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5 tips to improve your diversity awareness in 2021

The need to be inclusive is more pressing than ever. Workplaces where everyone’s contributions aren’t valued for business success will be penalised by clients, visitors and audiences who have become more demanding of social change. Although a lot of us are aware that we fail to demonstrate diversity awareness, we may not know how to behave more inclusively. This blog post outlines five practical tips on improving diversity awareness.

Why an inclusive, diverse team is essential for your business

Last year, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion became essential for strategic planning. In 2021, it will have even more impact on your talents and workforce composition, performance, financial stability and reputation. But several question marks are still hanging over some organisations’ Equality, Diversity and Inclusion strategy: 

  • Why is it so challenging to achieve sustainable diversity among staff and clients?
  • Why do businesses struggle to reap the fruits of being more inclusive?

It is critical to tap into the full talent pool. By hiring a limited group of people, organisations miss out on significant talent needed to be leaders in their sector. Unfortunately, when companies succeed in attracting diverse people, these new staff members might be slowed or prevented from reaching their full potential as the workplace often reveals a low diversity awareness. Ultimately, your company won’t foster a diverse environment if it isn’t prepared for it. Beyond recruiting more diverse members and reaching more diverse clients, organisations need to demonstrate diversity awareness at all levels. 

The impact that a lack of diversity has on your business

  • Existing staff may become disillusioned with their future in the organisation and consider leaving. A weak approach to diversity and inclusion can make it harder for everyone to fulfil their potential, and put off the people that businesses need to succeed. 
  • Certain brands, products and services even risk being boycotted due to a low reputation for diversity and inclusion. The lack of a diverse team also makes it harder to identify this type of risk.

So, here are my top five tips for improving your ability to navigate broad social, cultural, racial, and other human diversities within the workplace.

1. Take care of yourself (and raise awareness around you)

It might sound counterintuitive, but the most important thing you can do to improve your diversity awareness is to look after yourself. If you are familiar with the practice of emotional intelligence, you know the value of being rested and fresh to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Demonstrating diversity awareness requires the same kind of self-control. We need to pay attention to the words we are using and the decisions we are taking, to consistently ensure that biased beliefs do not inform your choices and behaviour.

You need to keep your stress under control. You shouldn’t underestimate the impact of the lack of sleep in managing your stress levels. Self-control can be considerably reduced if we don’t get enough rest. Similarly, too much coffee can trigger adrenaline release, a faster response to ensure survival and activate your fight-or-flight mechanism. Stress will put your brain and body into a state where emotions have power over behaviour. The mechanism that triggers the feeling of unsafety is now well known as being at the basis of discriminatory attitudes. Self-control will help you handle difficult situations and remain engaged in challenging conversations.

Understanding your stressors is also a significant step in understanding that “minorities” have stressors placed upon them by those who will not allow them to forget that they see them as different.  

2. Set clear commitments (and raise awareness around you)

There is no legal obligation in the UK to have an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policy. Still, it is a standard to ensure that everyone in your workplace takes Equality, Diversity and Inclusion seriously and knows the organisation’s commitments. It is also a great way of evaluating if the actions you have taken are working and updating the policy when necessary.

But bear in mind that a good policy needs to be actionable and informative. It should also set clear responsibilities.

If Mr Everyone is responsible for implementing the policy, Mr Nobody will certainly be accountable for its non-application.

Have a look at this policy as an example of how you can set responsibilities.

You can also go for a more creative solution. Get some inspiration from this inclusive recruitment guide shared by a Glasgow-based multidisciplinary creative design studio. 

3. Capture your specific reasoning for doing this work (and raise awareness around you)

We love to think that inclusion is the right thing to do, but that kind of rationale is relatively weak in a workplace busy trying to reach other quantifiable targets and KPI. 

To go beyond lip service and demonstrate an understanding of the value of diversity for your organisation’s success, you need to understand the rationale in your environment, geographical area or professional sector. Only by investigating your environment will you prevent pitfalls of essentialising difference and better understand social contextual differences meaningful for those you are trying to reach. 

For further information, see ‘What’s wrong with essentialism?’ by author Anne Phillips to help distinguish between the four types of essentialisation, including:

  • The attribution of particular characteristics to everyone identified within a particular category
  • When characteristics are attributed, not to the individuals in a particular category, but to the category itself
  • The critique of stereotypes
  • The treatment of certain characteristics as the defining ones for anyone in the category

You can easily find specific information about your audience and clients by researching your sector. Here are some examples:

This better understanding of diversity in your specific context will be critical to understanding your organisation’s values and communicating it around you.

4. Be aware of the Equality law (and raise awareness around you)

Now, take a piece of paper and try to write down the protected characteristics under the UK law. I’ll give you a clue: there are nine protected characteristics.

Being aware of the Equality law means that you know the protected characteristics and why they are protected. If you’re unfamiliar with this, educate yourself on how disability, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, or the colour of one’s skin affects experiences personally and professionally. 

It is also crucial to understand the opportunities offered by the law in terms of positive action. Misconceptions about the nature of targeted positive action may lead to it being seen as positive discrimination, which could give rise to objections or resistance among teams. In your organisation, you should carefully position the rationale for positive actions and draw on sectoral data to explain the specific needs to redress inequality in your context. Put some effort into understanding why positive action might be used, how it benefits employees and the organisation, and what positive action is and isn’t in contrast to positive discrimination.

5. Increase your self-awareness and let go of past mistakes

We all have some attitudes towards others that we could improve. Our past experiences might teach us how some of our behaviours can affect others and those with a protected characteristic.

Learning about your strengths and weaknesses is an opportunity to explore how your behaviour or weaknesses are detrimental to people with protected characteristics.

Avoid self-blaming. Instead, detach from this bad experience by adjusting your attitude to demonstrate better diversity awareness in the future.

Achieving this level of self-awareness will allow you to impact your sphere of influence and improve the work environment and make it more welcoming for others. 

If you want to know more about diversity awareness, check out my Inclusive Mindset toolkit. Also, have a look at Greg’s article on Anxiety in Leadership where he tells you more about emotional intelligence and shares a technique for responding to the amygdala hijack.

If you should only remember one thing only from this blog:

Try and be kind to yourself, be kind to others and share what you know with others.

About the author, Rachel Gnagniko

Rachel Gnagniko is a consultant specialising in equality, diversity, and inclusion. She approaches her work with a creative mindset to facilitate positive change and tackle real problems creatively. Need guidance from Rachel? Learn more about working with her.