D&I has been and continues to be a hot topic in workplaces everywhere. The two – diversity and inclusion – are often lumped together, as if one thing.  However, the reality is, of course, that while they’re closely related, they are, in fact, different things. To pull together a number of useful definitions:

  • Diversity is about recognising difference and acknowledging the benefit of having a) a range of perspectives in decision-making; and b) a workforce that is representative of an organisation’s customers.
  • Inclusion is about creating an environment in which everyone feels valued, that their contribution matters and they are able to perform to their full potential, no matter their background, identity or circumstances.

Organisations often claim they struggle with employee diversity – usually in terms of attracting very specific demographics and particularly at more senior levels.  However, upon closer inspection, we sometimes find that diversity is there, it’s just that it struggles to make itself seen and heard.  Or, to quote one BAME employee when I spoke to them about the brief I had received around providing insight into how to recruit for diversity:  “This [question] feels very odd for me because, in terms of the proportion of BAMES that we have on our staff, we have enough in this building.  In terms of lower levels of staff, we’ve got enough, probably more [than non-BAME].  The issue is there’s no-one above a certain level; there’s a level where we just disappear.” They weren’t the only person at this organisation to express this view.

When you hear something like this (either first hand or via data) you need to pause and ask, ‘What is the challenge – is it diversity or is it actually inclusion?’ In other words, to stand the best chance of tackling the issue effectively, the best place to start is by understanding what the issue actually is and where it starts and ends.  Assuming that it’s always at the front end and investing there is, potentially, a false economy – you can work hard to attract diversity, but if there is no inclusion your new diverse hires will walk away in search of opportunity elsewhere. For this particular client the issue was, it became clear, inclusion.

TMP has worked with a number of clients to help them understand the what and the where of diversity and inclusion, so they can build inclusive employer brands. (What’s the point of building a brand separately from the D and the I? They should be built in).  Our approach involves looking at organisations through a series of lenses – communication, culture, process and people.  It provides us with a framework to audit everything from the extent to which their existing work forces understand and subscribe to the business case for diversity and inclusion (starting at the very top); and how that translates into an employment experience for majority and minority staff.  It also allows us to look at the practical stuff like the language used in job descriptions and job adverts; through to selection and assessment criteria (for promotion as well as recruitment); and online accessibility.  We also review existing data to see what story that tells.

We’ve recently worked with an engineering firm to support them in their quest to attract more women.  An audit of their communications and processes found that while there was potential for bias in the latter, the former performed pretty well in language terms.  One of the key insights was a tension between the business’ desire for greater diversity (and the time that engagement focused on this might take); and hiring managers’ desire for vacancies to be filled as soon as possible.  The business wanted change, but practice on the ground meant that it continued hiring in its own (male, white) likeness.

We have also worked with a Higher Education Institution, for which the challenge was both diversity and inclusion.  Our work here focused on helping them understand the experience of existing employees from minority groups and how they might promote greater inclusion. Alongside that, we also advised around how they might build greater employer brand awareness amongst these same groups externally – including outreach into community groups.

And then there is the organisation I referred to earlier – for which inclusion turned out to be the issue, the response to which is a need for culture change at all levels.

Both the D and the I really matter if we are going to get to a place where employees at all organisations feel they can bring their whole selves to work.  If we get there, organisations will naturally drive more intuitive and better service for their myriad customers. Getting to that place is about knowing what interventions will result in sustainable difference; and the key to that is making sure you’re addressing the real issue.