The past twelve months have changed working practices and redefined what we mean as the office. The pandemic has also speeded up digitalisation and challenged companies to rethink working practices. As businesses and practices start to return to work in the physical office, how do you ensure that your practice or company is fully compliant regarding diversity and equal opportunities, and how can you identify areas that need to be improved?
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Rethinking the office environment for all
Chris Biggs, Partner at Theta Global Advisors, a consultancy and accounting company, says to ensure people are at their happiest and most productive, employers must be responsive to their employees’ needs for where, when, and how they work. Freedom from the office must also mean freedom to go to the office to account for different experiences, priorities, and conditions.
“In our adaptation to working digitally, we have shown that we can work remotely, but this has also highlighted the employers that can effectively engage empathetic leadership skills, really taking into account employee experiences during this difficult time,” he says.
How best to create a truly diverse workforce?
Many practices are keen to embrace diversity and inclusion and want to attract a wide range of people of different ages, backgrounds, experience and ethnic origins. However, setting hiring quotas alone doesn’t ensure that a company is inclusive, says Suki Sandhu, founder of Audeliss, a global boutique executive search firm.
“To ensure your organisation is creating equal access and opportunities for each individual, you need to set goals and targets for diverse talent across the company,” he says. “In setting goals, a company can create a benchmark and remit to fulfil, whether this is in terms of hiring, progression or retention. By setting these goals businesses are ensuring their own accountability.”
He believes businesses need to work to ensure that their diverse talent is supported throughout all stages of the business. Measuring and tracking data is one of the most effective ways in which to identify areas that require improvement.
In addition, by creating spaces for employees to safely share their own experiences you can gather qualitative data on what your employees expect from your organisation and areas to improve upon. Your business will be able to holistically identify areas of improvement in D&I as a result.
“Overcoming bias is key to ensuring that recruitment efforts are inclusive,” he says. “Bias can have a negative impact on the recruitment process and it’s important for businesses to invest in eradicating this, such as through the implementation of recruitment-focused trainings, in order to mitigate their own biases.”
Additionally, organisations should ensure that their pool of candidates is diverse from the outset. A key change could be to use a variety of channels to advertise roles (not just the same handful of platforms), and create a blind hiring process, where names, gender, location and other details about candidates are removed. Having a diverse interview panel is also crucial.
How can you train your existing staff to implement and support policies around diversity?
Suki Sandhu says investing in company-wide training sessions is key as these provide employees with practical tools and the opportunity to contribute to and build an inclusive workplace.
“Your teams need to know that these pieces of training are important not just for the business, but for wider society and, of course, their own personal development,” he says.
“It’s important for businesses, in particular senior leadership teams, to drive change from the top-down. This should cover consistent communication and fostering an environment that is safe for people to speak freely in.”
It is also key to invest in the ongoing education, training and career progression of each individual.
“It is the people that drive the success of a business, so making them your priority is crucial,” he says.
How can you make your workplace more family-friendly?
Working while parenting has always been a balancing act, but the pandemic has led to any existing structures and routines being abandoned.
A recent ONS study found that parents were nearly twice as likely to be furloughed (13.6 per cent) as those without children (7.2 per cent). This is because for many parents, working from home during the pandemic has meant longer working hours, limited access to support structures such as child care, school, and homeschooling.
Ezgi Verner, People Experience Director, Xero, the global small business platform, says businesses must ensure that family-friendly policies apply to all team members, regardless of their gender or whether or not they are parents.
“Promoting a culture in which people feel comfortable using policies without fear of discrimination or retaliation is crucial,” she explains. “This includes informing all employees in an inclusive way and ensuring you aren’t creating a separation between parents and non-parents.”
By giving working parents the time and support they need to care for their children, family-friendly workplace policies – like paid parental leave, partner’s leave, keep in touch days and flex-return – helps to reduce the burden on families.
“The companies that stand out post-Covid will be the ones that paid attention to how the pandemic affected their employees’ needs and working styles, and then adapted accordingly,” she says.
How can you help bring diversity into your practice at entry-level?
Award-winning social mobility charity Leadership Through Sport & Business places bright but disadvantaged young people into apprenticeships with top blue-chip companies within digital, tech and finance.
CEO Paul Evans says an organisation has to have a vision for great representation across the business that has buy-in at the most senior levels of leadership.
“An effective D&I strategy, like most strategies, has to involve colleagues, stakeholders and beneficiaries or customers,” he says.
“A starting point is to look at your organisation and ask challenging questions. Do we look the same? Do we come from the same backgrounds – same academic backgrounds, similar socio-economic backgrounds? If you recruit in the same way, in the same places, you get the same talent. But you might be missing out on an amazing, diverse talent pool purely because you don’t advertise in the places where people look.”
He says that financial companies can look at the language that they use in recruitment campaigns, too.
“Are you using language that articulates a culture that can be off-putting to people from certain backgrounds? What is the imagery on your recruitment campaigns? Do you use the voices of a diverse range of colleagues within your recruitment campaigns to highlight the difference within your business?”
Consider, too, what you ask for when you advertise to candidates – being too rigid can put off or exclude some potentially bright and diverse candidates.
“If you look at many adverts for roles, you will see “degree” required. “Senior level experience” a “2:1 from a “leading university”. Challenge your HR team. Does the role really need a degree, and does it honestly have to be from a Russell Group university?” he says.
“Challenge yourself to justify why you recruit the way you do, and who you might be missing out on by always doing what you have always done.”
How can Diversity and Inclusion remain at the centre of a practice?
Paul Evans says managers should make diversity and inclusion training a core part of the training plan for all employees at all levels.
“Like any change process, buy-in and understanding is essential,” he says. “You might have to change a great deal as a business to attract a wider range of candidates. Beyond job adverts, recruitment campaigns and “strategies” you might just need to change your culture first.”
For example, if the way you “team-build” is Friday night at the pub, who might you be excluding? What message are you sending? Consider working patterns, locations and how you support parents and caregivers. Can your organisation move from being calendar-driven to output-driven and a culture that recognises the outcomes and impact of a person’s role rather than the 100 hours they spent performing it?
“It starts with leadership, it continues with role modelling, and is formalised through policies,” he says.
Listening to the experiences of all your employees
“Inclusion’s not a thing you do once, it’s an ongoing process. It’s more than just opening a door, it’s actually inviting people to sit at the table and listen to their voices,” says Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, consultant, trainer and public speaker at Inclusively Tech – www.inclusively.tech, a neurodiversity training company teaching companies how to be inclusive to people with ADHD, autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia.
“So many under-represented people have invisible disadvantages,” she says. “How many of your staff are dyslexic, for example? How many have a hidden disability? Who might be struggling with their mental health? Most importantly – have you created a culture where people are comfortable disclosing these things? Will they feel supported and safe – or are they afraid their job will be in jeopardy?”
She says training is vital – and it needs to go beyond simply “awareness” training.
“We’re all aware that minorities exist – what we need is a deep understanding of the issues that people face and how to address these effectively,” she says.
Marianne Curphey is an award-winning financial writer and columnist, and author of the book How Money Works. She worked as City Editor at The Guardian, deputy editor of Guardian online, and has worked for The Times, Telegraph and BBC.