EDI: Approaches to developing a sustainable workplace strategy
When building an equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) strategy, it’s important to make sure you are being far sighted and ambitious, while remaining realistic.
At a recent CITMA webinar featuring representatives from across the profession, we explored strategies and challenges that emerge in EDI development.
“Nice-to-have” to necessity
One of the big challenges when building EDI into any workplace is making the jump from EDI being perceived as a positive extra to an integral part of the overall shape of the business.
Making this step is a crucial part of demonstrating that EDI-related initiatives are worthwhile, and can be achieved through a variety of strategies.
While a strong moral case may be immediately evident for an EDI initiative, it is often necessary to also present a business case. In many contexts, this may mean gathering data to prove that the strategy is beneficial – or at least not harmful – to the wider business.
For example, it might be necessary to demonstrate that the introduction of staff networks, home working, flexible hours and so on improve staff retention, thus reducing hiring and training costs and retaining the best talent.
Mewburn Ellis’ Kate O’Rourke noted that, as time goes on, both potential clients and potential staff members are becoming increasingly likely to request information on the EDI activities that a firm is undertaking or committed to.
Therefore, having a clear and ambitious EDI strategy does not only benefit internal staff, it also has a positive knock on effect for bringing in new clients and new talent.
This means that it is crucial that any staff members involved in hiring or engaged with new potential clients are able to clearly explain why the firm does in relation to EDI.
In order to achieve this, it is necessary for an internal EDI strategy to be publicised well, both internally and on websites and social media.
However, this is not as simple as making a statement or organising an event: the action has to match the words.
Avoiding performative action
In an age when it’s possible to research a firm quickly and easily, lip service is not enough.
It can take just seconds for a potential client to confirm whether or not a firm’s activities match the ways in which it describes itself.
For example, if a firm claims to pride itself on gender equality but its staff page is dominated by men, alarm bells may start ringing for a potential client or future employee.
Therefore, it’s important to foster genuine diversity through inclusive hiring, and to work to understand and break down the possible barriers that may cause people to drop out of the process.
Additionally, this diversity needs to be visible. For example, if an interview panel features no people of colour, an interviewee may make a judgement of the larger company based on this.
In short, firms can advertise their EDI-related values by making sure that the places where the firm is visible, for example website photos and interview panels, reflect these values. This will allow outsiders to form an accurate – and positive – first impression.
The case for a top down approach
When making any change in a workplace, it’s much easier to get things moving when there is support and understanding from senior leaders.
Ideally, when introducing measures to support EDI in a firm, senior leaders would be not just supportive, but actively involved.
This has several benefits. Firstly, it makes it more likely that change will be able to happen efficiently and smoothly. If the value of EDI is already accepted at this level, it becomes less necessary to explain the benefits of an intervention or change to the system at each stage of development.
This may mean that financial support is more readily available, or just that there is a more supportive atmosphere around these changes.
Secondly, a top down approach makes it evident that the introduction of new strategies related to EDI aren’t just a “fringe” aspect of the firm’ work, but are an integral part of its approach.
To the outside eye, this makes it clear that there is universal commitment to the strategy, and that everyone is full on board.
Making it work in reality
One of the final, but most significant, challenges for any EDI strategy is bringing it from the page to real life.
Without practical support in executing the idea, even the best plans will achieve nothing.
This may mean thinking outside of the box in terms of what barriers are really holding people back.
For example, a work experience scheme at a London law firm for sixth form students may have the potential to ultimately increase job applications from a wider range of backgrounds, but unless the scheme also covers accommodation in the city it is limited to students with family in London or who can afford to cover their own accommodation.
Keeping an open mind with regard to the barriers different groups may face – and being prepared to continuously adapt to new information – are cornerstones of any successful EDI scheme.