- Embracing diversity and inclusivity is important for any organization to remain globally competitive.
- A diverse and inclusive workplace takes into account the individual characteristics of each employee and deliberately leverages them to support growth.
- Employers can adopt strategies like reviewing hiring policies, designing inclusive programs, and developing company-wide diversity and inclusion training to create a truly diverse and inclusive workplace.
Any organisation that desires to become or remain globally competitive, even within a local operating context, should be deliberately designed to embrace diversity and inclusivity.
How do organisations design a conducive work environment beyond fulfilling basic contractual obligations? This is becoming a key concern as more employers realise that employees now require more than the basic minimum to be more productive on the job, and invested in the growth of their organisation.
Timely pay, agreed working hours and well-defined roles are certainly critical to sustaining healthy employer-employee relations. Yet, it is only a part of what it requires to make an employee fully satisfied with their job. To reach the final destination, it is important to create a diverse and inclusive workplace.
A diverse and inclusive workplace is a general definition that requires some clarification to be operational. Sometimes employers take equal working conditions for full-scope diversity and inclusion. It is only partially correct.
A diverse and inclusive workplace is one where the individual characteristics and peculiarities of each employee are taken into account and are deliberately leveraged to support the growth of each individual. In a diverse and inclusive workplace, equal working conditions are set not by default, but after careful consideration of the unique traits of each employee.
Obvious examples include an employee with special needs, a female employee in a male-dominated team, a foreign employee, and significantly older staff in a young team. All of them can have the same responsibilities and formal rights, but feel out of their element among their colleagues because they are unable to fully integrate into the new system. Their team members may be insensitive to their challenges since they misunderstand them or do not see why they should be treating the challenges of their co-workers seriously if these challenges are not directly work-related or are not common to all team members.
The affected employees, in turn, feel at a disadvantage and become increasingly unproductive. The employer remains distanced from these individual challenges as the management believes that it continues to uphold its contractual obligations to the employee. In situations like these, working conditions are described as unequal and stifling for those employees as there has been no attempt to make such a work environment inclusive.
In a diverse and inclusive workplace, the situation is reversed. Where fair contractual obligations are already in place as expected regardless of personal characteristics, such as gender, age or disability, employers acknowledge the individual challenges of each employee and devise HR management strategies to address them. The strategic requirements needed to create a diverse and inclusive workplace are a challenge for many.
According to the Gender Barriers Report by Jobberman Nigeria, 72% of surveyed employers confirm that women need more skills training in the workplace. Yet, not all employers are ready to invest in training female employees to make them on par with their male colleagues. Another data set from the report reveals that 14% of surveyed employers have no policies against sexual harassment while the other 86% have poor enforcement of such policies. A diverse and inclusive workplace that encourages a harmonious co-working environment for all employees is unattainable as long as women, who are the main victims of sexual harassment, feel unsafe.
Below, I have proposed three strategies for employers to adopt in the course of creating a truly diverse and inclusive workplace where every staff member has a sense of belonging and security which would ultimately improve productivity:
Review hiring policies, employee contracts and their enforcement
An internal review process is the first step in developing a diversity and inclusive strategy for the workplace. How diverse is the workforce, in terms of gender, race or tribe, and differing abilities? Is there any sign of discrimination towards any category of potential employees in your internal documents? Or perhaps an unspoken bias? Do you have internal policies against pay gaps or your assessment reveals that male staff earn more than their female counterparts on the same level and responsibilities? Do your recruiters give preference to any specific gender, or perhaps a specific gender enjoys more opportunities for promotions? Objective answers to these questions will guide the organisation in setting up a proper framework before actions are taken. The post-review implementation and enforcement are just as critical – and the company must designate a senior employee who is assigned due authority to monitor implementation and enforce compliance.
Design inclusive programs for employees
Hiring women in male-dominated teams, people with special needs, foreigners, youths for elderly teams or elderly workers for young teams is a good first step towards corporate diversity. But to build an inclusive workplace, there is a need to support their adaptation and integration within their respective teams. An employee adaptation program may include skills and culture training, bonding or therapy sessions, or just regular meetings with managers — it depends on what an employee requires to be productive based on their experiences and peculiarities.
For example, a female employee who has experienced sexual harassment in the workplace will need to be reassured of their safety as well as mental health support. A foreign employee will likely require team bonding and corporate culture education sessions to assimilate. A disabled employee will likely be glad to have regular open conversations with their line manager to get the right tools and resolve health-related challenges for uninterrupted productivity. Let employees see that their unique challenges are also managed uniquely instead of with a sweeping broad stroke for all employees.
Develop company-wide diversity and inclusion training
Unless employees see the real negative consequences of their discriminatory acts or lackadaisical attitudes towards their colleagues, their attitude is likely to remain unchanged. Provide safe avenues for employees to share current and past experiences of workplace insensitivity and how it impacted their work. Corroborate this with data on organisational performance and team diversity and inclusion. Consider engaging external consultants to design and deliver ongoing training in this area, and receive periodic reports on the impact of designed intervention strategies. If you plan and host sensitisation sessions where employees will learn more about the effects of unfair and exclusive workplaces, they will adjust their attitudes more willingly. These processes and training should be seen as part of a change management process and managed in that regard.
About the author
Samantha Ifezulike is the Head of People & Culture at Jobberman Nigeria, the single largest job placement website in sub-Saharan Africa that provides bespoke HR consulting services to organisations, training and placement for job seekers, and the best selection of candidates for companies hiring.
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