“It is so important that we have good quality, honest conversations”

CIPD research adviser, Melanie Green, speaks to OT  about sensitive ways to apply diversity and inclusion management in the workplace

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Getty/ Ada daSilva
What is an inclusive workplace – and how do we take the right steps to build one? OT spoke to the Chartered Institute of Professional Development (CIPD) to explore the issue, and seek out some simple steps for businesses and employees to consider.

What, in a nutshell, is diversity and inclusion?

Melanie Green (MG): Diversity and inclusion are complex areas, and knowing where to start can be quite difficult. The main thing to recognise is that diversity and inclusion spans a huge range of topics, so it's good to try understand the problem first to recognise where we are and how businesses might take action.

A good place to start is hard research. At the CIPD, we created a report in 2019 called Building inclusive workplaces which maps out some of the core areas that businesses can look at to understand how to move inclusion and diversity forward in their workplaces.

It covers areas such as line management capability, and the difference between diversity and inclusion – the basic stuff to help people get started.

From the 2019 study, what were the key findings?

Our 2019 work covered the areas to help businesses understand the difference between diversity and inclusion, and highlight where businesses can take action.

Diversity and representation is incredibly important but so is inclusion – that is making people feel valued, accepted, and that they belong in the workplace. It's really important to look at all of these things in tandem, and think about ‘what’ experience people have in your workplace, as well as ‘who’ is in your workplace. We need to take a more holistic approach to representation of the employee experience as well.

We need to take a more holistic approach to representation of the employee experience

CIPD research adviser, Melanie Green


Thinking about the healthcare setting, in terms of the data and work the CIPD has carried out, what would you say are the key challenges?

I can't comment on specific sectors, but what we do know is that there are issues of diversity, inclusion and equality across society, and that's reflected in all our workplaces.

An example of this is representation. NHS government data highlights that in healthcare generally there's more diversity at junior levels than there is at senior levels – and that's an issue that is not confined to healthcare.

Increasing diversity within the healthcare sector means improved access to patient care, and widening the patient-clinician conversation too.

Are there any particular professions where the CIPD has noticed interesting work when it comes to building inclusion and diversity?

When we have spoken to organisations about what works and what doesn't, which is what we did in a piece of research in 2019 called Diversity management that works, the key theme that came through are the businesses prioritising getting the right data – this means understanding your organisation and what that looks like, to understand how to progress from there.  

Successful organisations also get buy-in for their work in diversity and inclusion. This means being crystal clear as to why it is important for your employees and your business.

In addition, it is important to note that different sexes have different challenges, and no one-size-fits-all approach is necessarily going to fit the bill.

Taking an evidence-based approach using data is important, so map out issues before jumping to the solutions; this is a really good starting point to taking concerted and targeted action.

It is so important that we have good quality honest conversations within our organisations.

A lot of readers work in small businesses. Does this pose a different set of challenges and opportunities?

It’s a really interesting question, and it is something that's come up in our diversity management networks research, because there's a question about whether it's easier to make changes in a small business where there's less bureaucracy in the way – or whether it's easier if you have all the resources of big business.

I think it goes back to understanding what the issues are, and what change you can make in your sphere of responsibility. Some things might look a bit different for small businesses, but they still need to think about what the issues are for their organisations. They are in a good position to understand the experience of their employees and have really honest conversations about what they're doing as well.

Is there a degree to which some difficult conversations need to happen but it is something that businesses of slightly afraid of?

I think we know that we need to have these conversations, but I think we also recognise that they can be really sensitive. It is important that we talk openly. That is something we've been doing in CIPD a lot recently, especially when it comes to topics like anti-racism, supporting businesses to have those conversations. We recognise that they have not happened in the way they should have before. We've developed principles to inform anti-racism strategies and guides for those conversations.

Is progress in the workplace being made quickly enough and how optimistic should we be about positive change?

It's clear that there is a huge focus on diversity and inclusion at the moment and rightly so. But it's also clear that more needs to be done, so I think this is a point in time where organisations need to make a commitment to take action and drive change. It needs to be an organisational priority, especially as the challenges of COVID-19 are impacting organisations. It's important that we keep banging the drum and prevent it from sliding down the agenda.