What does Diversity and Inclusion mean?

April 11, 2022

We hear a lot about diversity and inclusion (D&I), and how important it is, and what the business case is for improving it. But what does it actually mean? A good starting point is to understand what the words mean, before considering what that means in real terms in a small business; what a diverse and inclusive workplace might look like.

What is D&I?

There are clearly two separate words here, yet often they are interconnected as concepts. However, they are far from interchangeable. Diversity is about representation or make up of an entity. Often you’d consider diversity in terms of the ‘protected characteristics’ under the Equality Act 201; age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation. A diverse workplace would have a good balance of employees from different racial backgrounds, for example, and a wide age range, rather than a very high concentration of one particular age group.

But as well as the legally protected characteristics, you can also consider diversity using a broader range of factors – socio-economic background, for example, or education level.

Inclusion, on the other hand, is about how well the presence, perspectives and contributions of different groups of people are integrated and valued/appreciated in a particular environment, whether all the various groups of people feel included, feel they have a voice, feel their needs are taken into account.

What does an inclusive workplace look like?

Generally speaking, an inclusive workplace is one which makes everyone, regardless of who they are, their background or what they do for the business, feel equally involved in and supported in all areas of their working lives. Further, an inclusive workplace is often seen as one which is collaborative, open, fair, curious and accountable. But what does that actually look like in a small business?

Employees have a voice

An inclusive workplace is one where employees of all backgrounds and groups feel heard. Employees like to have a say in decisions which impact their work and/or their working lives, and feel they have a way to raise concerns and have their perspectives on things taken into account. Regular team meetings, one to ones and employee feedback forums can all help ensure employees feel they have a voice.

The team feel they can bring their whole self to work

This is about authenticity, and reinforcing that employees don’t need to leave their private lives, personalities and character traits at the door when they come to work. In an inclusive workplace, employees can be themselves, can talk about what’s important to them, can be honest when they have a childcare issue or other personal problem affecting their work, and can express their individuality.

Development is prioritised

Having a variety of team events can be a great way of connecting team members, whilst also engaging and motivating. Virtual team events will go a long way to integrate remote workers with the whole team and/or bring a team of wholly remote workers together.

If any team building events are in person, be sure to invite remote workers and don’t assume they won’t be able to attend. An invite goes a long way to making a person feel included.

Collaboration is encouraged

Having an environment which supports and promotes collaboration will help employees develop a stronger sense of connection between each other.

Discrimination is prevented

In an inclusive work environment, steps are taken to ensure there is no discrimination. These are likely to include suitable policies, but policies that aren’t just written and left on a shelf, but are incorporated fully into the culture, through training and through leaders modelling the right behaviour. Employees should feel comfortable to raise any concerns about possible discrimination or harassment without any fear of reprisals or concern that they won’t be taken seriously.

Understanding exactly what is meant by the concepts of diversity and inclusion can help enormously in bringing the concepts to life, being able to clarify what you should be aiming for, and in coming up with realistic initiatives to improve diversity and inclusion in your organisation. If you’d like some help in bringing inclusion to life in your small business, do get in touch.