When you’re building a company from the ground up, thinking about diversity and inclusion in your workforce is essential from day one. If it’s not on your radar, you can quite quickly become faced with an extremely homogenous group of thinkers and decision makers. This can lead to blindspots, make new joiners feel excluded, affect company culture and harm your business’ potential to succeed.
We’ve picked out the key things to think about, and spoke to Louise Zekaria, Head of Inclusion and CSR at Macfarlanes, who suggested some actions you can take to counter it.
Get wise to what diversity and inclusion means
Diversity isn’t all about filling quotas or ticking boxes. It not only encompasses race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class and physical ability or attributes. It also includes the way someone works, personality traits, religious or ethical values systems and political beliefs.
Rethink how you recruit
While it’s great to think about D&I when you’re interviewing people, it’s even better to consider it before you begin recruitment.
Louise Zekaria told us about the process at Macfarlanes: “When we recruit graduates, we run CV blind interviews and a process called contextual recruitment. Contextual recruitment is a holistic approach that allows you to look at the whole person, not just their qualifications. We look at a person’s background, where they grew up and analyse their level of attainment against their peers. We have been using these processes for six years and, in that time, our recruitment of graduates from ethnically diverse backgrounds has increased by 144%.
The legal profession in particular needs to make strides to widen access. We want to make our workplace accessible to people from every sort of background. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it.”
Tackle it now so you won’t have to pay later
When a business starts out, the workforce can often be made up of a group of friends. This can affect the dynamic of the group and lead to certain behaviours that aren’t productive or professional. Thinking about diversity and inclusion from the very beginning can prevent a small problem working itself into something that becomes detrimental to a company and its culture. If your company is filled with people who look and think the same, and if you hire and promote in your own image, then you increase the risk of deepening your weaknesses.
Take care of new joiners
Once you’ve made a new hire, it’s important not to forget about them. Louise told us “At Macfarlanes we try to make sure new joiners can integrate quickly to their new environment by using a buddy system. Each new joiner is assigned a buddy for a three month period, and the buddy receives a budget for things like coffee and lunches. They can go for a chat and they can invite someone else from the company along – it helps to widen that person‘s network within the company. This could work really well for a company that is scaling quickly.”
Rethink how you promote
How your company promotes should be at the forefront of your mind. “It can be problematic if performance and employee success is based on what the employer would do or how they would perform in a certain situation. This can lead to the same sorts of people being promoted, resulting in a lack of diversity at senior levels that will leave others feeling dissatisfied and excluded. One idea to reduce subjectivity in your promotion process is developing a competency matrix that focuses on ability to do the job and less on whether you like that person or not.”
A regular feedback loop can make a large difference to office culture. Louise said “A good way to keep on top of diversity and inclusion is to encourage employees to give and receive feedback on a regular basis. Constructive feedback and positive feedback – positive feedback is equally as important. Macfarlanes is focussing on this at the moment. We want everyone at all levels to feel empowered to give feedback and to receive it. It means people‘s voices are being heard and if they are feeding back, it becomes much easier for them to hear constructive feedback – they don’t feel singled out. The mindset you have when you receive feedback is so important.”
Don’t be afraid to talk about it
Louise Zekaria thinks an inclusive leadership course can be a great starting point. “We ran an inclusive leadership course for the entire firm and found it had a positive impact. It gets people talking, thinking, being more aware of their actions and decisions and how what they say can affect others.
People can become nervous of talking about certain things surrounding diversity, but we want people to be more curious, to ask questions and feel empowered to talk about it. We want to encourage people to call things out, address it and move on – that way things don’t fester and build into something bigger.”
Raising awareness and raising the level of dialogue is really helpful but it is just the first phase you should be thinking about. Phase two is to embed these behaviours and processes in to the day to day.
Keep working on it
Keeping your workplace diverse and inclusive is a never-ending task. “Unconscious biases will always exist. You can do specific training to make people more aware of theirs, but it needs to be more than that. It’s tempting to do the training, tick it off the list and forget about it. Inclusion requires continual effort and commitment – but the investment is worth it!”
If you’re in the process of building your business, take our short courses on how to set up your board and who needs to be on your team.