Improving equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) makes both moral, legal and commercial sense, regardless of the size of your company.
That’s because first and foremost, it creates a culture of respect, dignity and equality at every level of your business. This, in turn, helps talented people flourish, boosts innovation, helps you reach a wider client base and understand their challenges, priorities and goals.
As a result, you’re in a stronger position to attract and retain the best hires, build loyalty among your clients and boost your reputation across the industry.
That’s been borne out by many studies. For example, research by McKinsey revealed that companies with stronger gender diversity outperform rival businesses by 21 per cent, while those with stronger ethnic diversity outperform competitors by 33 per cent.
But none of this can happen overnight, so it’s really important that you work to embed EDI into your business’s DNA. EDI is a learning process, so you can’t treat it as a simple tick-box exercise, where you make a change, move on and forget about it.
Even if you’re in a good place already when it comes to creating this type of culture, there is always more that can be done, so you can be sure your entire workforce and all your clients feel valued and able to be their true self.
That can be anything from checking whether your service caters to all your clients’ current needs, if there are opportunities to better engage with your wider community, or if your marketing and recruitment material doesn’t inadvertently exclude certain people.
Look at the measures and policies you have in place regularly, so you can keep on top of what’s working well, what isn’t and what more you can do, so you can react to wider changes in your operating environment, or even better, get ahead of the curve. It can also help you stay legally compliant, so you stay on the right side of equality and discrimination laws, and avoid potentially costly lawsuits.
A business that stands still moves backwards, and that’s particularly true when it comes to EDI.
But making it part of your business culture lets you genuinely support talent from under-represented groups, reach out to your wider community and reap the rewards it can bring. .
What’s stopping businesses focusing on EDI?
There are many reasons why businesses might not be placing as much emphasis on EDI as they could be.
A limited buy-in from leadership is undeniably a key factor, as many will perceive EDI as a problem to be solved, rather than an opportunity to drive growth and build a stronger business. As a result, businesses aren’t focused on this issue, mistakenly believe it’s prohibitively expensive, and unclear about what they want to achieve.
At the same time, many simply don’t know where to start acting on EDI and get advice and support, when in fact there is plenty of guidance available.
For example, the Association of Mortgage Intermediaries (AMI) has taken a lead on this issue, publishing detailed recommendations on practical and affordable steps that both individuals and businesses can take.
Among its recommendations are to “keep things under review and make continuous improvements” regarding EDI, so it becomes “a key part of the culture of the organisation”. AMI also urges intermediary firms and lender partners to “stay the course”, as addressing inequality “is not the work of a few initiatives or events”.
Another key recommendation from AMI is for firms to bring in outside experts to “bolster your understanding of the issues”. That could be anyone from motivational speakers to training providers covering issues such as diversity and unconscious bias, and it’s something you can do regularly. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has also run panels on EDI and may be able to offer guidance to your firm.
Smaller businesses could also work to achieve accreditations, which have been designed with their time and resource limitations in mind. For example, the National Centre for Diversity has created the Investors in Diversity for Small Businesses Award, a framework created to help small businesses review their current practices regarding fairness, respect, equality, diversity, inclusion and engagement, and plan further development.
Further guidance and information can be found from the likes of:
Many banks, such as NatWest and RBS, also offer advice and guidance to smaller businesses on improving EDI.
With the right advice and support, businesses should then be in a position to set specific, measurable and realistic targets, and make EDI a strategic, long-term priority.
You should also be able to audit every element of your business, from your policies, recruitment strategy, business plan and wider culture, with EDI firmly in mind, as it should be embedded in all areas if it’s done right.
Creating a cultural change
Placing a regular focus on EDI helps to instill a culture of respect and fairness throughout your business, so you can have a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of your workforce and your clients.
As AMI says, you should “keep reinforcing, keep repeating messages, keep sharing stories”, so it becomes a part of your company’s DNA and your daily operation.
That can change how you perceive EDI, so you feel confident and empowered to make practical, gradual changes over time.
This should start at the top, with senior appointments and promotions reflecting your commitment to EDI and showcasing the wide range of people you have throughout your business.
EDI is a wide-ranging and complex issue, so it shouldn’t be seen as something to tackle in one stroke. Instead, you can break it down into something more manageable, working month to month to address EDI-related issues one by one.
By working in this way, with EDI at the heart of your thinking and your culture, you can set your business up for long-term success, attract and retain a wide variety of talented candidates and deliver the best possible service to your clients.
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