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In the UK, employers have legal duties when it comes to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and businesses also benefit from having diversity in their workforce. Diversity in the workplace means that an organisation employs a diverse team of people that is reflective of the society in which it exists. The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.
What does diversity and inclusion mean?
Diversity is the presence of a wide range of differences or variations within a group, community or society. The differences can be both visible and non-visible. These differences can be related to a number of things. To help mitigate types of discrimination, the law protects several characteristics in many countries.
For example, the UK has the Equality Act 2010, which protects against:
- Gender reassignment
- Sexual orientation
- Marriage and civil partnership
- Pregnancy and maternity
- Socioeconomic status
- Physical abilities
Inequalities can also be interconnected across several areas like race, gender and class, as the diversity definition refers to variations of different characteristics in a group of people. These characteristics can also include everything that makes us unique, such as our cognitive skills and personality traits.
When considering diversity in the workplace, other examples could include:
These types of differences may be less obvious and may need leaders within the workforce to be more proactive in discovering these.
Inclusion involves creating an environment where people of diverse backgrounds feel welcomed, valued and respected. Inclusion ensures that the differences in people are recognised, and celebrated.
This means ensuring that people are provided with equal opportunities and fair treatment, and that people have access to the same resources and support, regardless of their differences and background. An inclusive workplace means everyone feels valued at work and that the employer recognises that having diversity within their workforce is an asset to their business.
It ensures employees feel safe to:
- Have different ideas.
- Try to do things differently than they have been done before with their employer’s approval.
- Raise issues and suggestions to managers and for this to be encouraged and their ideas and opinions to be valued.
Equality in the workplace means creating equal job opportunities and fairness for existing employees and job applicants. This means not treating people unfairly due to anything which is protected by discrimination law; for example, because of a person’s sex, age or race.
It is important to remember that a diverse workplace isn’t necessarily an inclusive workplace. Increasing the number of people in a workforce from underrepresented groups is not meaningful if those employees do not feel valued and respected in the workplace. It is only when underrepresented employees feel a sense of safety and belonging that they will be able to fully contribute their ideas, talent and creativity to the business.
Recent research into discrimination in the workplace by the UK-based HR company CIPHR found that 11% of adults said that they had been discriminated against when applying for a job due to their age. Over 1 in 20 had also experienced age discrimination in the workplace. Age discrimination is just one type of discrimination; however, according to their survey, age discrimination was more common than any other kind of discrimination in the workplace.
How to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace
There are some important steps that can be taken to improve diversity and inclusion within the workplace.
- Assessing how diverse and inclusive your workplace is currently – this includes monitoring improvements over time and comparing against similar businesses. Collecting and sharing data can help improve accountability and transparency and can also be appealing to potential employees who are considering joining the company. It can also be beneficial to existing employees and also give customers confidence in your brand.
- Strengthen diversity and inclusion policies – organisations should review their policies regularly and ensure these are being followed and are understood. Policies and practices should be reviewed to ensure that they are inclusive and non-discriminatory. This includes recruitment processes, performance management, and employee development processes.
- Commit to ongoing diversity and inclusion training – one-off training isn’t usually enough; the training and learning need to be ongoing and refreshed regularly. Training will be important for leaders but also for staff members across the organisation. Educating employees on diversity and inclusion also includes workshops and seminars to help employees understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, and how it benefits both the organisation and individuals.
- Ensure effective communication – employers need to be able to listen to their employees’ experiences and provide opportunities for employees to provide feedback.
- Create diverse and inclusive teams – this includes building teams with a mix of people from different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. This helps to encourage creativity, innovation and collaboration between people.
- Ensure meetings are inclusive – this includes accounting for accessibility and language barriers.
- Prioritise the workplace culture being inclusive – this means ensuring that employees know that any workplace bullying or harassment will be taken seriously and ensuring that people are not excluded in any way. This can be done by encouraging respect and acceptance between employees, and providing training and learning opportunities for all staff. You can celebrate diversity by creating opportunities for employees to share their unique perspectives, cultures and experiences.
- Understand that inclusion does not mean treating everybody the same – we are all unique and have different needs, particularly when thinking about diversity in the workforce. This means that treating everybody the same will not be effective and is actually unproductive when it comes to being inclusive, as diversity means that people will need different things.
- Having processes in place to address any discrimination – this involves ensuring that all employees are aware of how they can report any concerns. This includes having a system for reporting incidents, conducting investigations, and taking appropriate action.
- To achieve both diversity and inclusion, companies could have people or teams dedicated to designing anti-discrimination policies across the organisation – this will ensure that all candidates and employees get equal opportunities, regardless of their protected characteristics.
As diversity is closely linked to discrimination, many companies are proactive in ensuring that they are actively promoting diversity and tackling discrimination.
This may include:
- Hiring women in the tech industry.
- Ensuring gender equality in leadership roles.
- Addressing age and gender discrimination.
- Ensuring an age inclusive workplace.
- Ensuring gender diversity in sales.
- Ensuring disability inclusion.
- Offering mental health support and awareness within the organisation.
- Actively including neurodiversity in the workplace.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on diversity and inclusion programmes, particularly since there is much more remote working and more hiring of people remotely.
Another challenge is around employee mental health, which is harder to monitor and support remotely. Any concerns that employees may have might be more difficult to observe when the employees are being managed remotely. For further reading about mental health discrimination at work, please see our knowledge base.
Having a diverse workforce does not automatically mean that it is an inclusive workplace, as the employees may not necessarily to valued or given the opportunity to thrive. When specific people are hired, placed or tolerated strictly to prove that an organisation is not discriminatory, this is where equality and inclusion becomes tokenism.
Too often tokenism is a mask for box-ticking, an easy gesture to show that people with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 are represented. Tokenism is defined in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary as “doing something only in order to do what the law requires or to satisfy a particular group of people, but not in a way that is really sincere”. For further reading about tokenism, please see our knowledge base.
How to promote diversity and inclusion in interviews
Promoting diversity and inclusion in the recruitment and interview process is as important as having this in place for the existing workforce. It ensures that all potential candidates have equal opportunities when applying for jobs.
It is important to look at recruitment practices, which is the first step in this process. You should regularly test and review the tools and technology that you use for recruiting people. Some can contain bias against specific characteristics, including race, gender and socioeconomic background, and may not always be inclusive in themselves. This in turn will not attract a diverse range of candidates.
It will be beneficial to provide formal training on unconscious bias for all recruitment managers. Unconscious bias is the attitudes, stereotypes or prejudices that exist within a person’s subconscious mind. This can influence their actions, decisions and judgements without them necessarily being aware of it. For further reading about unconscious bias in the workplace, please see our knowledge base.
Some ways to promote diversity and inclusion in interviews include:
- Ensure that there is diversity within the interview panel. This will be reassuring for candidates being interviewed but will also help in reducing any unconscious bias.
- Ensure the job advert is inclusive and does not contain anything which may discourage certain groups from applying.
- Ensure there are no questions that could be perceived as being discriminatory. This includes questions relating to sexual orientation, religion, age or any of the other protected characteristics.
- Ensure that interview candidates are aware that they can request and be accommodated if they need any additional things to be able to attend the interview. For example, wheelchair access or an interpreter.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that disabled people are over a third less likely to be employed, compared to non-disabled people.
However, between 2013 and 2016 the number of disabled people in employment increased by 1.3 million. One of the possible reasons for the increase in the number is the push to make workplaces in the UK more disability friendly. For further reading about how to make your workplace disability friendly, please see our knowledge base.
Why is workplace diversity and inclusion important?
Building a diverse company means not discriminating against anyone for any of the protected characteristics and that you are an equal opportunity employer. This will help to build up your employer brand and keep employees satisfied and productive. It is also positive for the welfare of your employees and society in general.
Diversity and inclusion is socially and morally important and is also beneficial for the business. An inclusive workplace can help lower the risk of bullying, harassment and discrimination.
We are all different and sometimes these differences can lead to discrimination either directly or indirectly. An example of discrimination would be a woman missing out on promotion in favour of a man or a building not being wheelchair accessible or a workplace culture that encourages a culture of alcohol without considering employees that may not drink alcohol for religious reasons.
Diversity in the workplace is closely linked with discrimination. Bias and discriminatory employment practices can exclude people who have specific characteristics. This can make it difficult for organisations to achieve and maintain diversity.
A genuinely inclusive workplace is more likely to attract more talent, and more progressive, forward thinking companies are more likely to attract the best talent. Many people will actively seek out companies who are the most inclusive. Diverse teams also often work better together, which fosters workplace satisfaction and the feeling of team unity.
A workplace that encourages diversity and inclusion can also be beneficial for the business and help to:
- Make the company more successful.
- Boost the company’s reputation.
- Reflect societies and demographics more accurately.
- Speak to a broader market.
- Attract and retain good staff members.
- Keep employees happy within their role.
- Keep employees motivated to do well at work.
- Increase creativity and innovation.
- Improve well-being.
- See a positive impact on company culture.
- Bring different skills, talents and lived experiences to the workplace.
- Prevent serious or legal issues arising, for example, bullying, harassment and discrimination.
- Serve a diverse range of customers well.
- Improve ideas and problem solving.
While you are obliged by law to be unbiased when hiring and managing employees, it is not mandatory to actively aim to build diverse teams.
Strategies to increase diversity and inclusion in the workplace
In order to ensure diversity and inclusion in the workplace, you should:
- Ensure that your workforce and managers understand what the benefits can be of having a range of people with different backgrounds.
- Ensure that your workforce and managers understand what is protected by discrimination law.
- Ensure that what is expected under discrimination law is actually happening in your workplace.
- Ensure that you make changes if what is expected is not happening, for example properly training staff in this area.
If you think you may have been discriminated against at work, Citizens Advice offer some helpful advice about what is classed as discrimination and what your rights are.