How to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace

5 Sep ‘22
5 min
Work performance
Editorial Board OpenUp

We’ve looked at dozens of annual reports by large corporations and they all have one thing in common: diversity is a priority. However, only one in five Dutch companies has an active diversity policy. And don’t even get us started on ‘inclusion’. In some ways it’s understandable: diversity and inclusion are sensitive topics. That being said, it’s time for improvement. OpenUp helps HR professionals and managers to embrace this sensitive yet important topic.


What is diversity? And what is inclusion?


The concepts of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion’ are closely related. At an organizational level, diversity is about making sure that people with a diverse range of character traits are represented across the organization.


These character traits can be divided into three categories:

  1. Internal characteristics: These define the person themselves, for example their sexual orientation or ethnicity;
  2. External characteristics: These are related to the person’s environment or life they’ve led, for example their educational background or where they live;
  3. Organizational characteristics: These refer to the role a person plays within an organization, for example their division and position.


Diversity is measurable and often associated with recruitment KPI’s. Inclusion is more related to the culture of an organization. Allain Dehaze, CEO of Adecco puts it as follows: “It’s not enough for people to just be diverse, everyone needs to be fully involved and have their voice heard.”


An inclusive business culture means that everybody feels safe, welcome, heard, and valued. Everyone has equal access to salaries, opportunities, and advancement prospects.


This means that inclusion is slightly more complex than diversity. Figures show that companies are definitely struggling more with this. McKinsey scoured thousands of posts on Glassdoor and Indeed from employees working in the financial, tech, and health sectors. 52% of people held a positive view of the diversity policy within their organization and 31% held a negative view. Meanwhile, when it came to inclusion – the prevalence of equality, openness, and a sense of belonging within an organization – views were 29% positive and 61% negative.



Why diversity and inclusion matter



Inclusion isn’t just about doing the “right” thing. It’s also good for business. Here are some quick facts that support this statement:


Better financial performance

In financial terms, the companies that fall in the top quarter for gender diversity are 25% more likely to perform better than average, compared to those in the bottom quarter. When it comes to ethnic diversity, that figure is 36%.


More innovation

There is a strong positive correlation between diversity at a managerial level and innovation. This applies especially for larger and more complex companies. Receptiveness to ideas from lower-level employees and an atmosphere where employees feel empowered to speak up also contributes to innovation.


More talent

Diversity helps attract talent. 67% of job seekers think that diversity at their place of employment is important. And when employees view their organization as diverse and inclusive, and feel really engaged and safe, they are 80% more likely to label their employer as high performing.


How do you discuss the topics of diversity and inclusion at work?

Creating a good conversation culture can be challenging. OpenUp can help your company by having our psychologists share their knowledge about communication and relationships. Learn more here.


According to Inga Beale (former CEO at Lloyd’s), one of the main reasons why diversity and inclusion are still under-explored topics at many organizations is as follows: “Many conversations about diversity and inclusion aren’t taking place in the boardroom because people are embarrassed about using unfamiliar terms or afraid that they’ll say something wrong.”


People are scared of offending other people or being told: “Okay boomer“, “Thanks, white guy” or “That’s so not woke“. But it might also be the case that people are afraid of change, afraid of losing their privilege, or afraid of being criticized.


See it as a learning process

This is why it’s important to see conversations about diversity and inclusion as a learning process. That applies to you as an HR professional but also to the management team and all other employees who are talking about this topic.


Making mistakes or feeling uncertain are all part of the learning process. If you yourself are unsure which term you should be using, make this clear: “I’m just looking for the right word… Is it okay to say homosexual?” If you notice that somebody else is struggling, help that person without passing judgement: “I just heard you use the term ‘Indian’. These days, ‘Native American’ is considered more acceptable.”


Could you or your organization use some help here? There are corporate training sessions available that teach you how to communicate about this topic. The psychologists at OpenUp are also always here to help you and your colleagues.


Preparing for pushback

Maybe as an HR professional you’re having some difficulties getting diversity and inclusion on the agenda. Many HR professionals that we speak to experience some resistance when they, for example, petition to actively promote diversity and inclusion during recruitment. It is noticeable that they often hear the same counterarguments.


We’ve gathered a list of the most common arguments and we’re going to show you how to refute them.


Argument:We select the candidates with the best CV. Ethnicity, gender and sexuality don’t play a role. If a woman of color is the best candidate, she’ll obviously get the job.

Counter argument: You have to focus on building the strongest possible team, not on hiring the strongest possible individuals. A team with a Mohammed, a Fatima, and a Derek – so to speak – is stronger than a team of three Peters. Research confirms this.



Argument: It’s just really difficult to find a qualified ‘person A’ (for example, a ‘woman’) to work as role ‘Y’ (for example, a ‘programmer’).

Counter argument: If that’s really the case, then let’s invest in training women to work as programmers. For example, we could offer a traineeship within a team of experienced programmers. Or implement a coaching program with senior members of our organization and school-aged kids from less privileged backgrounds.


Argument: If we favor minorities during recruitment, then that’s a form of discrimination.

Counter argument: Our society has been promoting majorities for centuries. Even if you have the exact same CV, your chance of getting an interview is much higher if your name is Adam than if you’re called Mustafa or Lucy. To bring things back in balance, you need to prioritize Mustafa and Lucy. The Women’s Engineering Society defines positive discrimination or positive action as follows: “to redress past discriminations or to offset the disadvantages arising from existing attitudes, behaviors and structures”.



Argument: It’s not a problem that we have more men in leadership roles. Men are just generally better at that kind of thing than women.

Counter argument: Not true. Lots of research shows that men are not better in leadership positions than women. In fact, the University of Twente even demonstrated that employees often see female leaders as more competent than male leaders.


Argument: Management isn’t to blame for a gender pay gap. Some people are much better at negotiating than others, so that’s on them.

Counter argument: If the pay gap within our organization really was caused by negotiation skills, then our negotiation process is clearly unfair. This means we need to change our negotiation process so that it no longer disadvantages women.



Practical tips for a more diverse and inclusive organization


 The following tips will help you take steps towards making your organization more diverse and inclusive:


Eliminate ‘bias’ from the recruitment process

No matter how progressive, anti-racist or feminist you are, everybody has certain biases. To eliminate ‘bias’ during the recruitment process, you can choose to assess CVs and cover letters without looking at the candidate’s name or photo.


Appoint an advisory committee

Inclusion isn’t something you do ‘for’ other people, it’s something you do ‘with’ other people. So, put together a diverse advisory committee to collect periodic feedback from employees about the progress that is being made. Allow this committee to advise management and HR.


Consider a flexible holiday policy

On Good Friday, Dutch media outlet NOS wrote about how flexible holiday policies are gaining popularity. Holiday exchanges. For example, if some of your employees celebrate Eid al-Fitr or Keti Koti, but not Easter, give them the opportunity to swap their days off.



Reconsider the spatial design of the office

Designate spaces to meet the needs of particular employees. Consider a breastfeeding room for new mothers and a prayer room for religious employees. Check with several people that the layout of work stations is as good as it can be. For example, is the whole office accessible to people with physical disabilities? Are there plenty of adjustable desks for tall or short people?


Promote ERG’s

Initiate or promote so-called ‘Employee Resource Groups’, where employees can get together in a safe way. These could include LGBTQIA+ groups, groups for young parents, and groups for women in positions of power. Maybe allow them to organize talks to give other employees an insight into their experiences.


In addition, it can help employees to discuss their day-to-day challenges anonymously with psychologists at an independent point of contact.


Put an end to the pay gap

Take a critical look at salaries and bonuses to see if you can identify any possible ‘gender pay gaps’ or ‘ethnicity pay gaps’ and set this right.


By using these tools, you can make sure that in you next annual report, diversity and inclusion won’t just be named as priorities, but that clear progress will have been made.

OpenUp helps your company with that. Find out how we can support you on your journey to becoming an inclusive organisation.