Diversity and inclusion in the workplace

May 24, 2024

Over the last few decades Ireland has gone from a homogenous island off the coast of Europe where women had to retire from civil service jobs upon marriage, to a diverse, multicultural, progressive society, the first to legalise same-sex marriage and one that considers diversity important to how we do business. Organisations have worked hard to embrace diversity within their workplaces and create an environment where everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, cultural background or disability, can flourish and succeed. Today diversity is a given - we know it is good for business, for solving complex problems, for helping us win the war on talent, being more responsive to our increasingly heterogenous customers and helping us tap into 100% of the potential in the workplace.

However, being diverse is not enough – it has brought awareness and many changes but fails to bring deep systemic change, for that we need inclusion! Today more needs to be done to ensure that we are inclusive, that people feel valued for what they bring to the organisation and that everyone has the same access to opportunities. While diversity has celebrated our differences in ability, sexual orientation, gender, cultural background, religious belief and more, it has also distinguished the minority from the majority and celebrated their “otherness” without ensuring they experience the belonging and engagement that inclusion generates.

Research tells us that we are genetically predisposed to belong, we are hardwired to want connection and belonging and it is good for our survival and our success. People want to be part of a business that aligns to their values, where they feel connected to its goals and feel they can contribute and have a say in decision-making while bringing their whole selves to work. At a time of almost full employment, people will vote with their feet and decide how much discretionary effort they will use as employment options are available and ultimately they will gravitate towards employers who understand the importance of inclusion. Belonging has the potential to be a competitive advantage for organisations as it fosters engagement, reduces stress, increases emotional wellbeing and ultimately impacts performance.

To achieve this means going back to the drawing board and examining our systems and procedures to ensure we do not have prototypes of what success, commitment or ambition look like that are stifling the recruitment, promotion, development and performance management of the ‘potential’ within our labour market and making people feel like they have to “fit in”. We need to consider:

  • Who are we recruiting?
  • Why don’t we receive applications from differently able people?
  • Why are certain teams or positions not more diverse? Who are we excluding from decisions?
  • Are we expecting certain groups of employee to do more to prove their suitability than others?

Oftentimes this can occur in organisations through unconscious biases or “it’s the way we’ve always done things around here” and the norms of the majority swaying the culture and so this needs to be called to attention.

We also need to ensure that everyone is part of this conversation, not just the minority; just the older employees or the people with disabilities or from different cultures, but everyone, including those who have traditionally held the leadership roles or have had the ‘typical’ experience in the organisation. Failing to engage the whole population in the organisation can have unintended consequences whereby the need for change is not felt, people can feel excluded or the diversity effort can seem like a “nice to have” rather than a strategic imperative that only a naive leader would fail to consider. We have embraced the business case for diversity now we need to leverage the benefits by ensuring inclusion is part of our organisational culture.

From Ibec Academy