The importance of creating an inclusive workforce

Could Disruption be the long awaited catalyst for Diversity? (F)
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By Sarah Kirk, Global Diversity & Inclusion Director, PageGroup UK

With such a huge portion of our lives spent at work, it is crucial we spend it somewhere we feel comfortable.

That means a workplace that’s welcoming to absolutely everybody no matter their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, disability, or age. But it isn’t enough to create diverse teams if there isn’t a culture that encourages real inclusivity.

So how can companies foster a more inclusive culture in the workplace and reap the benefits by doing so? There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach. Companies need to take stock and reflect on their own ways of working, but there are simple processes which can be implemented to help, and it starts with recruitment.

Firstly, businesses need to attract a diverse pool of candidates. That means ensuring there is absolutely no bias during the recruitment stage and that roles are accessible to all. It’s important to think about how you are recruiting talent – employees all have different strengths and skill-sets which can be capitalised on, or get lost depending on the process taking place. For example, some candidates might thrive during a mix of group tasks while others prefer one-to-one sessions.

Recruiting people with a range of backgrounds, experience and expertise brings different perspectives and ideas to the table, which in turn can enhance business areas such as problem solving and creative thinking. When businesses are developing strategies and finding ways to connect with their customers, it makes sense for the team on hand to be reflective of the world around them.

Once in role, employees need to be made aware of the support that’s available to them in the workplace – from ‘buddy’ and mentoring schemes to flexible working and training sessions. As more and more businesses put these support systems in place as a standard, the closer we’ll get to normalising conversations and practices around sensitive, personal topics such as mental health at work. Our research shows that more than a third (36 per cent) of employees think that confiding in their boss about mental health problems will hamper their career. Adopting a culture that encourages people to feel comfortable in their own skin and empowered to talk about how they’re feeling is a vital step towards removing the stigma of mental health in the workplace.

As well as wellbeing initiatives, it’s important for businesses to remember the vital role that senior leadership can play in driving an inclusive culture and therefore helping to destigmatise mental health problems. Employees could really benefit from hearing directly from senior executives about their own personal career journey and vision for an inclusive workplace. Creating a culture of openness and trust is crucial – and using key members of your leadership team to do so can be really powerful. It also goes without saying that your leadership team itself needs to be reflective of these values and consist of people with different backgrounds and outlooks.

Businesses should not see mental health as a taboo or weakness. In fact, a survey taken by the Mental Health Foundation found that 86% of people believed their job and being at work was important to protecting and maintaining their mental health. This shines an all-important light on the value of company culture. Taking steps towards building a culture of trust, acceptance and openness can really make a positive difference and empower people to thrive in their roles.

About the author

Sarah Kirk is the Global Diversity & Inclusion Director at PageGroup. Having joined the business as a Consultant for the Michael Page business in 1996, Sarah gained 16 years’ experience on the operations side of the business, quickly rising up the ranks to Manager, Director and Regional Director.

In 2012 Sarah moved across from the operational business to start a new role to launch [email protected] – an initiative to attract, support and retain female employees, create a more inclusive working environment and improve the gender balance at all levels globally across PageGroup.

Sarah is determined to see PageGroup lead the way in its sector, but also inspire other organisations. Businesses are increasingly turning to consultancies to contribute to their diversity plans, and Sarah is committed to helping clients achieve this. To Sarah, it is essential that PageGroup demonstrates an absolute understanding of the fundamental importance of a diverse workforce, in order to add value to its clients’ diversity agenda.

Sarah continues to develop the programme on a global level by showing the positive effect of specific initiatives and programmes across the business. By measuring and monitoring attrition rates, maternity return rates, engagement and absenteeism rates to name a few, Sarah and her team are able to report back to the business on a regular basis, ensuring ownership and accountability at all levels.

Outside of work, Sarah enjoys eating out and travelling. She also has a passion for interior design and has just finished a house project on the south east coast in the area she grew up in.

Sarah is married to Nick Kirk, UK Managing Director for PageGroup. The pair met at work in 1996, married in 2004 and have three children together – aged 13, 11, and 10.

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