The business case for diversity has been undeniably proven. Diversity & Inclusion is about ethics and morality, but it is also very much about the bottom line. All the data sets tell us that diverse teams help create higher retention, higher levels of employee engagement, broader attraction of top talent, better community image, stronger financial performance and more innovation.
Housing organisations have made measurable strides in addressing gender diversity. This progress is wholeheartedly a move in the right direction, but have we made this a zero-sum game where one equality groups’ gain is equivalent to another groups’ loss? Diversity is much wider than just gender; its increasing representation of BAME, different socio-economic backgrounds, age and disability to name a few. For these wider groups, housing organisations are more diverse at the entry level, but this is not reflected higher up the corporate ladder.
It is incumbent upon organisations to investigate each step of the selection & promotion process and ensure they are genuinely objective, meritocratic and inclusive. Nepotistic recruitment attitudes, narrow attraction strategies and the deep seated implicit thought processes that unknowingly guide our attitudes and decisions have a major part to play. While we all like to think we are fair and objective in our decision making, how much of this is determined by our likes and dislikes, the different standards we hold people to; and how we evaluate culture fit.
Managers in particular need to become more aware of their unconscious biases and understand how easy it is to misrecognise and categorise people. It is this that often determines how talent is managed in an organisation – who you invest in, who you listen to, and who you develop and promote.
In addition to the surface level diversity (e.g., sex, age, ethnicity), proactive organisations are broadening their view of what constitutes diversity and seeking a balance of left brain skills such as being analytical, systematic and fact-based and right-brain skills such as empathy, creativity and self-awareness. This ‘cognitive diversity’ contributes to generating inclusive workplaces and high performing teams.
There are two key approaches that are pre-requisites when designing an inclusive culture:
1. Understanding the experiences of your diverse employees
There is an obligation to create ‘safe spaces’ where employee voice is encouraged. Finding out what your employees want can shine a light on what your organisation is missing. As well as this qualitative evidence, we need quantitative evidence to assess the inclusivity of a business.
In an inclusive environment, levels of trust are high and employees will go the extra mile. Employees who don’t feel like they belong are less engaged and less productive. Interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, research informs us that the correlation between belonging and engagement is particularly high for historically underrepresented groups. How well do we understand our people?
2. Ensure everyone is aware of their responsibility in displaying inclusive language and behaviours.
With a diverse mix of people, how do we ensure conflict is minimised and employees maintain their self-esteem, interact with empathy, and build trust?
UK businesses now spend around £33 billion each year resolving workplace disputes, losing 370 million working days as a result. Cultures with low morale and distrust lead to sickness absences, toxic behaviours, grievances, and lower productivity.
To ensure employees are proactively embedding diversity and inclusion, it is important that they understand the actual meaning behind their words and actions and not just learn what to say and what not to say. This is often best achieved through facilitated conversations in the workplace which stimulate discussion and provoke thinking. It’s about changing attitudes and mindsets.
So, in conclusion, it is not enough to lead with good intentions, housing organisations must actively live their values through actions and behaviours. By creating diverse workforces and healthier cultures, employees will be able to better engage with their customers, understand their needs and provide excellence in customer service. As one CEO said “Brand is a promise to a customer and culture is how you deliver on that brand promise.”