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How to create an inclusive and diverse culture


Historically, progress on advancing diversity and inclusion has been slow, however, the pandemic has amplified earlier inequities even further.


Research consistently demonstrates that the more diverse the workforce, the better the business performance, however, progress on diversity remains slow, with nine out of ten companies reporting that they struggle to implement initiatives. The key challenges include lack of employee awareness of programmes, insufficient leadership role modelling, or being stretched too thin.


A recent study by McKinsey focused on the challenges diverse employees are facing in the Covid-19 work environment. It highlighted that employees did not feel the pandemic challenges are only temporary and in the long term and companies should prepare for several factors that have an increased impact on diverse populations, such as the ongoing mental-health challenges and lack of access to offices and in-person interaction.


Focus on individual challenges


In the context of the pandemic, a new employee subset has emerged – the working parents. This is particularly significant in countries where schools remain closed. According to The Women in the Workplace 2020 report, mothers are one of the demographics who are disproportionately affected. US mothers with young children, for example, have reduced their work hours at a rate that is four to five times higher than fathers, to take on childcare, followed by spending an extra three or more hours a day on childcare and household responsibilities, equivalent to 20 hours a week, or half a full-time job. The burden of this double shift has resulted in one in four women in corporate jobs to consider downshifting their career or leaving the job.


For LGBTQ+ employees, the negative impact of isolation in absence of their support structures is leading to the loss of workplace belonging and connectivity and increased challenges with mental health. While isolation is a challenge for many, the community is an important source of belonging for LGBTQ+ employees and they are more likely to be impacted by the limitations. This community is also highlighting concerns with workload increases, making organisations rethink expectations on worker productivity and performance and support employees in establishing boundaries between work and home life.


Inclusion before diversity


There is a need for an established inclusive culture in order to deliver on diversity. It goes beyond recruiting employees from diverse backgrounds – it’s about giving them the opportunity and space to bring out their authentic selves. An inclusive organisational culture is about everyone respecting and supporting each other, regardless of their ethnicity, gender identity, socio-economic background, disability, sexuality or age.


Putting diversity and inclusion on the agenda with an empowered leader running the effort is a start, but businesses also need to dedicate resources accordingly. Setting and tracking clear objectives will also help to quantify progress even when there are competing attentions. Leaders need to build trust by creating a workplace where people feel safe expressing themselves freely, which requires setting the tone of honest discourse and getting comfortable with vulnerability—both with their own and their employees’.


Research suggests that when companies invest in diversity and inclusion, they are in a better position to create more adaptive, effective teams and are more likely to recognise diversity as a competitive advantage. Diversity brings multiple perspectives, boosts innovation and creative problem solving, and diverse organisations are also able to create a work culture based on psychological safety where diverse talent can feel they can be themselves and empowered to contribute.


A diverse workforce underpinned by an inclusive work environment where talent can thrive leads to higher productivity and profitability. At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at simon@askacumen.com.