This blog has been written by Head of People and Commercial Development, Lisa Tomlinson

The arguments for including all kinds of diverse people in organisations is clear, whether it’s increased candidate attraction in a time of skills shortage, higher levels of creativity and innovation in teams, a happier workforce with less issues or creating an all-round fairer society; inclusion is all positive!

I was fascinated by a neuroscience event I attended recently which explained why a sense of belonging is so important. The negative effect on the brain when we feel we don’t belong or ‘fit in’ somewhere means fight or flight kicks in and this feeling adds to long term stress and poor mental health. So just think about the effect this can have on retention and sickness levels!

So how can we as leaders and policy makers ensure our organisations are inclusive for everyone?

Here’s 10 steps to get started:

1. (Most importantly!) Employee involvement - utilise your employee forum, employee surveys, consult on all policies and practices. Use ‘equality impact assessments’ completed by a group on your policies and decisions which include not only the 9 protected characteristics but poverty, class, eldercare and different levels of neurodiversity for instance. Ask people what they feel and what they'd like! Work with them to create an action plan to support this!

2. Critically evaluate your practices (especially recruitment) and embed a culture where people at all levels do the same. Routine and habit mean it’s easy for practices, language and policies to become outdated fast. Disability Two Ticks for instance has been obsolete for years now but I still see it all the time! Is that what your potential applicants are seeing too? Is unconscious bias affecting your recruitment or promotion practices, do you have teams that all look the same?

3. Develop an equality, diversity and inclusion committee, appoint a champion and have them work with other areas to review practice, implement ideas and share best practice. If your company is large enough then also have diversity networks for people to join

4. Analyse and publish data relating to equality, diversity and inclusion. This may soon be a mandatory requirement so why not get in early? Break down diversity at all levels in the organisation and create an aspirational statement with targets that you hope to achieve!

5.Be as flexible as possible with employees in terms of working practices and culture, flexible working, home working, compressed hours and other smart working initiatives are great for inclusion.

6. Challenge the norm! Why do we only use interviews to recruit people, not work experience or other routes? Why do we need a degree for that role, is it really essential? Why can’t that role be home based or a job share? Why do we only advertise in that place? If you want to include people from different backgrounds you have to make an effort to do this, the benefits far outweigh any short term inconvenience!

7. Use values to drive inclusion. What does your company value? Is equality, diversity and inclusion at the heart of your culture or something that gets rolled out occasionally in an online module? If you want to be inclusive this has to be the norm, not something on the periphery. This means exclusive or discriminatory practices also need to be challenged at all levels

8. Invest in management training and support. Managers set the tone for their teams, if they are not supportive of inclusive practices then you’ve lost the battle already! Smart working training could be a great start (see Ruth Gawthorpe on LinkedIn). Managers need to understand and support the benefits and start with the attitude of ‘how can we make this work’.

9. Use ‘positive action’ in succession planning. Analyse diverse representation in your organisation, how is it in the management team? How is it in the board? What backgrounds do these people come from, ethnically, socially etc. If you have people who are mostly the same at this level making all the decisions then inclusion will naturally be slow to change and may not be fully supported. Target underrepresented groups for fast track management training programmes.

10. As Nelson Mandela said ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. Educate staff at all levels about difference, why it is needed in your organisation, why difference should be embraced, why it gives you a competitive advantage and why difference must be celebrated! Send e-mails to explain different events, guidance for supporting fasting colleagues during Ramadan for instance, information about gay pride or Black history month, make sure conversations happen!

There’s so many more things organisations can do to help everyone feel included and that they belong and the best way to find out what they are really is to ask people.

Further reading:

Why education and volunteering matter

10 Benefits of Volunteering