How to Manage Diversity Effectively in the Workplace

“Time’s Up” For the Business Boys’ Club

How Britain’s businesses manage diversity involves everyone, and yet it’s not really a new concern. People have been coming here to work for centuries, and women have been demanding workplace equality for decades. Organisations addressed this before the pandemic. But now as business returns, the desire for change and how to manage diversity effectively in the workplace is growing at a pace.

Millions of words have been written about diversity. As our contribution, here’s an overview of what managing diversity involves and some strategies people have proposed. At the end, we suggest practical steps to handle inappropriate behaviours in your business and work on your unconscious bias.

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How to Manage Diversity Effectively in the Workplace

Why is Changing Our Business Culture So Important?

Britain’s business culture needs to change to keep pace with the workforce.

Women hold more senior management roles, but there’s a shortfall at board level. Growing numbers of young women do what was once considered men’s jobs, and more women are working. As of June 2020, 72.7% of women aged 16-64 were employed, from 52.8% in 1971. Here’s another problem. Girls consistently outperform boys at school. Yet men still hold most of the top positions in our leading companies.

Next up, the UK’s racial and ethnic mix is growing more varied and the communities are becoming more assertive. Black people are demanding greater equity, following the protests over George Floyd’s killing in the US and historic injustices here. The pandemic has heightened tensions, by affecting some communities more than others.

Openly lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are increasingly accepted in society and expect the same acceptance at work. Similarly, so do ‘trans’ people. Other progress includes the fact that employers are recruiting more physically disabled and neurodiverse people.

With growing numbers of older people in work, there’s generational diversity, too. We’re aging more slowly and keeping our health longer. Today’s 70-year-olds can expect 15 years’ more life. And as we live longer, more of us still want to work.

Meet the New Boss

As we said, the workforce is changing. Business leadership and management have been changing too. Fifty years ago, business leaders and managers were predominantly male, white, heterosexual, and able-bodied. They perpetuated their elite by recruiting, preferring, and promoting their kind. Now the emphasis is more on managing diversity and finding the best person for the job, whoever that is. Many younger leaders and managers are cool with diversity. But there’s a way to go, especially with older bosses and businesses outside the big cities.

Scrabble tiles spelling Boss

Meet the new boss

In the coming years, the organisations that manage diversity effectively will prosper. Diversity will give them an edge, by attracting the best talent. Big businesses will lead because they have the resources. Whilst others will need to work on their diversity to attract and keep staff. Tackling ingrained bias and promoting acceptance of difference is part of the challenge of managing diversity effectively. We’ll talk more about inappropriate behaviour and ingrained bias at the end.

What’s the Difference Between Diversity and Inclusivity?

Diversity is about how groups are represented in the workforce’s composition. Inclusion concerns how well the different groups are valued and respected for their presence, contribution and perspective.

So What is a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace?

A diverse and inclusive workplace makes everyone feel equally involved and supported in all areas of the business. It’s as simple as that.

And What’s the Commercial Benefit?

Diverse and inclusive workplaces earn deeper trust and lasting commitment from their employees. The Great Place to Work website says equitable employers outpace their competitors by respecting their team members’ needs, perspectives and potential.

What are the Benefits of Workplace Diversity?

The recruitment app developers TalentLyft identify the following benefits:

  • Variety of different perspectives.
  • Increased creativity.
  • Higher innovation.
  • Faster problem solving.
  • Better decision making.
  • Increased profits.
  • Higher employee engagement.
  • Reduced employee turnover.
  • Better company reputation.
  • Improved hiring results.

So How Do You Manage Diversity Effectively in the Workplace?

It’s all about commitment and clear action. Commit to promoting employees from different backgrounds through specific policies. And adopt a clear strategy for doing this. Then share with your employees and invite feedback.

Diversity by Numbers

Use these pointers to help draw up a diversity to-do list for your business:

What are the 4 Types of Diversity?

Ideal, the talent intelligence company identifies four types:

Internal diversity is what we’re born into: race, ethnicity, age, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation or physical ability. You should not be subject to any workplace discrimination or unconscious bias related to these statuses. This is laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Equality Act 2010.

External diversity: covers characteristics we’re heavily influenced by, but can change through personal action. Examples are education, personal experience, socioeconomic status, spirituality, religion, citizenship, geographic location, or family status.

Organisational diversity: These factors belong to our work and our organisation. They include our job function, management status, seniority, department or union affiliation.

World view diversity: Our experience shapes our world views. Diversity can come from cultural events, political beliefs, knowledge of history and outlook on life.

6 Strategies for Working with Diversity

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Six steps for how to manage diversity effectively in the workplace

Canadian author Ken Blanchard writes about these strategies:

  • Set a clear, inclusive vision. Identify your purpose, future vision, operating values and steps to get there.
  • Understand each other. Increase the quality and quantity of conversations between managers and staff. Understand your workforce. The more diverse they are, the more managers must communicate.
  • Show integrity. In the old days, colleagues talked among themselves about bosses letting their prejudices show. We’re more direct now, plus there’s social media and tech. Also, news travels instantly, making integrity even more critical.
  • Leaders become supporters. Leaders must support customer-facing workers by removing obstacles and making them feel valued. ‘High visibility’ leaders make a major difference, showing they are empathetic and interested in what their team is doing.
  • Consider the whole person. People want to feel valued, understood, and supported. They need to be able to talk about their issues with line managers and see prompt action.
  • Increase involvement. A diverse workforce gives you a variety of viewpoints on a problem. To reap the full benefit, encourage everyone to participate. 

6 Ways to Promote Your Diversity Policy

Make it your stated policy to improve employee engagement through diversity-focused initiatives and processes:

  1. Educate managers on the benefits of diversity. Empower them with the skills to grow and nurture diverse teams. Cultural and other sensitivity training is a good first step. Assess your reporting structures and employee feedback mechanisms to ensure clear communication.
  2. Create inclusive workplace policies. Do a ‘deep dive’ of your current practices and evaluate your business’s needs. Include your employees in the conversation. You may need to rethink everything, from recruitment practices to evaluations and promotions.
  3. Communicate clearly. As we said earlier, employees should feel comfortable coming to managers with concerns. This goes especially for ill-treatment due to gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age or other differences. Ensure managers act on cases promptly.
  4. Create employee-led taskforces. Not everyone feels comfortable speaking up through traditional internal channels. Setting up a diversity task force ensures transparency and gives employees buy-in.
  5. Offer opportunities for engagement. Encourage and support employees’ involvement in voluntary projects in their communities.
  6. Create mentorship and training programmes. Use mentoring and training to bring on promising members. As businesses return, this needn’t all be Zoom calls…

7 Tips to Manage a Diverse Workforce

  1. Don’t dismiss diversity as a buzzword. Think about what diversity really means to your business in terms of the benefits it brings.
  2. Build diversity into recruitment. Insist on interviewing a diverse mix of candidates for every job.
  3. Reach out, pull in the talent. Reach out to colleges and regional organisations who promote diversity. Listen to their ideas.
  4. Make sure the leadership buy-in. Driving diversity from the top makes all the difference! You’re stuck if the leadership don’t support you fully.
  5. Set an example. The leadership should set the example for the interpersonal respect and courtesy you expect from employees.
  6. Make the system more equal. Workplace policies, systems and processes can be tough on people who feel marginalised. Be open to discussing your policies and addressing their needs.
  7. Know your blind spots. You’re not going to get everything right straight off. Recognise when things go wrong, listen and take action promptly.

9 Practical Ways to Encourage Diversity

Unlike some of the more conceptual concerns we’ve mentioned, these can be practical and obvious:

  1. Have ethnic foods for the different groups in canteens.
  2. Support staff wanting to worship on site: create dedicated spaces.
  3. Encourage staff to observe set times of worship.
  4. Allow employees to take time off for religious holidays. This includes those that may not be officially observed by the company.
  5. Celebrate the different festivals with food, drink, and decorations in canteens and reception areas.
  6. Offer onsite daycare for babies and preschool children..
  7. Review your working setup to ensure inclusive facilities, such as non-gendered restrooms.
  8. Extend the option for flexible working hours and remote working for all who need them.
  9. Offer a mobile workforce app with a translation feature. Ensure every employee can communicate in their preferred language.

Work on this and your people will see you’re doing something, not just talking about it!

So What’s the Key to Having a Successful Team in a Diverse Workplace?

It’s down to communication:

  • Create clear goals, steps, and processes. Communicate these to each team member.
  • Commit to involving everyone, based on their individual potential to contribute.
  • Don’t discriminate in involving people, based on cultural diversity, gender, sexual orientation, religious, racial, or other differences.
  • Value the insights these differences bring. Use them to drive your success. 

Promoting inclusion involves practical action:

10 Steps to Promote Inclusion in the Workplace

Silver Number Balloons 10

10 simple steps on how to manage diversity effectively in the workplace

Ceridian, the human capital management software company, identifies these steps:

  1. Be aware of unconscious bias. Encourage leaders, managers, and staff to keep thought journals to process their own biases and observe when they do it.
  2. Communicate the importance of managing bias. Practise cultural humility, be curious and humble about cultural differences.
  3. Promote pay equity.
  4. Develop a strategic training programme.
  5. Acknowledge all cultures’ holidays.
  6. Make it easy for people to participate in employee resource groups.
  7. Facilitate ongoing feedback with pulse surveys and check-in tools.
  8. Mix up your teams. Diversity in teams positively impacts creativity and innovation.
  9. Assess discrimination in company policies.
  10. Track progress over time: you’ve got to work at this. 

Calling Out Inappropriate Behaviour

Under the Equality Act 2010 there are nine protected characteristics:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnerships
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

How to Be an Effective Manager in a Diverse Workforce

A manager is responsible for their employees’ behaviour. You may be hard line on issues such as racism or sexism. But you must also take reasonable steps to challenge and prevent, for example, homophobic harassment.

An employee may have a claim for direct discrimination if an employer fails to address homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic comments. That’s particularly so if they take other issues such as racism or sexism seriously.

Calling out inappropriate conduct can be problematic. The interpersonal risks are high, and you risk upsetting the offender and upsetting your relationship. Most people think they are reasonable, and when someone accuses them, they go on the defensive. Offenders defend themselves by calling their accusers politically correct or over-sensitive.

Calling people out is less likely to happen if the perpetrator holds a position of power. No one likes falling out with their boss. And people don’t like going against the group either. If banter, jokes, and harassment are commonplace, people are less likely to step in and defend others.

Leaders have a duty to lead here because if they don’t speak up, they show this behaviour as acceptable. This gives the offenders tacit permission to re-offend. Repeatedly letting inappropriate comments and behaviour go then means the behaviour becomes normalised and accepted.

What Can I Do if Diversity isn’t Being Respected at Work?

Banter isn’t a joke. You hear people say jokes are meant in jest and are all part of the work culture. “Everyone is teased about something.” They may say this is just ‘banter,’ not meant to upset anyone. But, the person on the receiving end will disagree. They feel they’re being targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or their perceived orientation or identity. Also, this behaviour is harassment. It’s unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, as mentioned earlier.

And Finally

Unconscious Bias –  The Elephant in the Diversity Room

Close up photo of a baby elephant

The elephant in the diversity room of how to manage diversity effectively in the workplace

So, you think you know about managing diversity effectively? That’s great. But there’s still the question of your unconscious bias. It’s important to remember that we don’t have unconscious biases because we’re bad. They’re part of being human. So, keep a thought journal to process your biases and observe when you do it, and you will notice a change.

Using tech can also help. Visit Project Implicit and complete an Implicit Association Test. Alternatively, visit rework.withgoogle.com and look up Unbiasing.

You might think you’re the only company you know of doing this stuff. You’re not, by any means. People hold up Apple, for instance as a business to emulate for good corporate conduct. Their managers are trained in unconscious bias and inclusive leadership. Equally, they receive ongoing education on race, justice and being an ally.

Learn from the experts. Improve your understanding of managing diversity effectively and reduce your unconscious bias as part of extending your soft skills. Also, if your efforts make your business a better place to work, it’s got to be worthwhile.

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