Fostering Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace

Most of us spend at least eight hours a day in our place of work, so it stands to reason that we should be made to feel comfortable and respected while there. Dr. Kara McGann is Senior Labour Market Policy Executive at Ibec; a lobby group representing Irish businesses. Over the years, she’s worked to address a whole host of inequality issues, like gender, mental health, LGBT, and cultural diversity – all with the aim of helping organisations begin to develop a positive sense of inclusion.

“Diversity policies aren’t just good for business”, Kara begins. “They also act as a guide for how we should communicate our culture within companies.” An open, welcoming working environment is undoubtedly a huge draw for potential employees, especially as our talented workforce continues to diversify. “These policies impact how we attract talent”, says Kara. “If a company isn’t seen to be open to the idea that people can bring their ‘whole self’ to work, or know their contribution in all of its guises is as valued as the next person’s, well then – why would they want to work there?”

Tackling Gender Inequality

One of the biggest issues Ibec focus on is gender inequality. “It’s a really important area that’s always on the agenda,” Kara begins. “The gender pay gap is about representation – it’s when the number of men and women dispersed across the organisation isn’t balanced; usually with more men in senior positions than women. This is something we have to address.”

Reviewing Our Job Descriptions

For those at senior level, Kara has some practical suggestions on how to start closing the gap. “For a lot of companies,” she says, “it’s about getting back to basics. For example, research tells us that if women don’t have 100% of the job criteria in a job description, they’re unlikely to apply. If men see 60% that they’re able to do, they’re likely to give it a go.” For Kara, a slight shift in the way ads are constructed could make all the difference. “Organisations can ask themselves: ‘Just because we’ve always recruited with this kind of a job description, is it completely necessary that an interviewee has X,Y or Z skill?’”

The Power of Language

Language also plays a huge part, as Kara explains. “If an ad uses competitive terms like ‘challenging’, and ‘leading the field’, it can turn women off applying. However, if it’s slightly more neutralised – with sentiments like ‘collaboration’ and ‘trustworthiness’, they’re more likely to consider the role.” She suggests putting ads through an online gender decoder to remove any problematic language. The bias can be incredibly subtle, and as Kara notes, is rarely done intentionally. “There’s no malice in it. But organisations were often set up in a particular way, maybe back in a time when we had male breadwinners and female homemakers. While society has changed, I’m not sure our organisations have advanced quite as quickly.”

Staff Empowerment

While employers have a part to play in encouraging a diverse and fair workplace, Kara says it’s important to empower staff too. Whether it’s an organisation-led initiative or a more grassroots group set up independently by workers themselves, there are lots of benefits to taking an active stance within a company. “In a parenting network for example”, says Kara, “staff come together to provide support to new mums and dads.” Through these groups, employees can also give feedback on processes that aren’t working as they should. “A policy might read well and tick all the boxes, but actually on the ground it’s not delivering”, says Kara. “Having the employee voice there through a network or counsel can actually communicate – ‘that’s not working, and these are the reasons why.”’