Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) covers many areas in the workplace – but at its core, it is about creating an environment that is safe, supportive and inclusive for all people, regardless of identity, background or circumstance. It ensures that a company helps its workers to develop their skills and talents and is clear on what happens if there are any breaches of conduct.
It is not only about the people though - businesses and economies benefit from these policies too. Fostering diversity of thought and experience ensures that products and services cater to all needs. Someone with an ‘outside’ perspective - that is a perspective beyond the perceived norm - is more likely to be able to spot where products or services might not address the needs of their customer properly or, even worse, accidentally alienate them.
While gender, civil status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race (including colour/nationality/ethnic or national origin) and membership of the Traveller community are nine distinct grounds covered by discrimination law, people can be discriminated against in other ways. Differences can include visible and non-visible factors such as background, culture, accent or language. An effective EDI policy understands that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to managing people in the workplace. A good management practice is fair but also flexible, able to support both the individual as well as the business needs.
Making it policy
Having an EDI policy is, if not quite mandatory for a company, certainly a crucial document to outline how a company handles key employee needs and concerns. These can include what to do about discrimination on the basis of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and/or belief, sex or sexual orientation.
Having a strong EDI policy for the company ensures that people will feel welcome and supported in the event of any issues. And by nurturing a diverse workforce, whether by age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or in any other way, the company reaps the benefits. While there is legislation in Ireland to ensure that minimum standards are met, EDI policies go beyond legal compliance and aim to safeguard employee wellbeing and engagement, and through that add value to an organisation.
According to CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, overcoming prejudice and changing entrenched negative attitudes can be difficult. To progress diversity, organisations should take a systemic approach. This entails developing an inclusive culture and employment policies, practices and personal behaviours. It also involves managing equality and diversity issues in ways that support business contexts.
“As well as targeted practices, a coherent strategy is needed to ensure that working practices across the organisation support an inclusive culture which embraces difference. The strategy needs to be supported by organisational values which reflect the importance of diversity and inclusion.”
An inclusive workplace culture that embraces critical thinking and gives employees a meaningful voice to challenge and shape their own workplace energises an organisation and ensures that the best talent is attracted and retained, supporting collaboration and driving team performance, says Margaret McCabe, interim CEO at the Public Appointments Service.
Inclusion can expand to suit as new considerations are raised and need to be addressed. For example, ‘neurodiversity’ is a growing area of workplace inclusion, say CIPD. McCabe says: “It refers to the natural range of differences in human brain function. Among employers, it’s used to describe alternative thinking styles including dyslexia, autism and ADHD.
“‘Neurodivergent’ individuals can have unique strengths, including data-driven thinking, an ability to spot trends, and processing information at extraordinary speeds. It’s estimated that at least 10 per cent of the UK population is neurodivergent. However, most workplaces are physically and structurally set up for ‘neurotypicals’, so employers are missing out on other strengths.”
Measuring and reporting
Organisations and companies can measure, report and adapt their EDI policies the same way they would any other company policy, says McCabe. “Many organisations have chosen to go down the EDI audit route – examining their internal and external operations and policies to identify strengths and weaknesses and form targeted action plans, with clear metrics, to address any deficits identified.
“In terms of measurement, workforce equality data (and associated administrative data) provides powerful insights into an organisation’s workforce. This type of data enables organisations to identify and address inequality of access, discrimination and underrepresentation. Without this data, it is impossible to measure the extent to which people from underrepresented groups experience the workforce differently (entry into it, progress through it, remuneration, discrimination and success) from the majority group.”
CIPD recommends regularly auditing, reviewing and evaluating progress, using quantitative and qualitative data on both diversity and inclusion, to highlight where barriers exist (for example, via recruitment data) and show the impact of initiatives, making appropriate changes to activities if needed. They suggest using employee surveys to evaluate initiatives and find out whether policies are working, as well as providing a platform for improvement. Other suggestions include benchmarking progress against other organisations and exploring what others are doing to adopt and adapt ideas where appropriate, adding inclusion and diversity objectives in job descriptions and performance reviews, and recognising and rewarding achievement.
“The implementation of Gender Pay Gap reporting (for companies with more than 250 employees) will likely be a key driver for the future collection of this equality data in Ireland,” says McCabe. “At Publicjobs.ie we are working with the Economic and Social Research Institute to develop an equality monitoring dashboard. This will help us to better understand the composition of the current civil and public service workforce and target our advertising accordingly.”
McCabe says that smarter employers have realised the power of staff networks or employee resource groups to help develop, shape and adapt their workplace policies to make them more equitable and inclusive.