Building a diverse and inclusive workplace isn’t easy and it takes time. But it’s 100% worth it. There’s a range of benefits for organizations, from increased innovation to improved financial performance. For employees themselves, who wouldn’t want to work for a company where they feel valued and heard, and see themselves reflected in leadership roles?
In the insurance sector, it’s encouraging to see that brokerages are focused on building diverse and inclusive workplace cultures. In the 2022 Canadian Underwriter Diversity and Inclusion survey, sponsored by Sovereign Insurance, the top cited diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy that organizations have used in the past 12 months is “building a culture that champions diversity and inclusion” (48%). This is followed by “developing a diversity and inclusivity hiring strategy” (26%) and “creating diversity and inclusivity committees, task forces, networks, or affinity groups.”
While D&I doesn’t happen overnight, the key is starting—and the sooner the better. Here’s a look at just a few ways organizations can cultivate a diverse and inclusive culture:
Broaden the definition of diversity
Race, gender and sexual orientation are what usually come to mind when people think about diversity. However, diversity should be defined as broadly as possible to include characteristics such as education, physical and mental ability, life experiences, political views, age, and more.1
In addition, keep in mind that while the terms “diversity” and “inclusion” are interconnected, they’re not interchangeable. Diversity refers to the representation or makeup of a group, while inclusion is about how well people’s contributions and perspectives are valued and integrated in the workplace.2
Educate employees and involve them in D&I efforts
D&I won’t work if employees aren’t aware or involved. Educate people across the organization on the advantages of diversity, as well as the effects of discrimination. Train employees on how to identify and counter unconscious biases, and educate them on microaggressions and how to minimize these behaviours. Create a safe space where honest or tough conversations can be had without judgment. 3 At the same time, make sure your policies that uphold a no-tolerance environment for discrimination or harassment are firmly in place.
See: How to address barriers to inclusivity
It’s also important not to take a total top-down approach—D&I is a collaborative effort. One way to involve employees is to set up a diversity and inclusion council with representation from different backgrounds. The group can discuss the company’s initiatives, how they’re working, and what to do next.4
Celebrate employees’ differences
One of the most important and tangible ways to promote inclusiveness is to celebrate employees’ differences. Organizations can do this in a variety of ways, including celebrating cultural holidays, having a designated meditation or prayer room, and supporting community events that promote diverse groups.5 In addition, they can provide opportunities for employees to share about their culture and learn from others.
Mind your language
Words matter, so everyone in the organization should use inclusive language. Inclusive language is free from words and phrases that reflect prejudiced, stereotyped, or discriminatory views of particular people or groups. Inclusive language also doesn’t deliberately or inadvertently exclude people from feeling accepted.6
One important aspect is language related to gender and sexual orientation. For example, Deloitte recommends saying “you all” rather than “you guys,” or “spouse or partner" rather than “husband” or “wife.” Also consider the historical context and implications of words and phrases. For example, Deloitte notes the phrase “divide and conquer” has connotations of the oppressions of colonialism, and “grandfathered in” has roots in Jim Crow-era voting laws that discriminated against Black people.7
Be more accessible
While much of the focus on inclusion is about what people say and do and how they feel, there is a more tangible aspect to inclusion: accessibility. For example, physical barriers can keep employees who use wheelchairs from performing their best work or feeling completely integrated into the workplace. Beyond ramps and elevators, consider things that might be less obvious to people who don’t have physical disabilities, such as whether the coffee pot or office supplies are out of reach.8
Other features that help make the workplace more accessible for all include: Braille signage; onsite daycare; mother’s rooms; specific food in the cafeteria for cultural (for example, kosher or halal) or dietary reasons, private work rooms (for example to raise the volume if required); and accessibility tools, such as adjustable desks and monitors, colour-coded keyboards, and sign language apps.
In the broker’s survey, 84% of respondents indicated their organization has at least some accessibility tools. The most cited are: ergonomic workstations, specific accessibility tools, elevators and wide entryways. Just 3% have Braille signage, 1% have a mother’s room, and 1% have onsite daycare. While efforts are being made, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Creating a diverse and inclusive culture begins with a company’s values, their willingness to change, and their ability to identify and address their shortcomings. Culture doesn’t change or manifest overnight, and it will continually evolve, so it’s well worth the time and investment to ensure it’s built upon the right foundation.
1 Great Place to Work, “5 Ways to Champion Diversity and Inclusion at Work,” June 15, 2021
2 Great Place to Work, “Why is Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace Important?” April 13, 2021
3 Biz Library, “Q&A: Managing Racial Microaggressions and Creating Safe Spaces in the Workplace,” Nov. 5, 2020
4 Forbes, “What Is A Diversity Council And How Do You Make It A Success?” Dec. 2, 2020
5 Forbes, “6 Ways To Cultivate A Workplace Culture That Inspires Diversity And Inclusion,” June 30, 2020
6 BC Public Service, “Words Matter: Guidelines on using inclusive language in the workplace.”
7 Deloitte, “The Power of Inclusive Language,” Jan. 29, 2021
8 Commonwealth Payroll & HR, “Understanding Barriers to Inclusion in the Workplace,” Sept. 29, 2019