Inclusion must be more than a buzzword if businesses want to attract and retain top talent

Marking Inclusion Week, Will Serle explains why organisations need to go beyond tick-box exercises to achieve a truly diverse workforce

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According to Deloitte’s report, Unleashing the power of inclusion, 80 per cent of the more than 1,300 respondents said inclusion efforts were an important factor when choosing an employer. This highlights the importance of leaders proactively demonstrating how they’re ensuring everyone in their workforce has the opportunity to thrive if they want to attract the top talent that will help their business succeed.

Regardless of the industry or sector, inclusion is a vital factor which can sway employment choices for new hires. And for businesses, it could mean the difference between having a competitive edge, leading the way in target markets, or developing cutting edge technologies or solutions. At National Grid, for example, to deliver on net zero we know our workforce must be made up of the best diverse minds that can innovate and overcome decarbonisation challenges. Our focus is on nurturing talent from all backgrounds and ensuring our employees reflect the communities we serve.

This week is Inclusion Week, celebrating everyday inclusion in all its forms, encouraging businesses to do more to embed inclusion into their workplace culture and giving employees the tools and resources to be able to play their part. As a business that operates across different jurisdictions and time zones, our efforts to celebrate, advocate for and amplify inclusive behaviours involves a week-long programme of activities and events accessible to all – and which must translate into everyday behaviours and actions all year round. 

There are several key themes and steps that underpin this approach, and which can differentiate those employers committed to inclusion. 

Leverage technology

The pandemic highlighted the role of technology in making meetings and internal events more accessible, especially for people in different locations around the world. Ensuring diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) activities are virtual as well as in person enables everyone to get involved and creates a closer sense of community across the business. Leveraging this technology also means organisations can be cognisant of different time zones and ensure people in, for example, the US or Asia feel as included in important discussions as those in locations such as the UK or Europe. 

Embed inclusions into recruitment and retention 

Businesses can take deliberate action to attract, hire, develop, progress, and retain diverse talent. It must be clear that inclusion sits at the core of everything the organisation does – for example, by showing how your recruitment process is unbiased and provides a level playing field; campaigns that promote examples of inclusive behaviour; sharing first-hand employee experiences to prospective hires; implementing internal diverse talent programmes; or arranging DEI training.

Moving beyond unconscious bias to conscious inclusion where everyone understands the consequences and unacceptable nature of microaggressions and exclusive behaviour is also important. Expanding best-practice guidance, maximising external partnerships, and offering DEI resources to all employees will be key to achieving this.

Empower your people to be inclusive colleagues 

HR teams and leaders must reinforce that inclusion is everyone’s responsibility and empower their people to feel that they can take action and achieve change. One way to do this is by working with employee resource groups (ERGs) which act as strategic advisors and a conduit between leaders and the communities ERGs represent.

These groups also provide a community for underrepresented groups and can help foster an environment where employees feel able to be themselves. By collaborating with ERGs, which effectively provide a voice for employees, and establishing ERG sponsors and allies who are senior representatives in the business, leaders can ensure issues and concerns are heard at executive or board level and people feel empowered and safe to speak up.

Welcome change and encourage accountability 

With 47 per cent of respondents to Deloitte’s report citing the importance of a culture where people feel comfortable being themselves, it’s vital HR teams and leaders get this right. This will involve embracing change and establishing a sense of accountability, whether that’s through performance objectives, meeting targets for internal survey results on workplace culture or insisting on DEI ownership in different parts of the business. 

Creating an inclusive culture won’t happen overnight and will require ongoing intentional action. It can’t be seen as a tick-box exercise and must sit firmly as a business priority. Doing so will be crucial to ensuring leaders have the best skills and capabilities within their workforce which will enable the organisation to go from strength to strength.  

Will Serle is chief people officer at National Grid