Author: Mandy Rico, Director of Advisory and Inclusion at diversity and inclusion consultancy, INvolve
With all of the changes we have seen over the last few years, it’s important that we reflect on the impact they have had on the way we navigate the world. With developments such as the rise of hybrid working shifting attitudes and providing opportunity for progress in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the board, the momentum must be maintained as we make headway into 2023. 2022 saw many small businesses recognise the need for change to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. However, when looking at the economic uncertainty ahead we must ensure SMEs are continuing to pace forward, rather than slipping backward.
Employees are, rightfully, demanding more from their workplaces when it comes to building inclusivity and equity. With Millennials alone comprising up to 50% of the UK workforce, and Generation Z predicted to contribute up to 27% in 2025, failing to attract and retain this demographic can be a great error on businesses part because they are losing out on a significant portion of the population when it comes to retention, as well as attraction.
Despite a recent study indicating that over three-quarters of leaders understand how an inclusive workplace and diverse workforce can benefit an organisation, it was also found that no more than half of employers have standalone DEI strategies. At INvolve, much of our work involves ensuring that organisations are taking tangible steps towards real and visible progress in DEI, at a time when it falls high on the agenda for most employees.
Employers therefore mustn’t shy away from setting high standards to ensure their workplaces are inclusive. The onus is on leadership teams to take responsibility and acknowledge the inequalities that many of their employees face due to wider societal issues. Once accountability is accepted, equitable practices can be implemented which ensure that diverse groups are given the tools required to achieve their career goals. These include talent development programmes, which offer tailored support to diverse talent to prepare them to move forward in their careers, and inclusivity training which can help recognise bias that is embedded within workforces.
What’s important is that employees across the business, from line managers to senior leadership, come together to ensure everyone, regardless of their background, can progress at work. To smash the glass ceiling for good, employers need to work with employees to build their confidence and create a positive chain which supports internal pipeline development. Senior leaders must be part of the conversation from the outset – it is crucial that they champion the success of their employees and create an environment in which anyone can join them at the top. Small businesses mustn’t assume DEI is only something for larger enterprises to consider and can begin to implement changes. For example, due to their size, SME senior leaders can take advantage of a more hands-on approach when it comes to driving conversations around inclusion and engaging directly with employees when it comes to implementing solutions.
Investment from employers into training, workshops and development programmes is important to drive change when it comes to building equity in the workplace. However, efforts mustn’t stop there. Organisations need to strive towards building cultures whereby everyone understands each other, and where difficult conversations should be had to move forward. This is where allyship comes into the mix – leaders can play their part in encouraging allyship by educating workforces and placing diversity high on their own agendas. However, to be an active ally, employees must also educate themselves, listen to the experiences of others and continue to be a part of conversations around all strands of diversity, equity, and inclusion. It’s critical that while accountability for change must always be prioritised from the top, employees across the businesses are empowered to drive change too, in order to maximise efforts for inclusion.
Advocates tend to possess a degree of privilege and can use their influence to open doors for those who may have barriers preventing them from reaching senior positions and active and committed advocates at all levels of a business can help to bring about change. To equip teams with the knowledge and tools to drive advocacy, businesses should be investing in trainings and workshops and providing their employees with the resources to engage in critical topics such as identifying and mitigating biases in the workplace, embedding inclusive recruitment strategies and learning the language and context to have meaningful, action-oriented conversations.
All organisations should be striving towards best practice on DEI in 2023, supporting employees through what looks to be a tumultuous year ahead. Implementing effective DEI strategies doesn’t come without investing time and resources, but the business case remains strong. SMEs that choose to invest in and hold themselves accountable for creating inclusive workplaces will no doubt enjoy the commercial benefits that come about as a result.