There have been a number of recent examples of how taking a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) approach with business policies as opposed to an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policy have helped garner more proactive approach to people management. In this article, Ross looks at the difference between EDI and DEI policies and some examples of things to consider that would remove obstacles for your workforce and promote a culture that anticipates and addresses the needs of individuals.
Most companies nowadays are proud to support an EDI policy which is designed to support staff, promote diversity, and work to create a better and more positive workforce, where everyone can be themselves. Whilst this is a great policy to promote and is a massive improvement in the protection and treatment of those with protected characteristics, an EDI policy doesn’t completely mitigate the challenges those individuals may face in the workplace and beyond. The next time you’re reviewing your policies, it may be time to change Equality to Equity and work on a new DEI agenda.
When speaking about the difference equality and equity, my mind goes to the picture of those trying to watch a football match over a fence. Equality gives every person the same box to stand on, as they are all being treated equally. Much like in an EDI policy, you will say that you will be treated the same as any other member of staff, and we vouch to take action should anyone treat you differently based on your protected characteristic. This encourages a level playing feels for all. The second image is often two boxes for the shortest person, one box for the middle, and the third person didn’t even need a box. This is equity. It is not just about giving everyone a level playing field, it is about building a culture that gives additional support to those who need it. The third image in the trio is usually the fence gone, representing ‘liberation’, which would be amazing to build into your workplace culture. However sometimes the fence is the job, so it is important to support your staff so everyone can see over it.
So, what can be done to ensure you have equity for all your staff? There are obvious examples, such as ensuring that there aren’t barriers to pay, but the idea behind equity is creating a culture that holds equity accountable to those who need it when they need. There will be so many things that present obstacles in your business that you may never have even considered, and equity is about supporting people in what they need to get the job done. For example, if someone is hard of hearing or deaf and you are operating remote or hybrid working policies, do you have anything in place to say people should have their cameras on in meetings so they can try and read lips? Or, that all virtual meetings should be live captioned to support them with following the conversation? It is something so simple that you can do to make effective change to people within your business that can be hugely supportive from a DEI agenda. Consider the situation – It’s hard to get around the board room table if it isn’t wheelchair accessible.
DEI is not only supporting people by removing barriers to access and support, but also about what you can give back to the employee. This week, the Spanish cabinet have approved a bill that will grant paid medical leave for people experiencing significant menstrual pain, making them the first European country to pass this into law. But, something like this could easily become part of your DEI agenda to support people who menstruate. A survey completed in May 2021 estimated that 23% of people who menstruate surveyed had to lie to their employer to take sick leave for extreme pain.
Now, an opportunity to support this as an employer could be to put in some regulation and support to remove this as a barrier. You could have an inclusive policy which allows your employees to take time off when this happens. The question often batted back is what if they ‘take this mick’ or that this leave is ‘exclusionary’ to those who don’t menstruate. But that is what equity is about, it is about fostering a culture which allows those who need it to take advantage of it. There is nothing to say that an individual might lie about needing this leave, but if you have a positive working culture where staff support each other, then you would hope that this would not be the case – and an individual’s choice doesn’t change what a wider demographic would need.
I think a key part of a robust DEI agenda is fully taking stock of the current business. You may want to fully understand your business demographic to find out what could be key trends to support your business. You’ll also want to consider your recruitment strategy to understand if there are key areas that your business is severely underrepresented. A solid DEI culture that supports people can support recruiting a diverse workforce. You may also want to look at the actual operations of your business and what can and cannot be done to support people in their working environments. Obviously, when supporting people, there are the ‘reasonable adjustments’ that every business must make – but can your future proof your business? Is there opportunity to look at premises and hybrid working – is it completely accessible? How accessible are locations from transport links? If they’re not, do you need to adopt a fully flexible working policy to support people who may have logistical issues getting to and from your work? Could you make it policy for people to include pronouns in email signatures so you can support those who may not use traditional he or she pronouns? You could even have support in place to help people on a very individual level, such as assisting someone suffering from migraines who may benefit from a tech light day, fully remote and flexible working patterns, and meeting free days.
Equity may seem big and daunting and, at times, sprawling because there will always be something that needs to be done. But it shows that your business is going above and beyond and that you are willing to listen and support your people. Positive change can be found in lots of different areas, depending on what your workforce needs. The most important thing, however, is to have open conversations with your workforce that go beyond signing a policy when they first join your organization. What someone needed when they joined your company may not be what they need today. So have conversations and forums, find out what the business needs, review your accessibility, and go above and beyond to support your staff to have a happy and productive workforce.