2020 turned the spotlight on diversity in all its forms, with many organisations publicly pledging to do better to support minority groups. We know for a fact that diversity leads to innovation, smarter decision-making and more revenue for businesses; so everyone benefits if we do more to build inclusive cultures at work. But, as employees, how can we ensure that the organisations we work for are honouring their commitments? And as leaders, how do we guarantee that our policies stick, instead of simply paying lip service to inclusion?

To ensure your business is authentically inclusive, start by implementing these six steps.

Assess where you are now 

Whether you’re an employer or an employee, start by carrying out an honest assessment of where your business is now. Where is inclusivity lacking, and where is there room for improvement? Where are the gaps in your knowledge?

Some of the problems you identify could be cosmetic. For example, is your office accessible for wheelchair users? Do you have mixed gender toilets to make it more comfortable for transgender staff? Consider the adjustments you could make to your office building to make it a safe and comfortable option for all who use it.

Other policies to evaluate include whether you offer equal holiday allowances for all religious festivals, or whether you allow staff to work around their childcare responsibilities. Many businesses are going to be making remote work a permanent part of their working week – and this is a great way to instantly make the workplace more accessible for those with additional needs or responsibilities at home. 

As an employee, once you’ve identified areas that you believe need changing, take these to somebody in a relevant position at your organisation who can help you turn ideas into action.

Offer everyone the opportunity to have their say 

You can’t build an inclusive culture unless the views and needs of all staff inform the process. Since every perspective may not be immediately obvious (for example if staff have invisible disabilities or private religious practices) actively seeking the input of all staff is a crucial part of becoming truly inclusive.

You can factor this into your initial audit. Set up an anonymous suggestion box where staff can note down issues they’ve encountered in confidence. You could also hold open meetings to hear staff feedback on inclusion in your organisation on a regular basis. Update employees regularly on what you’re doing right now, in the near-term and in the long-term to address the issues that have been identified.

Make genuine commitments based on the feedback you receive, and hold yourself to account.

Make practical – as well as cultural – commitments

You can’t just bandy the words ‘inclusive’ and ‘diverse’ around and expect change to come. Practical changes need to be implemented alongside a cultural shift in company mindset. Inclusion needs to be at the heart of everything you do – from how you hire and fire, to the way you run meetings and socialise with colleagues. 

Reflect critically on how the way your organisation operates could be leaving people out. Are there disabled colleagues working remotely who always miss the water cooler conversations? Could your hiring process be excluding marginalised communities or people from disadvantaged backgrounds? If the answer is ‘yes’, or even ‘maybe’, investigate this and make an action plan to improve how you operate. 

Lead by example (and education)

Business leaders set the tone when it comes to company culture; and it’s no different when it comes to inclusivity. Managers should be seen and heard to be practicing inclusive behaviour at all times, leading teams by example and identifying what needs to change. Employees who wish to drive change can also lead from the ground up, by modelling the inclusive behaviour they want to see.

To ensure that fellow managers and staff are also championing inclusivity, it’s important to educate everyone to ensure the whole organisation understands how and why things must change. Invest in training sessions with experts to educate colleagues on what diversity and inclusion means. Encourage teams to examine where they might be harbouring unconscious bias. Teach people how to use the correct language when talking about things like gender, sexuality, disability and race. Make sure everyone understands how their words and behaviours can have an impact. Introduce zero tolerance policies for discriminatory behaviour.

Prepare to play the long game  

Despite setting immediate, near-term and long-term goals, you must remember that things won’t happen overnight. To achieve true inclusivity you need to commit to pushing for change over many months and years so that it doesn’t just go skin deep.

What’s positive is that we’re now acclimatised to change, having adjusted to remote working in a matter of months. We are an adaptable species and we’ve proven that we can cope with new and difficult things. So now is the perfect time to dig in your heels and create a business that’s built for the future, by asking the hard questions and creating an inclusive environment that you (and others) are proud to work within.