How to create a culture of inclusivity in your business
13th August 2021
Share this article:
Diversity and inclusion is a way of life for us here at Virgin Media O2 Business. We know that it takes all kinds of people to help us think differently, drive innovation, and meet the diverse needs of our customers. But for smaller businesses without dedicated D&I teams, it can be tricky to know where to start.
Paul Martin OBE, CEO of LGBT Foundation gives us his thoughts on how we can all create a workplace that represents wider society, where every employee can thrive.
Why should every business consider creating a D&I policy?
A recent report stated that employees of businesses that embrace a D&I policy are:
- Four times more likely to want to stay long-term
- Three times more likely to have pride in their work
- Eight times more likely to look forward to work
Every employee wants to feel like their identity matters and is respected in the workplace. As Paul explains, “There’s a whole range of different intersectional identities, that at any different point can be more or less important to the people that we’re either working with or working for. That could be your gender, race, sexual orientation, your age, where you live, religion, and any medical condition you may have.”
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re part of a small team or one of a hundred, creating a D&I policy builds an inclusive culture. It also has huge benefits to customers as well as employees.”
An example of this was a conversation Paul had with his bank when remortgaging.
“It makes it so much easier when the bank that I’m dealing with doesn’t make assumptions about the gender of my partner, for example. Speaking to people who understand and appreciate diversity will make every customer feel respected.”
If you’re a smaller business, how would you suggest starting this process?
There are several tools available that can help businesses get started. However, as Paul says, “Making a diversity and inclusion policy shouldn’t feel like it’s a mountain to climb. It should be something that everyone can understand, be part of and create positive intent within your business to listen to people, be respectful and authentic.”
Paul’s recommendations for smaller businesses include:
- Break down what you’re trying to do into small bite-sized chunks and have a really clear plan from the start
- Look at online tools for ideas and support. Stonewall’s workplace equality index for example provides clear steps and stages for businesses to go through
- Create an environment where you can have honest, open conversations. Listen to your staff and really understand where your business can do better
- Feel more confident when having uncomfortable conversations. Nothing should be off-limits when encountering difficult subjects or situations
LGBT Foundation also offers an online training academy, providing a set of training modules for businesses looking at a D&I agenda or policy.
Are senior management or business owners responsible for creating a culture of inclusivity?
Paul appreciates that it’s important for leaders to lead by example, but it shouldn’t be just limited to senior management and business owners.
“I think ownership and participation is important at all levels of the organisation. I’ve recently come across a process of reverse mentoring. This includes junior members of the team mentoring senior leaders to understand the issues that impact juniors and younger team members.”
Reverse mentoring from LGBTQ+, Black or minority ethnic members of staff could provide some real insights to the business.
“I think a lot of people feel nervous discussing issues that affect LGBTQ+ individuals, those with a disability and people of different races, so being mentored by somebody with a direct and real life experience could be really beneficial” Paul explains.
How do you foster an environment where people can speak openly without fear, regardless of the topic?
According to Paul, changing the culture to speak openly is always going to have its challenges.
“There will still be an ongoing sense that this is my employer, this is someone who is potentially responsible for future promotions, therefore can I say this?”
At LGBT Foundation, they’re exploring other ways to help people express how they are feeling.
“We’ve been using a concept called a Jamboard, it’s like an online notice board that you can anonymously put sticky notes on. This generated some really honest and difficult comments and things that people might not say to you, face to face.”
Ultimately, it’s about how, as senior management, you respond to those communications explains Paul.
“It can be quite hard not to get defensive. Or trying to create an instant fix. Instead, it’s important to focus on authentic leadership, being open and honest to feedback. Creating these situations for employees to be heard can be a really powerful indicator to others, that you are really serious about inclusion and diversity.”
Do you have examples where you’ve seen genuine and long-term change?
The organisation embarked upon making LGBT foundation more inclusive to trans and non-binary people. From 2015 to the present day, 26% of Paul’s workforce are now trans and/or non-binary.
“Part of that was about changing our name, back in 2015, we were the Lesbian and Gay Foundation now we are the LGBT foundation. This is a really good example of fundamentally changing the nature of your organisation to welcome more people.”
Based on this, they now have more trans and non-binary people in more senior positions. And as a result, the team at LGBT Foundation were able to use this experience to create some specific trans and non-binary healthcare services which are now generating some real returns for the organisation.
How would you sum up what organisations should do next?
Paul says it’s quite simple:
“Engage, listen and act. A simple strategy for even the smallest business or organisation can create real change.”