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Genuine inclusivity: How to build a culture that attracts new recruits

By Neil Hayward, WorkBuzz Customer Advisory Board Chair

Two thirds of UK workers (66%) say that acceptance and inclusion of employees from all backgrounds is important to them when searching for a new job, according to a recently published CIPD report based on a YouGov survey of 2,000 UK working adults.

The survey also found that women place more emphasis on workplace diversity and inclusion than men do (74% compared to 58%), and that younger employees also value this much more than their older counterparts do – 78% of 18–24-year-olds said this is important to them when they’re job searching, versus 55% of those over 55.

Employers could stand to miss out on attracting and keeping some talents if they fail to ensure that people from all backgrounds have the opportunity to grow and progress at their organisation – on the flip side, doing this well could set some organisations apart from their competitors.

And, with more than one million vacancies in the UK jobs market – the UK workforce shrank by around 750,000 people during the pandemic – employers can’t afford to ignore anything that gives them an edge when it comes to recruitment.

According to the same report, only less than half (41%) of UK workers believe their current place of work is doing enough on diversity and inclusion – while less than a fifth (19%) said the same about their previous employer. Encouragingly, 61% did say their current employer had at least some EDI initiatives in place. But are they the right ones?

Building an inclusive workplace culture

There’s clearly a lot more to do to build genuinely inclusive workplace cultures and to promote this fairly and accurately to potential new hires – and you can’t assume they don’t know what to look out for. They’ll either spot your superficiality and lip service from afar, or your current employees will warn them off via their commentary on social media and channels such as Glassdoor.

When asked how organisations could better promote EDI initiatives, nearly two thirds (63%) of workers said encouraging regular employee feedback would be their top choice – while more than half (55%) believed their employer should create physically accessible workplaces.

So, we know employees care about working for an inclusive employer – and we know something about what they’re looking for too (leaders responding to feedback) – but is that enough, or is it about much more than this?

There’s a truth here that needs to be spoken: You can’t just bolt inclusion onto a workplace and make it real. It has to be built in step by step, until it’s part of the culture of the way work is done in your business.

Inclusion isn’t just something you write on your website to attract talent. It comes from the lived experiences people are having every day when working for you.

To create a truly inclusive workplace culture, you need to do all of the following:

  • Analyse and change your employment policies and processes to make them inclusive, and train your leaders and managers to use them properly. Look right across the employee lifecycle at all the moments that matter – finding talent, assessing talent, induction, retaining talent, managing performance, managing succession and so on. This is either an integrated system, or it’s nothing.
  • Put your employees’ voice at the heart of your decision making. Take their pulse regularly, and take a “You Said, We Did” approach in how you react.
  • Demonstrate your behaviours. Your values are so much more than those you pin up on the wall. What is acceptable and unacceptable in the workplace should be defined by your employees, by themselves and for themselves, and not just dictated to them.
  • Love the stories workforce data can tell you, and analyse this constantly to look for signs of bias – for example in talent pipelines, performance distribution curves and so on. Be transparent with this data and share it across the workplace.
  • Benchmark your organisation against others and look for external accreditation to measure your progress along your inclusion journey. You have nothing to hide.
  • Use this one statement in any engagement survey you run: “I am free to be my authentic self at work.” The answers will tell you all you need to know about whether or not your interventions are working.

Diversity that is not underpinned by genuine inclusion is simply tokenism – and both your employees and potential candidates will quickly see through it. A genuinely inclusive workplace doesn’t just have a diversity of people present, it has a diversity of people involved, developed, empowered, and trusted by the business.

By making inclusion about genuine deeds and not simply words or pretty marketing pictures, people will be more engaged, feel happier, work better and get more done. Churn levels will be lower and sickness and absenteeism will reduce – and the business will succeed as a result.

So, try being genuinely inclusive – you know it makes sense.

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