Making the workplace more diverse, equal and inclusive is a moral and ethical imperative

The pandemic has highlighted the social injustices across the world. This makes addressing diversity, equality and inclusion in the workplace a moral and ethical imperative, writes our CEO Richard Kramer.

Richard Kramer

At the same time, the agenda has become highly political and polarised. While the majority of charities have drawn up their diversity and equality plans and appointed dedicated diversity leads, many charity leaders still remain nervous about engaging in this space. They are unsure what to do next.

Creating diversity networks are really useful in supporting charities to embed inclusive behaviour.

Diversity networks enable staff to get together and give them a sense of connection and belonging and an opportunity to highlight inclusive best practice. Above all, they create a culture where every single one of our colleagues can feel safe and supported at work.

They give all staff a voice, a sense of connection and belonging, and an opportunity to be active participants in decision-making.

I want diversity networks to be business-critical for Sense rather than merely a nice thing to have or to talk about. We need greater diversity to do better as a charity. These networks have a growing membership.

Knowing others are going through similar things is hugely important

Over the last fortnight, I attended (as an ally) our LGBT+, ethnic diversity and disability networks. Across all networks, there are discussions about belonging and visibility of employees from different backgrounds.

The disability network is vocal about inclusion as a value of their network. It offers the space where disabled employees can meet and discuss their struggles and experiences. I was told that enabling disabled colleagues to know others who are experiencing similar things, who understand and can support each other, is hugely important.

At the LGBT+ network, members felt that Sense is a safe place to be open about your sexual identity. I heard how Sense has been supporting transgender and non-binary colleagues – and about the difference we’ve made by introducing a policy to support transgender colleagues in the workplace.

I heard the group talk about the importance of enabling adults we support to manage their sexuality needs. This includes ensuring people have access to information and support to help them develop and maintain relationships and express their sexuality.

The ethnic diversity network gave feedback that while they appreciated opportunities for ethnic diverse staff to attend our external development course each year, they felt there was insufficient investment in staff after they completed this course. We will address this.

We need to think more about impact rather than good intentions

All the networks want to do more to hold the organisation to account. The disability network said that while we often have all the right processes and procedures in place, around things like holding accessible meeting or creating documents in accessible formats, we don’t always communicate them consistently across the organisation. Clearly, we need to think more about the impact of the things we do, not the good intentions that we have.

Often assumptions we make about disabled people’s needs don’t quite hit the mark. We sometimes do things in hurry. Especially when we need to fill vacancies and need results right away. We need to do more to make sure that our website, job descriptions, and online recruitment process are accessible to people with different accessibility needs.

We’re committed to addressing racism

We published our anti-racism plan last year. We’re committed to learning more about racism, to address racism within Sense, and to drive culture change. Across Sense, we are committed to work with the ethnic diversity network to fundamentally shake up and review our current approach to advertising, recruitment, retention and development of our workforce.

We are also working with our partners at Birmingham South and City College to recruit more people with ethnic minorities from the most deprived communities. We can’t expect that people will have a prior knowledge of social care. That means bringing our services to local communities and operating at a grassroots level, getting to know the local community and recruiting people at its heart with real life experience.

My take home message is that we have made some real progress, but we still have a long way to go. Here are some key lessons for organisations who want to set up diversity networks for the first time, or develop them further.

Richard’s lessons for setting up diversity networks

  1. Establishing diversity networks do not, in themselves, bring about substantial change. Setting up networks do create more opportunities for staff input and the chance to co-design strategies aimed at driving more inclusive practice.
  2. Networks bring members together in a safe environment so that they can connect experiences, build social support and celebrate identity. However, networks must also work on an organisational level by challenging existing processes and practices, and creating visibility and awareness of issues. They must act as a ‘collective voice’ to influence the agenda of organisations and hold the organisation to account particularly in the way they recruit and develop staff.
  3. Networks should not become, or be labelled, a network exclusively for ethnic diverse, LGBT+ or disabled employees. They can actively promote their membership to allies. Allies can join in in networks without compromising the notion of a safe space. It means that there is another route to learn and support others and bring about positive change.
  4. It gives an opportunity for colleagues to connect with different parts of an organisation and see things from a different perspective. It means that members can work alongside colleagues that they would otherwise have little or no involvement with. Having role models in all layers of your organisation means colleagues can see other people like them, and that being a leader is possible.
  5. Diversity networks are not just about staff. They are also about wider organisational behaviour. They should drive the conversation on how to better reach the people supported by your charity in culturally appropriate ways and celebrate best practice.

This month is inclusion month

At Sense, we’re celebrating inclusion month this March. We’ll be offering lots of ways for our staff to engage with and learn about inclusion.

Please get in contact if you want advice on how to set up Diversity Networks at your organisation.