Women, people of colour, and members of the LGBT community are becoming more visible in the UK workforce. However, representation that reflects the UK’s population still hasn’t been achieved for many businesses, especially when looking at more senior positions.

If your company could be doing more to build an inclusive and safe environment for its workforce, you’ll need to consider the best way to get every level of the organisation on-board with your initiatives and consider how the functions of your HR department is reflecting inclusive values.

Here are four of the most important best practices for building an inclusive and safe workplace.

Get Leadership On-Side

Like many things an HR department is responsible for, creating a safer and more inclusive working environment will be a lot harder if you’re not able to get support from your company’s senior leadership team.

Wherever possible, the first thing you should do in a drive for more inclusivity is get your organisation’s leaders ear and work towards educating them on the importance of building a diverse and safe workplace.

It may help to brush up on the business case for inclusivity through bite-sized stats and figures to get an initiative like this off the ground. For example, one 2020 study by McKinsey found that “Companies with more than 30 percent women executives were more likely to outperform companies where this percentage ranged from 10 to 30”.

Equipping yourself with short, memorable stats that support the case for inclusivity can make it much easier to get the attention of stakeholders at your company and drive home the importance of inclusion for the organisation’s overarching goals.

Recognise, Address, and Reduce Bias

Psychological Implicit Association Tests (IATs) have shown repeatedly that no matter how tolerant we might think we are, unconscious biases can affect the way we treat people in and out of the workplace.

Though it can be an awkward topic to broach for the first time, encouraging decision-makers to consider their own biases and how to address them will help develop a more inclusive culture at all echelons of the company. Ultimately, this should help to reduce the frequency with which managers might give preferential treatment to workers who are similar to them in terms of race, gender, or other demographics.

To make it easier for decision-makers to self-assess and combat their biases, you can begin by educating colleagues on the main entry points for unconscious bias.

Some of the key areas people should look at are:

  • How they carry out their duties as hiring managers and conduct interviews.
  • How they assign work.
  • How they conduct performance reviews.
  • How base compensation and raises are determined.

By taking this methodical approach to self-assessing their biases, decision-makers may find it easier to confront their subconscious bias, and understand how these could have the power to influence the way they carry out their duties.

Once this topic has been thoroughly explored and reflected on by people in the relevant echelons of the company, it can open the doors to more inclusive practices at work and further constructive conversations about how the business can address biases and unfair practices.

Prioritise Inclusive Hiring and Onboarding

A huge part of creating an inclusive and safe workplace is developing a hiring process that’s as fair and unbiased as possible.

Some effective techniques for this include vetting your job ads for inclusive, unbiased language, setting policies for blind CV reviews, and creating a standardised scoring system for interviews. You may also want to prioritise assigning diverse hiring managers and interviewers to new vacancies, or at least ensuring that hiring teams are trained or briefed to manage unconscious biases that may affect their hiring decisions.

Even after a job offer has been accepted, it’s essential to make sure every aspect of your onboarding process is optimised to make new candidates feel welcome, safe, and assured that they’re entering an inclusive working environment.

In the words of Daryl Fuller, CEO of Ultra HR, “Onboarding is so important as research shows there’s a “danger zone” between the job offer and start day. Counteroffers and doubts can prevent that perfect candidate from joining the team. It’s crucial to perfect your onboarding process to ensure your new hires feel welcome.”

Reviewing your approach to hiring and onboarding can reveal some great opportunities to build a more inclusive workplace environment, and ensure the new culture you’re building is reflected from people’s very first interactions with your business.

Look Into Sponsorship Programs

Many companies will point to diversity throughout their workforce as a sign of inclusion. However, hiring for entry-level positions against simple diversity quotas won’t help people achieve positions in the higher echelons of a company where their gender, race, or sexual orientation may be historically under-represented.

One of the most effective ways to elevate workers from under-represented groups in your organisation is to develop a career sponsorship program at your company.

Sponsorship programs involve assigning a senior employee to the career development of someone less senior. Like a standard mentoring program, this will involve providing advice and guidance specific to the individual’s specialism and industry. 

Unlike mentorship, however, it also requires the relevant seniors at your company to promote and advocate for the sponsee, creating new opportunities for them where they may usually find difficulties due to their gender, ethnic background, or sexual orientation.

Sponsoring colleagues from underrepresented groups will present a clear and measurable way for your business to challenge systematic barriers which tend to limit people from minority groups. Aside from this, it can also send a clear and powerful message to people throughout your organisation and new hires, showing that your company values the contributions of employees from all backgrounds.

Forging a More Inclusive Future

While many business leaders support the ideas of inclusivity and safety in their workplace, it’s up to HR professionals to ensure their organisations are doing everything possible to work towards a workplace that really reflects these values.

By gaining support from the relevant senior decision-makers, and carefully implementing programs and policies that elevate underrepresented workers, you can mobilise all parts of your company towards a future that’s safer and more welcoming for all.

This blog post was written by Chris Harley, Mental Health Specialist & Copywriter