Businesses that offer an inclusive working environment, for a diverse blend of employees stand ready to transform, grow and outpace their competitors. But how can organisations work to unlock these benefits? Following on from International Women’s Day, senior figures from across the RSM global network discuss the ways that organisations can shape their approach to diversity and inclusion.

1. Instilling company confidence

The importance of having an overarching culture that embraces diversity and inclusion plays a significant part in the creation of confidence in your business - not only from its own people but also from clients.  “Harnessing the power of a diverse and inclusive working environment allows for a greater platform for innovation, creativity and different perspectives that will leave all employees feeling like they are in a safe place to be themselves and produce their best work. Having this momentum also improves employees' wellbeing and enriches the feelings they have towards the organisation overall,” says Elena Stylianou, Executive Search, HR Consulting & Payroll Services Partner, Greece.

On the point of innovation, Paul Herring, Global Chief Innovation Officer, RSM International expands by adding, “The business case for diversity and inclusion is intrinsically linked to a company’s innovation strategy. Multiple and diverse voices offer a wide range of experiences which help to foster new ideas about products and practices, benefiting the organisation exponentially in the long run.”

2. Leadership that is empathetic to the importance of diversity and inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are often seen as a project owned by HR. But for real change and transformation to occur, business leaders must first buy into the value of belonging. Stylianou adds, “for businesses to create a culture that allows for employees to feel comfortable enough to be themselves and to not feel that gender, personal preferences, or circumstances will affect their progress, CEOs and managing partners must lead by example, ensuring that diversity is represented in senior leadership and beyond.”

Managing Partner in the Czech Republic, Monika Mareckova adds, “For me as a leader, it’s so important to have a healthy environment in our offices and each department. My aim is to ensure that each team works as a viable organism on its own and has a healthy mixture and balance. To secure this, a team must have leaders, followers, supporters, communicators and so on. By following this approach, you will find that diversity and inclusion comes naturally.”

Indeed, a top-down approach will usually facilitate compliance but not necessarily the buy-in required from employees — every individual must recognise the role they play in company culture. This means identifying differences in employee experience and values across the organisation, in order to make change relevant for everyone.

3. Mindfulness that diversity and inclusion require a continued effort

Simply making employees aware of the meaning of diversity and inclusion is not enough – in order to drive change or enhance a strong existing culture, an organisation must take a sustained and collaborative approach to applying the right behaviours. “All employees need to make an honest and continued effort to ensure that we treat others with professional respect and dignity. Only when we do that will we reap the rewards that come from working and learning together,” explains Gregor Schmidt, RSM’s Regional Leader for Europe.

4. Recognition of the shift in global understanding of diversity and inclusion

Diversity now means so much more than race and gender – it means race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, generation, disability, personality type and thinking style. And today, there is an increasing significance placed on organising promoting a culture in which a variety of voices are heard, as Herring highlights –  “Bringing together different perspectives in addressing client challenges is critical as it invariably yields a better result for clients.”

Once that environment has been created, it is important that businesses encourage the calling out of discriminatory behaviours to help nurture and protect that environment as Schmidt explains, “inappropriate behaviour or comments based of any of the above characteristics, should not be tolerated - it is important to be attentive to interactions with others, be diligent in recognising discriminatory behaviour, and in speaking up when it is witnessed.”

Some tips to follow in order to combat workplace discrimination might include:

  • Identifying and preventing unconscious bias
  • Putting equality policies in place
  • Check that any workplace communications you make are free of discriminatory language
  • Follow objective criteria when recruiting in order to make decisions based on genuine merit
  • Seek external advice when making complex decisions

5. Adopt a solid strategy

Once organisations have achieved a truly diverse workplace, they should follow up by introducing specific programmes that nurture collaboration among different groups. This might be done through organisation-wide projects, such as corporate social responsibility initiatives.

To be successful, an organisation’s diversity strategy must sit at the very heart of its ethos - firmly embedded within its business, people and client policies. A siloed approach will not be enough to create change or visible progress in any organisation, making it everyone’s responsibility.