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Diversity in the workplace is not enough

To reap the benefits of diversity, companies must also embrace an inclusive culture, where employees have a voice and feel valued

“Developing an inclusive culture is about creating an environment where people have a voice and feel valued.” Photograph: iStock

“Developing an inclusive culture is about creating an environment where people have a voice and feel valued.” Photograph: iStock

 

The importance of diversity in the workplace is well recognised. Less so is the fact that, to deliver on its benefits, a diverse workplace must be inclusive too.

“When people talk about diversity in the workplace, they typically think of what are termed protected characteristics such as gender, age, disability and sexual orientation, but in its broadest sense diversity is all of the things that make us unique – our learning style, temperament, experience, hobbies and interests,” says Bethany Fiore, CSR manager at law firm William Fry.

“Protected characteristics are really important and there is a legal obligation to provide protections for them, but it is also important for businesses to embrace the full spectrum of diversity if they want to create the most agile, innovative and talented workforce.”

Diversity alone is not enough, however. “Developing an inclusive culture is about creating an environment where people have a voice and feel valued. It is not just about implementing a programme or about espousing certain values, it is about taking steps each and every day to reinforce and reward inclusive behaviour,” says Owen O’Sullivan, head of litigation and diversity and inclusion partner at the law firm.

“Inclusivity also means ensuring all staff have a voice, with staff surveys and other internal feedback mechanisms being a great way to provide an opportunity for staff to voice their opinions, concerns and suggestions.”

Internal support systems such as networks, mentorship and coaching have all been shown to increase diversity and inclusion as well as an employee’s satisfaction with their job overall, he says.

The law firm has appointed two diversity and inclusion partners and provides mandatory unconscious bias and decision-making training to staff.

“Organisations have come to learn that diversity and inclusion have to go hand in hand. Diversity on its own has little benefit. Without inclusion, an organisation is deprived of the improved quality decision-making and societal awareness benefits diversity has to offer” says O’Sullivan.

US firms provide some of the most diverse workplaces in Ireland and often lead the way in the development of positive diversity and inclusion policies.

“Diversity is incredibly important to us – it’s central to the culture of our organisation,” says Lorna Martyn, head of technology at US investment specialist Fidelity, which has operations in Dublin and Galway.

Fidelity is a privately owned company founded 72 years ago, and the biggest provider of retirement services in the US, with more than 50,000 workers worldwide and 25 million investors.

‘Reflective of society’

“We are managing people’s money, lives, dreams and aspirations, so it’s important for our organisation to be as inclusive and reflective of society at large,” she says.

“If you think about women alone, a lot of US studies show that women make the big financial decisions in the household. On top of that, because of women’s longer lifespan, women tend to inherit more than men do, so it’s important to be able to understand what’s important to women.”

The best way to do that is to ensure good gender representation when it comes to product design or service delivery.

But Fidelity looks to support all kinds of diversity across the organisation, with employee resource groups established for staff members who are, for example, LGBTI, of various ethnicities or who are differently ‘abled’, as well as for special interest groups such as working parents.

“It’s all about how do we retain our talent,” says Martyn. It’s also about creating a culture where people can be true to themselves, rather than feel the need to hide some part of their identity. “It’s important to be the same person inside work as you are outside it, or you use up a lot of energy. It’s about having that sense of belonging. After all, if your workplace is at odds with what your actual values are, why would you stay?”

In technology, most work is done in teams. Those teams that are made up of people with different background and experiences result in more creative outcomes, she says.

Fidelity staff receives unconscious bias training and diversity is further promoted at recruitment stage by its policy of going beyond the standard university pipeline to also actively seek out second-career candidates, with a variety of life experience.

Its schools outreach initiative also helps promote diversity. “There are children out there who think that, because they love art, they can’t have a career in tech but that’s wrong,” says Martyn. “We have people with fine arts degrees working in our user experience teams. For children who love music, it’s about letting them know of the link in mindset between music, maths and computing too.”