Many organisations now recognise that a diverse workplace is not only something to aim for on equity grounds, it is also strength that enriches and expands the skill sets and understanding of an organisation. A workplace that values diversity can increase employee job satisfaction, in turn reducing staff turnover, as well as harness perspectives and insights it might not otherwise consider – a crucial step to understanding different customers and markets. At a time when Australia is facing a skills shortage and an ageing population, workplace diversity is more important than ever.
However, actually ensuring people of diverse backgrounds are hired in your organisation and are then made to feel welcome is something that many workplaces struggle with. Here are five steps you can take to encourage workplace diversity.
Ensure your HR team recognises the importance of diversity
There is no point espousing the importance of a diverse workplace if the people responsible for hiring are not on board. An HR team needs to do more than pay lip service to the value of diversity – it needs to truly appreciate that a homogenous workplace is one that is missing out on crucial perspectives and skills. Ensure your HR team has done rigorous diversity training, and, critically, ensure your HR team itself is diverse.
Invest in diversity training
There will be limitations to what an organisation can learn through in-house measures. Organise for an external body to run diversity training for your workplace and ensure that all employees attend – even (maybe, especially) senior staff. Get feedback on what the workplace thought of the training – have debriefs with staff members who may have specific concerns or questions. These will not be trainings that you can organise as a one-off occasion. They will need to be ongoing, firstly to cater to new employees and secondly because diversity is not a static or fixed issue – it is constantly changing and being re-assessed as Australia’s wider diversity changes. What’s more, if the aim of the training is to educate the workplace, a commitment to reinforcing the lessons is important.
Implement diversity-friendly policies
Providing alternative working arrangements, such as a compressed work week, job-sharing, part-time roles and modified start and end times to the working day will make your workplace more accessible to those with children and caring responsibilities. Accommodating cultural and religious holidays will make your workplace more welcoming to employees from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, as will permitting diversity-friendly clothing choices in the office. Lastly, but most importantly, make sure that your wages are fair and equal – not only within your organisation but across the workforce more broadly.
While facilitating diversity in junior and middle management positions is often very achievable, ensuring that diversity reaches the senior levels of an organisation will often involve further steps. Mentoring is one way to encourage diversity in executive positions. Match underrepresented employees with senior members of staff and encourage membership with relevant external professional organisations to support diversity in your workplace.
Recognise your own limitations
Any individual will have a limited experience of the world and will subsequently have limited perspectives on a given issue. Acknowledge that there may not always be an objective way of seeing something and if someone else in your office has a different perspective, stop talking and listen. Everyone has unconscious biases. Don’t be defensive if you are called out on them – acknowledge it is okay to be wrong and treat it as a learning experience.