In today's global world, we can no longer regard diversity and inclusion as a nice-to-have, but as a must-have for companies seeking sustainable growth. How do you, as a business leader, take this aspect and make it into a win-win-win situation for your company, your employees and your customers?
The job market is becoming increasingly diverse and this is undoubtedly reflected in your workforce: men, women, people from different ethnic backgrounds, young people, the elderly, the disabled, LGBTQ+ individuals and people with different levels of education, to name a few.
Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) are high on our society's agenda. For example, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim for a sustainable and inclusive world by 2030. A number of SDGs specifically focus on promoting an inclusive employment market such as gender equality (SDG 5), inclusive economic growth (SDG 8), sustainable industrialisation (SDG 9), and reducing inequality within and among countries (SDG 10). Indexes and standards have also been developed to measure the efforts and results of diversity and inclusion policies, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the ISO/FDIS 30415 guideline for promoting D&I in private and public organisations of all types, sizes and sectors.
Although the Brussels Capital-Region was awarded second place in the "European Capitals of Inclusion and Diversity 2023" award of the European Commission in April 2023, another poll on diversity in the workplace by Boston Consulting Group and Google shows that there is still a remarkable amount of work to be done among Belgian companies and entrepreneurs. Similarly, the survey by Starfish, an HR research firm, in late 2021 reported that only 41% of organisations in Brussels and Flanders are effectively taking specific actions to promote diversity and inclusion in their organisations.
An unfortunate observation, given that inclusive business can be part of a solution to the shortage in the employment market that is becoming increasingly urgent...
What exactly is meant by diversity and inclusion?
Do diversity and inclusion sound like one and the same term to you? Don't worry, you're not the only one. Although they are often mentioned in the same breath, they are two different concepts and one does not automatically imply the other. For example, a workplace can be diverse, but not inclusive.
- Diversity refers to the differences or variety between people within a group, organisation or society. This can be based on various characteristics, such as race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age and physical and mental abilities. The aim of a diversity policy is to combat discrimination and ensure that the company reflects the diversity that exists within society.
- Inclusion - a broader concept than assimilation or integration - implies that a person is fully included in a group as an individual, regardless of their characteristics. An inclusive policy means creating a working environment in which all individuals feel accepted, valued and engaged. This means giving everyone the opportunity to achieve their full potential, whatever their background.
You can create ethnically diverse teams, of course, but until you take their opinions, perspectives and experiences into account when making decisions and policies, they cannot be considered inclusive. Inclusion is therefore essential to being diverse.
We can sum it all up with the following quote: "Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance." – Vernā Myers
Positive business benefits of diversity and inclusion
Making your business diverse and inclusive is much more than just a matter of ethics. It also drives growth, sales and profit.
If properly managed, there are many benefits to promoting diversity and inclusion in the workplace:
Increased collaboration, employee engagement and satisfaction
Global research and consulting firm Gartner states that diverse and inclusive organisations result in a 26% increase in team collaboration and an 18% increase in team engagement. Gender-diverse and inclusive teams also performed 50% better on average than gender-homogeneous, less inclusive teams. Employees who feel engaged and valued and know that their voice matters participate in and are interested in company culture and activities.
Enhanced innovation and creativity
Diverse teams have access to a wider range of ideas and perspectives. This can lead to new and innovative products and services. In fact, a recent Boston Consulting Group study showed a strong, statistically significant positive relationship between diversity and business innovation.
Research by McKinsey shows that companies with gender diversity of 15% are more likely to have higher sales; in companies with ethnic diversity, this advantage increases to 35%.The study also suggests that companies that invest in inclusion and diversity recover faster from (financial) crises such as COVID-19, for instance, because they are more flexible.
- Better decision-making and problem solving
Diversity can have a major impact on the overall operation of your business. According to Cloverpop, in 87% of cases, D&I can help you make better decisions. In fact, when people from different backgrounds work together, more insights and practical solutions can come to the table.
- Attracting and retaining talent
According to Deloitte, companies with a diverse and inclusive outlook have lower employee turnover and relatively higher employee retention rates. One of the key reasons why employees leave their jobs is the lack of inclusion; they do not feel included. They do not feel secure and comfortable in their work environment.
- Increasing customer orientation
To be customer-orientated, it is important to be able to deal with these very different types of customers. After all, customers are also 'diverse'. One danger of an organisation with similar people (for example, all white men or all young women) is that they make assumptions based on themselves, what they are comfortable with. Diversity among your colleagues allows you to be more customer-focused because together you are better able to understand and serve different groups of customers.
- Better corporate reputation
Encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace will also strengthen your company's brand identity. A Deloitte survey found that eighty percent of professionals consider an inclusive corporate culture when looking for a job.
Tips for companies looking to promote diversity and inclusion
It's one thing to talk about how important diversity is. It then comes down to actually implementing this diversity in your own business.
Collect and analyse data on diversity in your company
There are several tools that can be used to measure and monitor a diverse workforce and inclusive business climate. These include recording personnel data (composition according to gender, age, nationality, language, degree, handicap) satisfaction surveys and HR Analytics. However, additional analyses of personal data that involve health aspects or ethnic-cultural background must comply with the provisions of privacy legislation (GDPR) and can only be done with the express consent of employees.
For your information, Banque Carrefour Social can provide anonymised staff analyses (paying service).
Formulate D&I goals & indicators
If you don't establish measures of success, nothing will ever change. You should therefore set specific goals to promote diversity and inclusion within the company. Think about which situation you want to influence, rather than which "target group" you want to work with. This way you avoid generalisation, stereotyping and stigmatising images, given that target groups have long since ceased to be homogeneous. So don't pin yourself down to quotas but devote your attention to creating an inclusive corporate culture. Make sure you can measure and monitor your self-set goals for D&I to gain visibility into successes and bottlenecks as a company. That way you can adjust or expand the strategy.
- Improve your diversity and inclusion policies by considering 12 visible and hidden aspects of diversity. How can you take effective measures to prevent exclusion or discrimination based on socio-cultural background, external characteristics, sexual orientation, social status, financial situation, educational level, age, health, gender identity and expression, language ability, participation in the employment market, religion and worldview?
- Prepare an action plan and consult with stakeholders immediately. This enhances the legitimacy of a project or policy and it is possible to say with greater certainty that people actually benefit from it.
Make diversity and inclusion an overarching action
Diversity and inclusion (D&I) will not evolve or succeed effectively if it is only an order given from the top down or if it is only managed and implemented by one department. This could even have the opposite effect, with no one really feeling engaged in the topic. To bring about real change, D&I must be viewed as a fundamental operating principle guided by senior leadership, such as the CEO.
- Establishing a diversity board, chaired by the CEO and supported by 'diversity managers' or dedicated employees who are committed to inclusion within the company, can be an important step in this process. Ideally, this board should be made up of members of the company who represent different genders, age groups, ethnicities, races, sexual orientations, religions and even geographical locations. This will provide a rich mix of perspectives and result in interesting ideas during meetings.
- What is more, after consulting with all stakeholders, the HR department can develop supporting tools, such as a diversity charter or a protocol for dealing with inappropriate behaviour and harassment in the workplace, as well as guidelines for application procedures, etc. It is critical that these tools address diversity sufficiently to effectively support managers in their efforts.
- If, as a company leader, you want to avoid an excessive or too rapid outflow of various employees, evaluate with them the induction programme and work processes after the first month. The organization can therefore benefit from the fresh perspective of the newcomer. You can also call on an external party to do this so they can speak freely.
Raise awareness and provide training to ALL employees
Let employees of all levels attend diversity and inclusion training at their workplaces where these concepts are explained and discussed in detail. It is important to speak openly about existing stereotypes and prejudices during this training, since we all harbour certain prejudices, and to explore together ways to break these prejudices.
Managing diversity effectively depends largely on the commitment and capabilities of leaders. Leadership goes beyond technical aspects of work and individual interactions with employees. It also includes managing group dynamics within the team, which becomes more complex as diversity increases.
- Anyone leading a diverse team will need to pay extra attention to cooperation, communication, conflict resolution, detecting possible (unconscious) exclusion mechanisms, stereotypes or discriminatory behaviour, giving appreciative feedback, and so forth. As an organisation, you can include this in your selections or develop these competencies in existing managers.
- Make sure that 'people management' (including an inclusive attitude, open dialogue and clear agreements about what is and is not acceptable) is important when assessing managers.
- Offer coaching sessions and pair new employees with a mentor. This promotes cooperation between younger and older employees, encouraging knowledge transfer and practical experience.
Review and improve existing procedures for greater inclusion
Start by reviewing recruitment, promotion and selection processes to promote diversity and inclusion. Focus on talent, skills, work attitude and creativity rather than background, age, gender, skin colour or surname. This prevents you from putting a lot of effort into attracting diverse talent while they leave at the back end.
- Critically examine your hiring processes, promotion procedures and assessment methods.
- Make sure your job advertisements and company information are inclusive. Use diversity-promoting images, avoid specialised language that may deter potential candidates, remove redundant or outdated requirements that exclude certain groups, adapt your recruitment channels to attract a wider range of candidates, use the network of diverse colleagues and public transport for recruitment, feature a diverse range of employees on your website, and provide a description of testing in application processes.
- Recognise that your personal beliefs as a business leader may consciously or unconsciously influence how you evaluate candidates. To avoid this, it is better to use a score form with the STAR method, which makes assessments more transparent and objective and facilitates discussions about assessment methods and criteria.
Organise inclusive activities
Organising specific events on a regular basis is an excellent way to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Repeat the same events so that everyone, including part-time workers, can participate (or compensate them for the extra time).
- Give employees from different communities or backgrounds the opportunity to talk about their culture. Encourage everyone to participate in this. Keep these cultural activities fun and interactive.
- Develop language courtesy initiatives so that non-native speakers also feel welcome
- Organise training in inclusive writing, intercultural communication or offer accessibility training that addresses physical, visual and auditory accessibility issues in a light-hearted and participatory way
- Organise a card game in which each participant is assigned a different fictional identity and then evaluates their current employer based on that new identity. This encourages reflection on the workplace and diversity. Would they want to work there? What do they think about measures to make the workplace pleasant and healthy for a variety of people?
- Organise an inspiration day on types of discrimination. Share on-the-job testimonials, best practices and tools to raise employee awareness.
- Organise peer review meetings where real or fictional cases are discussed to practice best approaches. This might result in guidelines on what is considered acceptable in the organisation.
Promote open communication and respect
Good internal communication not only improves your employees' motivation, but also their experience of inclusion. So create an atmosphere of openness and trust so that everyone can and feels able to give feedback to each other in an appropriate manner.
- Jointly establish a corporate charter of values and norms based on a values survey. This expressly looks at inclusion, diversity and related values such as trust, innovation and open communication to define the current and desired corporate culture.
- Offer or a htrusted employee representatives otline where employees can share their concerns.
As you can see, as an employer there are many things you can do when it comes to inclusion and diversity. However, it is impossible to be 100 per cent inclusive. Indeed, in social interactions, everyone always contributes something of themselves; you adapt. It is about pursuing inclusion as much as possible.
Want to know more? Need assistance?
- The eDiv site of equal opportunities centre Unia is a valuable source of information on anti-discrimination and inclusion; it offers you free online learning modules as well as a guide "towards more inclusion' that will help you step by step on your way.
- Actiris provides free guidance to Brussels employers who wish to promote diversity in their companies, more specifically in recruitment and management of employees, but also in internal and external communication. Actiris' Diversity Service is also a central player in a network of more than 80 associations, consultants and companies that promote diversity and fight against discrimination.
On the site, you can also get an overview of the types of diversity plans and what assistance, if any, you can receive.
- You may also be able to contact sector associations or federations that promote workplace inclusion through sector covenants or other initiatives. For example, the site https://www.unizo.be/name-and-fame features inspiring stories from companies and organisations in the Brussels employment market. On this platform you will also find advice, information and useful links to get started yourself.
- The Brussels Region awards a diversity label to employers who recognise and value differences in the workplace.
- The Brussels Region is also launchings an annual call for projects to combat discrimination in the workplace and promote diversity on the job market. Example 2023
- The site https://handsoninclusion.be/inclusief-ondernemen/inclusief-ondernemen regularly features workshops on inclusive entrepreneurship
- The site of the Kenniscentrum WWZ (Welfare, Housing and Care) (Dutch) also offers numerous tools such as a diversity measurement ladder and reflection tools.
- The 'Brussels Council for Cultural Diversity' advises the City of Brussels on the integration of residents of foreign origin and organises events in the neighbourhoods to promote intercultural exchange (Divercity, Brussels festival for meeting the neighbourhoods and residents).
- Since 2022–2023, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) has been organising a Master's conversion programme in gender and diversity. Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) is also proposing a continuing education course 'Les atouts de la diversité: prévenir les discriminations et promouvoir l'inclusion'
- If necessary, do not forget to call on social administrative offices or workplace prevention and wellness services. They regularly host workshops on diversity and inclusion.
- Findings from the ninth edition of the HR Barometer.