Diversity in the workplace

Stephen RitchieCelebrations took place across the World last month for Pride, raising awareness of issues concerning the LGBT+ community.  LGBT Pride is the positive stance against discrimination and violence to promote equal rights and celebrate sexual and gender diversity.

When diversity and inclusion is discussed in the workplace, however, it is not limited to LGBT. Everyone has differences whether that is race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, physical abilities, or religious beliefs. The irony is, the only real thing we have in common with other people is difference.

The concept of diversity in the workplace encompasses acceptance and respect. It means understanding and recognising the fact that people are unique. Inclusion is making everyone feel valued, not despite but for their distinctions. As Pride demonstrates, difference is something to celebrate; something to be proud of. Dissimilarity is not something to be ashamed of or to try to hide because uniformity is not exceptional or memorable, variety is!

So why does this benefit business?

People like to feel valued in the workplace. In a recent Financial Times article a survey pointed out that team members’ performance is improved by 12% and the intent to stay increases by 20% if they feel included and part of the team and are able to ‘be completely yourself’.

Being able to ‘be completely yourself’ is not only the fundamental point of Pride but also the reason for diversity and inclusion being at the top of many business agendas. For example, Stephen Frost, the Head Diversity and Inclusion committee member, made the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games not only a showcase of sporting excellence, but also a celebration of different cultures and abilities.

Change and variety is exciting: it means we can continue to push ourselves to be the best we can be. People perform at their best when they are free to be themselves so we should feel free to explore our differences and help others to do the same. We spend so much of our lives at work therefore we need to ensure it is a safe, positive, and nurturing environment where we are free to not only express, but celebrate our differences. The UK workplace has come a long way since the Stonewall riots and we are lucky to work in such a diverse and inclusive environment but we should not take it for granted.

So what can you do?

  • Be culturally aware! Take time to ask your colleagues about their race, religion or backgrounds;
  • Become familiar with diversity related terms so as not to offend anyone;
  • Avoid any jokes or comments which may upset someone if they overheard it, even if you don’t mean it;
  • Participate in engagement surveys and be honest and express your concerns if you have any;
  • Include all team members on socials or group emails;
  • Actively encourage diversity!
  • Strive for change in the workplace;
  • Educate yourself so you can educate other people; remember that negative behaviour often comes from ignorance not malice.

Diversity and inclusion is important because it is about understanding each other and moving beyond simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual, and including everyone into the workplace.

So remember, don’t be scared of something that is different from you or your own beliefs: embrace everyone’s culture and views. Your productivity and team dynamics will vastly improve the more included they feel. You can make all the difference to someone’s working day.

Stephen Ritchie is a Learning and Development Advisor for Mitie Client Services

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