November 2021

Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter diversity and inclusion have become buzzwords across the business world with companies large and small putting out statements and policies on how they are inclusive employers. But what does it mean to truly build a diverse and inclusive team?

This was the topic of discussion in the third session at Social Enterprises Futures chaired by Ishita Ranjan, Founder and CEO at Spark & Co. She was joined by Ama Afrifa-Tchie – Head of People Wellbeing & Equity at Mental Health First Aid England, Lisa Maynard-Atem the Managing Director of the Black United Representation Network CIC (BURN) and Jane Hatton CEO of recruitment social enterprise, Evenbreak.

The session focused on two main things – how you build an inclusive work environment and how you successfully recruit diverse talent

Building an inclusive work environment

“You can’t just go on a big hiring spree of diverse candidates if the inclusion is not there” – Ishita Ranjan

Whilst recruitment is of course vital to increasing workplace diversity, all speakers stressed the importance of ensuring that the workplace environment allows staff from diverse backgrounds to feel comfortable and included.

Lisa highlighted the importance of leadership by example in creating a safe space for people within your organisation. At BURN, a social enterprise set up to empower the Black community, Lisa stated that her door is always open to staff and that it is vital that values of diversity and inclusion come from the top.

Whilst leadership is important, Ama pointed out that we are all responsible for the cultures we create and that people are conscious of their biases and their privileges.

The masks we wear

“people from marginalised groups are opting-out in order to contribute” – Ama Afrifa-Tchie

Ama expanded on this to look at the structures that organisations build and how these can contribute to a genuine sense of belonging. She asked the question of how comfortable you feel being yourself at work and raised the point of how too often members of marginalised groups “opt-out” of being themselves in order to contribute to their workplace.

Jane Hatton introduced the idea of wearing a mask making the point that in many traditional businesses “there is a lot of masking going on” where people cannot bring their whole-selves to work as doing so is exhausting for the individual.

How do we then allow people to have the space to be themselves and bring as much of themselves as they want to their workplace?

Lisa focused on creating the space for people to be themselves and normalising allowing people to get to know each other. At BURN they have session where staff can just talk to use other about things outside of work. At Evenbreak, staff can have an informal non-work related chat at 3pm each day over a cup of tea. MHFA host regular well-being sessions and even run a work radio station for colleagues to tune into.

Data or Culture?

A question was raised by an attendee on what is more important in EDI work – capturing effective data or creating an inclusive culture. Whilst data is not something organisations are often able to capture, Lisa made the point that “you can’t change what you can’t measure”. Both Ama and Jane looked at the limitations in a purely data driven approach – how a focus just on the numbers will not create a workplace environment which ensures that people feel included. If you are capturing data on diversity make sure you are measuring what matters.

Ensuring diversity through recruitment

“you can’t just be a bit inclusive…” – Jane Hatton

Too often organisations wonder why they are not attracting diverse talent without having a proper look at their recruitment processes. Jane made the point that if you keep advertising and going to the same places for candidates you’re going to get the same type of people. You need to go outside your bubble and crucially think about how your organisation is perceived by different groups. The importance of the ‘meet the team’ page on websites was highlighted with people from marginalised groups often thinking “I looked at your team page and saw people that looked like me”.

Finally the link was once again made between having an inclusive culture and recruitment. Without an inclusive culture seeking diverse talent for its own sake will result in an inclusive workplace.

Resources from MHFA

My Whole Self Campaign

How to Support Black and People of Colour Colleagues Guide

Race Equity and Mental Health Course

Resources for workplaces