Employee Engagement: Ensure Inclusivity in a Diverse Environment

Sally Hetherington   18 February, 2021
Employee Engagement Featured

A diverse workplace is key to your bottom line. Research shows that a diverse workforce increases innovation and productivity, and enhances creativity. According to the Scientific American diversity “encourages the search for novel information and perspectives, leading to better decision making and problem solving.”

“Diversity can improve the bottom line of companies and lead to unfettered discoveries and breakthrough innovations. Even simply being exposed to diversity can change the way you think… a conclusion drawn from decades of research from organisational scientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists and demographers.”

Forbes states that employee diversity takes multiple forms, from inborn traits such as age, gender, ethnicity, race and sexual orientation, as well as outside influences such as areas of study, industry background, career path, veteran status and foreign work experience whereby one learns to appreciate cultural differences.

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“Managers and teams having a mix of inherent and acquired forms of diversity appear to be most productive of all.”

An important but often glossed over aspect of employee engagement is inclusivity in a diverse environment. It can be hard work to keep tabs on the most up-to-date practices and terminology in a diverse workplace. 

The Language of Diversity

Language is a reflection of society in its current time, and it continues to evolve. Many of the phrases, words and titles that may have been used in the past are no longer appropriate and this should be considered not only when writing business documents or presenting to an audience, but even in your everyday language with your team and colleagues. 

Universal Class offers the following advice:

  • Avoid using words and phrases that needlessly imply gender such as chairman, policeman, waitress, etc. 
  • Use neutral salutations if the recipient is unknown, for example ‘To Whom it May Concern’  or use a full name if you are unsure of the preferred title. 
  • Avoid using masculine pronouns - rather use the gender neutral ‘they’ if you don’t know a person’s preferred pronoun (or better yet, ask!)
  • Encourage your employees to state their preferred pronouns on their LinkedIn profiles and familiarise yourself with these.
  • Be wary of labeling people with terms that may be old fashioned or offensive, for example choose “persons with a disability” or “differently abled” rather than “handicapped”. Again, if in doubt, ask. 
  • Avoid derogatory or racial terms that may enforce systemic stereotypes - in a business environment it can be damaging to your professional reputation to use words or phrases that have a derogatory connotation, as it can have a deep impact on the other person. (We thought this was a good example of a comprehensive list of words and terms that should be avoided)


Be Aware of Bias

Merriam-Webster defines bias as a specific inclination or idea about someone that is unreasonable or prejudiced. Change Recruitment Group goes on to say that conscious bias is easy to identify, by being based on physical attributes like skin colour, gender, or age, which has nothing or very little to do with the individual’s personality or professional experiences. 

There are generally rules to protect against explicit prejudices based on race, age, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, physical abilities and religion. 

Unconscious bias is however harder to determine as it exists in our subconscious and is normally triggered automatically and often without us being aware, yet it impacts how we perceive, interact and engage with others. CIPHR explains that unconscious bias includes:

  • Affinity bias: showing a preference to people who have similar characteristics to you
  • Attribution bias: how we perceive our actions and those of others - attributing our own success to our skills and failures to outside influences, and the reverse with others.
  • Beauty bias: unconsciously favouring attractive people regardless of their ability to perform the job 
  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to look for evidence that backs up our first impression of someone and overlooking contrary information.
  • Conformity bias: the tendency to take cues from others to make a decision
  • Contrast effect: comparing people against each other without objectivity
  • Gender bias: choosing candidates based on their gender 
  • Halo and horns effect: the tendency to focus on a particularly good aspect of someone or a particularly bad aspect and ignoring other information

There are ways to tackle bias in the workplace, including ensuring a diverse workforce, blind recruitment, gender neutral adverts and training. 

Inclusivity in Marketing 

Ensure that all your marketing materials from brochures to presentations are representative and inclusive. For example include people of different races, genders, same sex couples, different ages, differently abled people, different cultures and backgrounds, people with unusual physical attributes - make sure that everyone feels included. This will also go a long way towards employee engagement as your staff members will feel represented in all aspects.


Inclusivity in the Workspace 

Having a diverse workforce means ensuring that your workspace supports inclusivity. Ensure the following for optimal employee engagement in your workspace:

  • Male, female and gender neutral bathrooms 
  • Accessibility for differently abled employees - remember that this is not only for those in wheelchairs, but consider also people with low vision or hearing
  • Religion - ensure that your workplace allows space and opportunity for people to practice their religion and also be sensitive to any special dietary requirements if you run a canteen or snack machines
  • Dress codes - ensure that any dress codes or uniforms are not discriminatory and allow for adjustments to reflect people’s cultures, such as hijabs, yarmulkas, turbans or saris
  • Try to keep any dress codes gender neutral in colour and style 
  • Workshops - send out surveys to find out the issues affecting your employee engagement and address these with regular workshops either inhouse or online to educate your staff. Examples of topics could include understanding different cultures and religions, the impact of gender-based violence, the #blacklivesmatter and #metoo movements, and the support of the LGBTQ community 

Have you ever considered allowing pets in the workplace to increase employee wellness? Click here to find out the pros and cons. 

Having a diverse workspace can only benefit your employee engagement and your bottom line. When in doubt as to whether you are getting it right - ask your employees how you can improve. This is a sure-fire way to make them feel included, heard and respected. For more ways to engage your employees, book a demo with us today. 

Sally Hetherington

Full time teen wrangler, part time writer, passionate traveller and wannabe chef.

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