The misconceptions about diversity and inclusion in the workplace

It is increasingly clear that a diverse and inclusive workforce is good for business and more broadly for society.

Research points towards diversity and inclusion (D&I) positively impacting the bottom line, productivity and innovation.

However, often when an issue gathers such momentum and exposure, it can also gain a passing status, of being a trend or a fad, something that organisations need to be seen to be doing something about, as not wanting to appear behind the times or operating in the dark.

This can lead to misconceptions. “One big one that is still pervasive today is that D&I are just fluffy issues that only HR need be concerned with,” says Danielle Ramsbottom, director of Client Management EMEA and Diversity and Inclusion strategy leader at Frank Recruitment Group.

That’s not the only misconception around D&I.

D&I washing

Just as environmental issues have suffered from ‘green washing’ (looking to be doing good, jumping on the sustainability bandwagon), D&I is not immune.

Superficial virtue signalling is something that companies do to make themselves appear progressive, and “right on”, says Ramsbottom. “I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the far-reaching, practical knock-on effects of D&I, and how deeply they can benefit companies that get it right.

“Some companies do feel they’ve ticked a box because they’ve placed people from diverse backgrounds in their roles. There’s definitely an attitude in some businesses that having a ‘token’ member of staff fulfills their social duty.”

Skills, quality and diversity are not congruent

Subscribing to the idea that hiring for diversity is merely a box-ticking exercise highlights a deeper problem at the heart of recruitment. For too long hiring quality talent has meant sourcing from the best schools for people with the best academic records. But companies such as EY, Google and Apple are challenging this by focusing less on academic credentials and more on ability and experience, thus creating a broader talent pool for themselves. If you cast your net far wider, you’re going to find people who bring with them diverse and varied experiences, abilities and outlooks, thereby deepening and enhancing the quality of your workforce.

Diversity and inclusion are not the same

“Just because you’ve hired a candidate who looks different to the majority of your team doesn’t mean you have an inclusive workplace,” says Ramsbottom. “If you don’t work to foster inclusivity and make all of your employees feel equally valued, respected and secure, then you’re going to see high turnover, and you’re going to lose all those fresh perspectives and diverse ideas. Getting people through the door means nothing if you don’t give them a seat at the table.”

Diversity is a soft issue

The notion that diversity is a soft issue,  is a very damaging myth, says Ramsbottom. “It means that a lot of doors are going to remain closed to talented people for longer. Not only is that unfair to candidates, but it also means businesses are missing out on skillsets and experience that could be hugely advantageous to their operations. If companies continue to brush diversity off as a soft issue that only concerns enterprises, and they don’t make a serious effort to fish from new ponds, they’ll find it increasingly difficult to hire great talent.”

The current scenario in which a widening skills gap is a concern for the majority of professions means viewing D&I as a soft or non-issue is very shortsighted. “Skills shortages are a pressing problem in a lot of industries, and as the demographics of our workforce changes, employers need to shift their hiring policies to keep up,” says Ramsbottom.

“Perhaps they could look into new channels to source candidates, whether that’s creating returnships and intern programs, linking up with professional organisations that support professionals who are underrepresented in their field, or work with specialist recruiters who can cast a wider net than an internal hiring manager might be able to.”

What to do?

There is no magic wand for D&I in a workforce, but there is plenty that can be done to make positive changes to enhance D&I for the long term. Strategies to achieve a more diverse and inclusive workforce need to become ingrained into hiring, retention, culture and how an organisation and its employees operate and work together.

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce should be communicated across the business, says Ramsbottom. “Let your employees know that this isn’t about meeting a quota, it’s about bringing in skills that are going to be valuable to your business, and help everyone succeed.”

Create a fair and open playing field for all employees. Employers need to provide everyone with access to the same opportunities, not only to take on work and show off their skills, but also for professional development such as training and mentorship, says Ramsbottom.

“Creating an inclusive environment also means calling people out on their biases, be they unconscious or otherwise. That’s not always going to be easy, but if any of your employees don’t feel like you have their backs, why should they give their best to your company?”

A major part of getting those wheels turning and chipping away at these misconceptions is exposing your business to a more diverse set of candidates when you’re hiring. It really is as simple as checking your biases and treating everyone the same throughout the hiring process. Don’t make assumptions. That could mean removing names from CVs before circulating them internally, for example. Do everything you can to level the playing field, and make sure no one is discounted based on anything but their professional suitability for the job.”

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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