...And 3 ways anyone can make a start to change this.

If you Google the value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, you’ll find pages and pages of results with interesting articles, case studies and research to highlight why progress in this area is so valuable for all businesses and organisations.

So why isn't building an inclusive workplace a top priority for all?

Why do so many organisations think about doing something but then end up doing little or nothing at all?

Here are 7 reasons why achieving diversity and inclusion is hard:

1. It can be uncomfortable to talk about. Diversity, identity and one’s sense of belonging, are all highly emotive subjects; they mean so much to all of us and are rooted in both our positive and negative experiences. For some, sharing and talking and about such personal issues isn’t for the workplace. It’s a prime example of old-fashioned ideology, especially since so much of our sense of personal worth is tied up in what we do for a living.

2. Improving D&I is not a core strategy. Having a diverse and inclusive culture is all too often seen as a serendipitous circumstance, rather than a specific business strategy with tangible plans, actions and goals.

In general, people will see the importance of diversity, but not know what to do or how to adapt behaviour, which usually results in no progress at all. Or... they run a series of initiatives or sessions like unconscious bias training; maybe invite health and wellbeing experts to give talks to staff, or celebrate International Women’s Day. But there’s very rarely any kind of cohesive, top-down strategy.

3. Not enough time. We’re all busy doing our day jobs and that's what we make time for. Whether it be the choices we make ourselves, or the direction we receive from our managers, it’s unlikely that D&I progression will ever take precedent over work that affects the company’s – and well as our personal – bottom line.

What this shows is that we simply don’t know or understand the true value of a diverse and inclusive working environment. Time is undoubtedly valuable, but so is a positive working environment.

4. Fear. The unsaid reason. You’ll be hard pressed to find a CEO that cites fear as the reason for not implementing a diversity and inclusion strategy within their business. But you know fear when you see it and it’s definitely there, all too often.

There’s the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ and the potential can of worms that might open. Or the fear of ‘saying the wrong’ thing to ‘the wrong person’, and inadvertently causing offence. Or simply not knowing what word or phrase to use when describing a particular minority.

Those potential fears are understandable, but fear should never be a reason not to employ the right strategy for your business.

5. It’s such a huge issue; or at least it appears to be. “If society can’t get it right, how can we do a better job within our organisation?” “I can’t change the way people think and behave.” Can’t we? Can we not change the way people think and behave for the good?!

Many choose to do little or nothing because the task at hand is so daunting; they’re probably put off by a combination of all the points on this list! And while that’s understandable, an effective D&I strategy is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re looking at positive progression and a journey that evolves, not an instant utopia.

Any change will deliver results and some change is better than no change.

6. Some people don’t want things to change. This is the big one. But it’s something that we must be honest about. Some have benefitted, and continue to benefit, from the biases and inequalities that exist. So why would they want to change it, even if that change would help the business? As a conscious line of thought I’m sure this is a rarity, but unconsciously, it's everywhere.

7. People want change but don’t know what to do. Some know the injustices they want to rid or the opportunities that inclusivity would bring them, but don’t know what practical actions to take, or how to join the dots. As a result, actions and ideas fall by the wayside and become mere observations, or worse yet, resignations - ‘that’s just the way it is around here’.

Making a start

So how can you change the status quo? Where do you even start? Well, you could just Google it, or you could talk to us at Project 23. Your organisation is unique with specific needs, wants and challenges. Sharing and talking about the issues you face and discussing the actions you could take enables you to form opinions beyond the search results that Google would spit out.

Effective and long-term strategies to develop and nurture an inclusive workplace include five fundamentals:

  • Education & skills-based training

  • Accountability

  • Open and transparent communication

  • Celebrating employee differences

  • Goals & measurability

But the point is to start. You don’t have to be a CEO or have all the data, a fully formed strategy or a ready-to-go task force in place to begin. Just begin.

Here are 3 things to get you started.

1.Educate yourself and be informed. It doesn’t take much time to build opinions and ideas of your own about why an inclusive, diverse culture will work for you. Adopt a genuine and positive sentiment and know why you want to make improvements. Understand that this is a win-win; it makes business sense and is simply the right thing to do.

The details and ideas can always develop and grow, but if you start with knowing why you want to make this difference, you’ll steer clear of that crap tick-box exercise that everyone desperately wants to avoid.

2. Start with the person next to you and really listen. Ask questions about their experiences, their opinions, their ideas. Help to make that person feel included, share a story of your own or consider why they might feel excluded at times.

Sometimes just a ‘Hello’ and a genuine smile to someone you don’t normally speak to will make a difference. Progress from one person to others within your sphere of influence. Nudge others to do the same.

If it feels uncomfortable, remember that this is a good thing and that any worthwhile change will always result in some level of discomfort for someone, somewhere. But that discomfort will recede quickly, and you’ll soon realise how much you’re learning, and feel a need to discuss your ideas with others.

3. Tolerate the fear and take small steps. It’s natural to be scared of things that are new; the right dosage of caution can be good. It’s clearly not a good idea to offend anyone. But stop to consider what you’re really scared of and then take a bit of time to work through that.

Ask questions, politely. Read up on what others have done and examine their learnings. Invest enough time to be confident, safe in the knowledge that a small step is still a step in the right direction; perhaps starting with a simple conversation.

Gary Rayneau