average 5 per cent to 10 per cent less than “White British” workers. The difference in median hourly pay between employees of white ethnicity and all those belonging to an ethnic minority group was largest in London, at 21.7 per cent.
Using the same framework for assessing the gender pay gap can help organisations to look at their ethnicity pay gap or their disability pay gap. This can shine a light on whether more black and ethnic minority staff or those with a disability are being hired in greater numbers in lower-paid jobs or whether your organisation is effectively managing making reasonable adjustments to recruitment processes, or whether black and ethnic minority staff feel able to access development opportunities equally to allow them to progress through your pay grades.
Some employers report that the actions taken because of gender pay gap data has changed the experience of women in their organisations by, for example, increasing the numbers of women being recruited and promoted into more senior roles. It is reasonable to assume that similar progress could be made in improving equality for black and ethnic minority staff or those with a disability if employers analysed, and acted upon, the differences in pay between these and other groups.
When developing reward schemes across all the different elements (remuneration, recognition, benefits etc), it is important to consider the needs of all your employees. Creating a workplace where employees feel valued, welcome, and comfortable must extend to thinking about reward in terms of shared parental leave, flexible working patterns, equitable pay, healthcare packages for different needs and lifestyles.
It is common for organisations to have qualifying criteria to be able to access different benefits, eg length of service or grade, but it is important to review these regularly to ensure that access to the benefits is transparent and proportionate (not inadvertently affecting or excluding certain groups more than others).
At their heart, appraisals and performance management processes are concerned with clearly setting out what is to be achieved and how, with the underlying aim being improvement and added value for the organisation.
Appraisals can also help employers to develop employees and help them to feel valued and excited about their work and engaged with the values and purpose of the organisations. Done well, an appraisal system can therefore have a powerful effect on employee retention. Part of the success of appraisal systems and processes is how fair they are – or how fair they are perceived to be.
A Business in the Community report from 2018 showed differences between ethnicities in their experience of performance reviews. One of the key findings was that BAME employees are less likely to be rated in the top two performance rating categories compared to white employees.
There is also evidence of gender bias in appraisals. Recent research published in the Harvard Business Review found that women are often more likely to receive subjective critical feedback and less constructive critical feedback, and that women’s performances are more likely attributed to appearances rather than skills and abilities. Women are also more likely to receive feedback based on their personality traits.
Bias can also exist in appraisal reviews when managers assess the performance of particular groups of staff. It could be that managers look for information and evidence of negative characteristics to confirm their negative stereotypes relating to gender or race or age. This may mean, for example, that because of these negative stereotypes any good performance on a job is attributed to good luck or extraordinary effort rather than to the abilities or talents of these employees.
There is also evidence that this bias exists in the ways that appraisal frameworks and their criteria have been developed. Long standing appraisal and rewards systems can often overlook skills, expertise or potential that may be more prevalent among ethnic minority employees, while overvaluing other qualities that may be more traditional, but may have less applicability to the modern workplace.
It could also be that appraisal frameworks reflect ‘internal’ occupational segregation issues resulting in minority groups performing less well in appraisals. In many organisations there are particular roles where larger numbers of minority groups are employed and it is possible that these roles may not attract high performance ratings, either because these jobs are not valued by the organisation or they are seen as less demanding, or more junior roles. This could mean anyone in those jobs or departments would be less likely to receive the higher ratings in appraisals.
There are changes employers can make to attempt to remove personal or systemic bias from appraisals, for example:
- Review the language used in the framework and guidance given to managers; for example, standardised lists of words or phrases may contain language bias.
- Ensure your framework supports conversations and judgements on specific and clear evaluation criteria. When managers don’t have specific criteria and evidence to measure the performance of an employee, they’re more likely to rely on information from bias and stereotype, like personality traits. When business goals are clear and transparent, employees can directly connect their goals to specific company targets. Aligning individual and business goals also helps to reduce gender bias as we’ve seen that women are more likely to receive feedback that is personal rather than specifically tied to business outcomes than men.
- Engage your employee network groups to test the effectiveness of subject areas and scope of the diversity objectives.
- Review job roles to redress any negative weighting linked to certain roles and ensure top performance ratings are possible no matter what role you are in. For example, consider whether particular technical skills are more highly valued in your organisation than other skills such as team working or emotional intelligence as this could lead to more ‘masculine’ roles or more senior roles where more men are employed in your organisation being rewarded ahead of those jobs where more females are employed.
- Ask several people to evaluate individuals, for example by using 360-degree feedback models. This encourages a broader perspective on performance. Sometimes the best way to get an accurate look at an employee’s performance is to ask several parties for their input and then use the results to judge overall performance. This can eliminate bias as it ‘averages out’ the ratings and reviews of several parties.
- Look at different models of what ‘success’ in a job looks like. For example, sales roles are often more male dominated roles because of the traditional view of these jobs requiring more travel or out of hours networking which may rule out women who have more caring responsibilities or exclude groups whose religious beliefs mean they don’t want to have meetings that involve drinking alcohol. The perception of what good looks like in sales jobs is often based on more masculine traits, eg being assertive or competitive or ruthless. However, thinking more widely about different ways to achieve the outcomes of roles can create more opportunities for other groups of employees to do them. For example, by emphasising the importance of listening to and understanding clients’ needs, or the need to collaborate with other parts of the organisation such as marketing and finance.
- It is good practice to appoint an individual or small team of people to be trained to review performance evaluations across the organisation to check for possible bias and look for consistency across departments. Any anomalies will be more obvious and able to be followed up.
- Introduce more regular reviews and feedback instead of relying on an annual process. This seems simple enough – if managers provide timely feedback, then the accuracy of that feedback is going to be much better than if they wait until an annual review.
11. Develop inclusive leadership
An organisation’s culture – ‘the way we do things here” – shapes the behaviour of everyone in the organisation and directly affects what they do and how they do it.
The NHS has a large body of evidence showing a clear link between organisational cultures and the delivery of continuously high quality, safe and compassionate healthcare. Their research firmly demonstrates that the most powerful factor influencing culture is leadership. The NHS has therefore invested heavily in ensuring the necessary positive leadership behaviours and qualities are developed in their organisations.
Being able to perform well at work depends on staff feeling safe and empowered to make decisions. It creates the conditions for staff to feel confident and able to deliver effective services in partnership with residents and partners.
This suggests that if we want to create organisations where people can give their best at work, we need to adopt the kind of leadership that best supports this. This style of leadership would need to be capable of creating an environment of involvement, respect and connection, where the richness of different ideas, backgrounds and perspectives are valued and used to create innovative and effective ways to work with residents and communities.
Inclusive leaders embody a leadership approach that appreciates this diversity; they invite and welcome everyone’s individual contribution and encourage full engagement with the processes of decision-making.
Inclusive leaders will actively delegate power to wherever expertise, capability and motivation sit within organisations. They will pay close attention to the people they lead, understand the situations they face, respond empathetically, and take thoughtful and appropriate action to resolve issues. They will ask hard questions, seek feedback, and create discussions to build better relationships.
Inclusive leadership is about actively creating an environment in which all members of the team feel empowered to contribute and feel safe to be themselves. It establishes a way of doing things – a culture – that values (rather than merely accepts) different ways of doing things. This means challenging existing power imbalances, challenging “the way we do things here” and involving people in the difficult and sensitive discussions about how things could be done differently.
Organisations must promote and support their managers to be leaders who role-model the values and behaviours of inclusive leadership. As well as being the right thing to do, this increases understanding and awareness and reduces bullying and harassment among staff will build stronger, more engaged teams, able to focus on delivering better outcomes for communities.
Inclusive leadership can be developed by demonstrating some simple, but powerful, actions and behaviours:
Support your managers with ways to look at their own frame of reference and consider how their background affects the way they behave at work. Encourage them to think about the ways their education, race, gender, age, physical or mental health all come into play in their decisions and relationships and how this is different for other members of their team. In basic terms, its offering managers way to be more aware and take stock of how they are in the workplace – the language they use, the media they consume, the assumptions they make about those around them.
2. Slow down
The pace and intensity of work can make it feel inconvenient to slow down but supporting managers to take time to plan and think about outcomes could have its rewards. Speed and spontaneity are rarely inclusive – they rely on what is readily available - already known and ingrained habits and responses, with no space for empathy and understanding. By helping managers to build new, more inclusive habits they should still be able to respond efficiently but with a wider range of perspectives and ideas to draw on.
Help your managers to feel confident asking questions: How do you pronounce your name? Am I addressing you the way you’d like to be addressed? How am I doing? Is there anything more you’d like to discuss? Give them the tools to find ways to create safe spaces for discussion to happen and for positive communication and understanding to increase.
Find managers who can share a personal struggle so that other employees can see and understand that it’s okay to talk about experiences and difficult things at work, that this won’t make them appear ‘weak’ or isolated.
12. Engage managers and staff
Regardless of your commitment to equality and diversity, your ability to make changes in your organisation to achieve that goal will be limited if you don’t have the buy-in of your employees.
This isn’t like ‘selling’ them on that new expenses process. Equality, diversity and inclusion are sensitive subjects that people have strong opinions about and different levels of knowledge, experience and understanding. The actions you take as an employer can deeply affect people’s lives so they may be anxious about changes the organisation is planning, even if these are well-intentioned and properly communicated.
Your employees will have a range of reactions and opinions arising from lived experiences, personal stereotypes, or even general cynicism about organisational ‘initiatives’. Not everything you plan to do will meet with 100 per cent agreement - or enthusiasm - from staff.
However, there are some key steps organisations can take to engage employees in building a fairer and more inclusive workplace, like:
- Ask and listen: your first step may be a simple request to ask your employees to have a conversation about equality and diversity. Exactly how this conversation will start will depend on what your data is telling you about the levels of trust and engagement with your staff, but launching in to a presentation about your diversity goals may make it feel like you see their participation as a means to an end rather than actively seeking their ideas and feedback. Ensure there are lots of ways for your employees to talk to you and provide their feedback. Find ways to help your employees relate to the changes you want to make and why it is important for the organisation.
- Offer transparency and accountability: it is important to be very clear that this is not yet another initiative or project. The commitment to building a fairer and more inclusive workplace must feel real for employees so make sure you listen and provide feedback that sets out what has, can and can’t be actioned. Have ways of showing and raising awareness of what ‘good’ equality, diversity and inclusion will look like in the organisation, and give timely reports on where the organisation is against the goals agreed on.
- Visibility and messaging: sharing information is key to building organisational trust, which is also essential to achieving true cultural change. Consider different, accessible ways of reinforcing your organisation’s commitment to change and of keeping employees informed about progress. For example, in newsletters, in-house magazines, notice boards and intranets, induction programmes and appraisals. Ensure that all employees across the organisation understand how inclusion relates to the organisation’s goals and their work, and the ways employees can and must engage in this.
- Extra effort for the squeezed middle managers: line managers are very influential in our organisations as they can shape the way strategies, visions and policies are interpreted and implemented. However, often their jobs come with a complex range of tasks and expectations both from above and below them in the organisation. Middle managers may believe additional processes related to diversity and inclusion will make their work more difficult. For example, they might think that spending time targeting different groups to widen the range of candidates applying for vacancies will lengthen the recruitment process. It is important to ensure that your line managers understand the positive benefits from being a fairer and more inclusive employer and the need to engage and commit to the organisation’s diversity and inclusion initiatives. They may need additional time and resources to ensure that diversity and inclusion will become a core part of operations, not an optional ‘extra’. As part of this support, the organisation should ensure that the performance management framework and feedback processes on managers is designed to allow issues to be brought to light and acted upon.
- Respect the right to choose: underrepresented minorities can be some of your biggest champions and drivers of diversity and inclusion efforts, but don’t assume that they want to spend their time working on diversity-related issues. Don’t assume that a visually impaired colleague wants to spend his time educating his peers on your approaches to improve workplace accessibility (he may not agree with them). This highlights the need to do WITH people not TO them. Some employees may not welcome such a focus on a personal characteristic, or they may have been disillusioned by similar equalities initiatives in previous jobs. Or colleagues may have the experiences of bias but not the skills or know-how to help bring change about. Make it clear that all staff can choose to be involved in championing equalities issues and get as many people involved as possible and invite them to be involved in their own way.
13. Check your policies for stereotypes
Even employers who work hard to create fair and inclusive workplaces can fall into the trap of building gender stereotypes into their employment policies and practices.
Your policies and processes are important tools to ensure that individuals feel valued, safe, and supported in their interactions with the organisation, but they can have unintended consequences if the introduce or reinforce bias.
Unfortunately, stereotypical views and generalisations can creep into the language we use and the conditions we build into how we manage staff or provide access to benefits. Assumptions are made about groups of people and the ways they interact with the organisation, and these become reflected in our conversations, meetings and policies. For example, 'the new trainees always want...', 'working mums never...'. By the same token other groups can be missed from conversations.
Policy development can be a victim of group think. Where people developing the policies have similar characteristics or experiences – or simply they have been doing the same thing for a long time - this can create an affinity bias, also known as similarity bias. The connections between these people can mean thoughts are mirrored or repeated, creating an “echo chamber”, possibly inadvertently reinforcing bias and leading to shared decision-making that may have unintended consequences for other groups.
We also know that a policy will not always affect different groups equally. Achieving a more equitable and fairer outcome will sometimes require specific steps or conditions to help to address an existing or historical disadvantage, meet different needs or accommodate difference. It may help to consult widely and to ask people affected by the policy to understand their different experiences and needs, for example by speaking to staff networks or external experts.
Many public sector organisations use equality impact assessments (EIAs) to review their policies and procedures. An EIA is an evidence-based approach designed to help organisations evaluate their policies, practices, and decision-making processes to make sure they are fair and do not present barriers to participation or disadvantage any protected groups.
An EIA can help organisations to look at their policies and practices systematically from a minority group perspective. Doing this should highlight any assumptions or stereotypes that could cause unequal treatment or unintended consequences that might not be obvious to someone looking at it from a ‘majority’ group perspective, which is often the approach used when policies and practices are developed.
However, in assessing policies and procedures, be careful not to focus solely on language: although the language used is important, the EIAs are not about political correctness, they are about ensuring that the framework of how decisions are made and staff are managed is fair and inclusive.
Becoming bias-free requires a truthful assessment of your workplace policies and practices to ensure you are being fair to applicants, employees, and customers. To do so, you will need to know what fairness looks like and feels like.
14. Create a flexible working culture
A key influence on improving equality and creating inclusive workplaces and cultures is flexible working. It can help parents return to work, reduce the gender pay gap, help people with health conditions stay in work and help carers to balance their work and caring responsibilities.
Holding onto traditional working practices and fixed places of work for many roles no longer accurately reflects the reality of how people want – or need - to live and work today and doesn’t help with balancing the complexities of modern live.
Since 2014, every employee in the UK has the statutory right to request flexible working, but while most employers would say that they support flexible working the number of people working flexibly has not increased over the last decade. A report from Timewise, the flexible working social consultancy, showed that most jobs (89 per cent) are still not advertised as flexible and flexible working has stayed very firmly in the ‘ask for permission’ box, which has meant take up has been relatively low.
Many employers seem unable to change long-standing models of working and disrupt what can feel like a difficult balance between the needs of the employee, their team, and the organisation. Employees have also been hesitant in approaching their employers to ask for flexibility because of perceptions that it was for women with children or because they are worried about consequences that seem to be attached to flexible working such as slower progression, lower pay or downgraded job roles.
This lack of flexibility has a particular impact upon women, who too often will reluctantly drop out of work or reduce their hours to part-time after having children or when going through menopause because their employers won’t support flexible working arrangements. It is still the case that women provide twice as much childcare or elder care as men and therefore women are twice as likely to need to work flexibly.
Research shows that boosting the supply of flexible jobs is key to expanding the pool of jobs available for people with caring responsibilities. In the short term this will disproportionately benefit women, however making flexible working more widely available also has the potential to normalise flexible working for both women and men. In addition, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission flexible working is the ‘primary way’ to close the Gender Pay Gap.
Age discrimination in the workplace could also be lessened by adopting more flexible working arrangements. The Centre for Ageing Better supports increasing the availability of flexible working to challenge age discrimination. Their research showed that the lack of flexible working was one of the most common reasons people left work before state pension age because they were unable to balance work with caring responsibilities, menopause, and health conditions.
One of the barriers to providing flexible working is a lack of understanding of what it is and who can have it. In some workplaces, a lack of understanding or negative attitudes from managers towards flexible working can mean it is often seen as a benefit exclusively for parents.
Although it’s true that flexible working arrangements can help parents to balance their work and home lives, the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) research shows that the vast majority of employees (87 per cent) would like to work more flexibly, especially young people. Despite this, in many places of work access to flexible working is unequal. The CIPD megatrends report highlights the significant proportion of the workforce who do not have the option to work flexibly, and the recent CIPD working lives survey found that flexible working was more common in higher level job roles with greater autonomy.
The Government is keen to encourage more employers to think more widely about what flexible working could look like in their places of work, across all jobs and all industries. While it is true that not all service-led jobs in local government are able to have all of the traditional elements of flexible working that normally dominate these discussions (such as where the work is done or when it is done), employers can still change their approach to managing flexible working for these workers.
The solution for employers lies in creating flexible working cultures that think more widely about what flexibility means and offer genuine attempts to provide working practices that can better accommodate their employees’ work and wider lives.
The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has carried out extensive research to help employers think about how to move towards flexibility that works in practice. IES suggest these five steps:
- Flexibility at the point of hiring: signal at recruitment whether you are happy to consider applications on a flexible basis, and where you don’t, ensure that there are solid business reasons for not doing so.
- Staff engagement: review flexible working practices by encouraging open communication and consulting with staff over the type of flexibility that would be of most benefit, how this would work in practice, and balance this against business needs.
- Effective line management of flexible workers: training and development to ensure that line managers have the skills to manage flexible teams and their performance, managing on outcomes rather than presenteeism.
- Role-model flexible working: encourage managers to work flexibly themselves. Managers who work flexibly are more likely to support flexible working within their own team and to understand the benefits and challenges of flexible working.
- Effective implementation: make flexible working available to all staff, regardless of age or gender. Meanwhile, ensure that technology-enabled flexible working should not create an imbalance in the boundaries between employees’ work and personal life.
15. Create confident line managers
Line managers have a vital role in creating an inclusive working environment by providing day-to-day leadership and empathy, and by looking for solutions to remove barriers for people in their team to participate at work. Their behaviours are key to building a culture in which everyone is respected and have opportunities to reach their potential.
It’s important to equip managers with the skills to lead diverse teams. Employers should provide training that raises managers’ awareness of issues for disadvantaged and minority groups and provides them with the skills to promote inclusive workplaces and address unhelpful or unacceptable behaviours (including their own).
It takes specific skills for managers to be able to bring out the best from diverse teams. Inclusive managers will reflect on their leadership style and working practices to ensure that they are aware of their teams’ needs. They will be approachable and able to initiate open, honest, and sensitive conversations with staff and work hard to have no preconceptions about the abilities of different members of staff associated with protected characteristics.
Crucially, inclusive managers will be widely recognised as role models and champions of inclusion and able to challenge inappropriate behaviour towards colleagues, including recognising and tackling bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
Organisations can take practical steps to ensure their managers are inclusive managers who can confidently use these skills and be able to demonstrate these behaviours themselves.
An important step is to ensure that your managers know and understand their role in managing diversity. This can be spelled out in job descriptions, appraisal targets and the organisation’s policies and procedures. Ensuring these are up to date and widely available as a resource for managers will support managers to feel confident in their decision-making.
Many managers are worried about the numerous legal requirements around equalities issues and are afraid of getting things wrong. Legal definitions and processes can sound complicated but developing policies and procedures that focus on providing ways to help managers have open and respectful discussions about equality, diversity and inclusion issues rather than listing all the rules can overcome this fear. Reassure managers that they don’t need to be employment law experts and ensure that there are easy ways for managers to access consistent HR advice on managing more complex issues arising with individuals and teams.
Managers should also be encouraged and supported to be confident in openly approaching issues that may relate to personal characteristics of their staff. Hedging around difficult conversations can often cause more discomfort for those involved. Send a clear message to managers – and to all staff - that some managers may unintentionally ‘get it wrong’ when talking about these difficult subjects but the organisation supports the conversations and will develop ways or tools for managers and staff to use and aim to learn and ‘get it right’ in the future.
One way to help all levels of the organisation to be more inclusive is to develop interventions that help everyone to increase their understanding of different peoples’ experiences in the workplace. For example, the disability charity Scope has found that two-thirds of people say they feel awkward when they meet people with a disability. There can be a variety of reasons for this; for example, people may not have experience of working with anyone with a disability and are cautious about saying or doing the ‘wrong’ thing. Consider inviting individuals or charities with knowledge or experience of different protected characteristics to speak to managers about issues that particular groups or individuals may face in the workplace.
Organisations can also provide training sessions for managers to support them in managing diverse teams. This training could provide a safe space for managers to ask questions that they might otherwise feel uncomfortable asking. It’s also an opportunity to help managers to understand the behaviours they are expected to uphold across the organisation and be champions for promoting an inclusive workplace.