Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) isn’t a checkbox to tick once a year when Pride Month comes around. So, what does diversity really mean, and how do we create an inclusive work culture that celebrates the ways in which we are different all year round? Let’s dive into thought-provoking strategies, practical insights, and tangible processes that can empower your employees and leaders to make a real difference in the workplace. At caba, we’re here to support you so that you can focus on the bigger picture – building and nurturing a thriving work culture.

The Financial Reporting Council conducted a survey to assess diversity at audit firms focusing on senior management in the top 25 PIE audit firms. The survey highlighted the representation of those managers, directors and partners who were female, from black, Asian, and minority ethnic backgrounds, have a disability, or are LGBTQ+. The results revealed that partners in accounting firms were generally the least diverse among the senior management levels, except for LGBTQ+ partners, with a higher percentage than managers or directors.

Championing DE&I within the hiring, promotion, and retention processes

Embracing openness and transparency in the hiring, promotion, and retention processes is vital to create an authentically diverse and inclusive work environment. One way to achieve this is by implementing blind recruitment practices, where certain aspects such as names, contact details, nationality, gender, sex, age, or disability are not disclosed. It is also important to explain why you request such personal data and how you plan to use it, and which elements from these will remain blind, ensuring candidates understand the significance and purpose.

When collecting personal data, businesses should use inclusive terms that allow individuals to provide their preferred pronouns and self-describe their titles instead of ‘othering’ them. This approach helps create a safe and welcoming environment for all candidates.

Tracking the demographics across all levels and departments to gauge the retention rate of diverse employees can highlight levels where people disengage and spotlight pinch-point areas that need interventions. Tracking also ensures a determined focus on pay equity across the business, which can include trigger mechanisms to highlight divergence.

Tracking progress with effective DE&I measurements

Data plays a critical role in monitoring and evaluating the progress in DE&I efforts. Without data, it can be challenging to assess whether there is a cause for celebration or a need for further action. It is nearly impossible to account for any gain or stagnation in this process.

Businesses should consider conducting anonymous surveys every year, if not every six months, to collect valuable, qualitative information from their employees. It might be an uncomfortable read, but it allows those in power to assess the progress, identify areas of improvement, and determine whether their initiatives are driving positive change.

It also encourages individuals to share their thoughts and opinions and understand that every voice matters in the business. These surveys will allow business leaders to address employee reservations and improve existing processes. The key thing is to ensure psychological safety for employees to disclose how they truly feel, without feeling they might be identified, ostracised, or targeted.

You can also schedule employee 1-2-1s every three/six months with the DE&I or HR team to ensure employees feel safe and that the processes work.

Addressing Bias and Discrimination through Training and Development

Raising awareness is key to understanding and addressing bias and discrimination in the workplace. While staff members or networks from specific communities often attend DE&I training and events, they’re equally important for dominant employee groups and leadership teams who have the privilege, power, and influence to drive cultural change. All levels of the business should promote and support inclusive initiatives, ensuring a comprehensive understanding and commitment to addressing bias.

To address unconscious bias throughout all levels of the business, I recommend having compulsory DE&I training for all company levels. It is vital to keep updating each DE&I training with new learnings and concerns that employees may have shared in the anonymous surveys. DE&I conversations and working practices need to become mainstream, instead of being seen as silo endeavours for HR, staff networks and marginalised communities.

Strategies to address underrepresentation within the profession

Recognising that diversity extends beyond surface-level representations is essential for all businesses. For instance, while cis-gendered gay males may be more visible within the LGBTQ+ community, queer women, bisexual people, and the transgender community remains underrepresented and minoritised. However, addressing this can be challenging as it often means navigating through and against multiple dominant cultures simultaneously.

To promote greater inclusivity, you should aim to develop strategies to acknowledge and support the unique experiences and challenges these underrepresented groups face. Implementing industry and corporate-level initiatives, such as setting targets for gender diversity at the board level or increasing representation of ethnic backgrounds, can also help drive a cultural shift towards greater diversity, which includes diversity of thought as well as lived and learned experiences. Additionally, it is essential to reassess employee benefits from a diversity lens to ensure all the offerings are valuable to your employees.

Understanding that “one size does not fit all”

Intersectionality is a powerful concept for businesses to understand within the DE&I space. This is when an individual faces an interconnected relationship with various aspects of their identity which all-too-often can result in overlaying and multiple forms of marginalisation.

For example, a black woman who identifies as LGBTQ+ may face compound challenges and discrimination related to racial, gender and sexual orientation. Alongside this, there may be difficulties like navigating a heteronormative workplace or limited representation of LGBTQ+ in leadership positions. There may also be contributing factors like microaggressions, stereotypes, or bias which could affect career progression, employee wellbeing, and opportunities for advancement.

These intersecting aspects of identity can create a complex map of barriers and challenges to be faced in the workplace. Therefore, employers should work to understand and address the multiple challenges that an intersectional lens can magnify and identify solutions to create an equitable and inclusive work environment for all.

Policies are the foundation of effective DE&I strategies

HR teams should review or rewrite policies to ensure they incorporate inclusive and up-to-date language that promotes parity. This involves focusing on genuinely inclusive policies, such as considering shared parental leave, accommodating trans individuals’ medical appointments or surgery and extending inclusivity beyond gender policies.

It is important to recognise and accommodate the chosen families of LGBTQ+ individuals, ensuring that policies reflect the organisation’s commitment to inclusivity rather than engaging in ‘pinkwashing’ and not actually following through with meaningful interventions. Business leaders and their employees should proactively advocate for inclusive policies, regardless of whether it directly affects them, to ensure that discrimination is challenged actively rather than relying on those concerned and affected to speak up.

My one piece of advice for employers to be authentic diversity champions

Respectful communication, cooperation from all team members, and consistent internal check-ins are fundamental to ensuring all individuals feel safe. While Pride Month is an excellent time for awareness, activity must happen all year round. So, businesses should lead by example and create a culture that protects the core values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

If there’s one thing to remember, it’s this – businesses have a unique opportunity and responsibility to lead the way in positive change for DE&I. True progress will come from lifetime commitments and actions, with a deeper understanding of individuals’ intersecting difficulties. By improving and implementing blind recruitment processes, inclusive training opportunities, tracking your DE&I goals, and regularly reviewing policies, firms can create an open space for individuals to feel seen, heard, and valued. Workplace culture should reflect the rich tapestry of our society and communities.

Together, we want to help extend the rainbow across organisations and ensure that diversity, equity, and inclusion become the foundations of UK businesses.