As a small business owner, you’ll already be juggling a lot to make sure things run smoothly, so diversity and inclusion might be the last thing on your mind. But they’re not just a nice thing to have – they can help your business survive and thrive. Plus, some aspects are a legal requirement.
So what are diversity and inclusion? Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, they mean different things. Diversity in the workplace means having employees from a range of backgrounds - whether that’s age, gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability, among other things - and recognising that they have different needs. Inclusion means making sure everyone feels valued and supported so they’re able to do their job well.
Accessibility is an important consideration when it comes to removing any barriers to inclusivity. Is your office wheelchair friendly, for example? As well as making sure that wheelchair users are able to work comfortably in your organisation, it is also important that your business premises are accessible for customers with disabilities, and that your website can be used by people with vision problems.
The Equality Act 2010 means it’s against the law to discriminate against people because of certain ‘protected characteristics’. These include age, disability, race and religion. While diversity and inclusion are not legal requirements, they help to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities in the workplace.
We spoke to one of our Trusted Traders about how they work to make their business accessible:
'Finesse is a family business that operates an open door policy. All directors and managers are available throughout the day. Our offices are open plan to allow a smooth flow throughout the business.
We word our vacancy adverts carefully so as to attract candidates from all backgrounds and age groups; our workforce is made up of colleagues from 17 to 60+. We are careful not to discriminate against protected characteristics. Therefore we ensure our decisions are based on merit, against criteria and avoid discrimination.' Finesse Windows Ltd
It’s no secret that happy workers are motivated workers who do the best they can and are more likely to stay with the organisation for longer. Making sure everyone feels included and supported, and feels comfortable raising any issues or suggestions they might have, goes a long way to achieving this. You will also be able to select employees from a wider talent pool if you aim to attract a diverse range of people.
For example, actively recruiting women to male-dominated trades could help to address the skills shortage we have in the UK. A Federation of Small Businesses survey in August 2022 found that 82% of firms had struggled to find people with the right skills, qualifications and experience in the previous 12 months. You can read more about women’s experiences in our article on women in trade.
A diverse workforce means your business will be able to better serve a diverse range of customers and benefit from the wide range of ideas and experience your employees will bring. As an inclusive organisation, you’ll encourage your employees to voice their ideas and share experiences. Plus, you’ll be in a better position to protect your business from harassment and discrimination claims, and problems like bullying.
To foster diversity in your business, you’ll first need to understand what is required by law and ensure that it’s being followed. It could simply be a matter of speaking to employees about this individually. Alternatively, you might decide to provide more formal training. It’s also important to make sure your employees are aware of the benefits of having employees from varied backgrounds.
To make sure your business is inclusive, it could help to draw up a policy stating that you support everyone who works for you, aim to treat them fairly, and how you expect employees to treat each other. Make sure the procedure for raising complaints and resolving issues is clear. Involving employees in the creation of this policy will help them to feel more engaged with it. You’ll then need a plan to make sure the policy is put into practice and monitor how effective it is.
Diversity and inclusion should be considered in all aspects of your business, such as recruitment and training, pay, employee benefits, how your employees dress and behave, parental and other types of leave, flexible working, religious beliefs, and when and how people are promoted.
If your business is small, you might decide it’s not worth devoting the time and resources to drawing up a policy, but there are still things you can do. One of these is making sure you advertise any jobs you’re recruiting for in more than one place so you attract a diverse range of people. Include in your job advert that, as a business, you are committed to equal opportunities and welcome applications from those less represented in your industry, such as women or people with disabilities.
You should also make any reasonable adjustments to help employees do their job if, for example, they have a disability or neurodevelopmental condition such as ADHD or autism. This is required by the Equality Act.
There are some areas you won’t have much control over, such as how external training is delivered. Construction is one industry where women, people from minority ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities are underrepresented. Making sure training is inclusive to attract the widest range of people could go a long way towards addressing this, as Access Training highlights in its article on what the construction industry can do to change.
The Inclusivity Charter drawn up by LCL Awards, which offers qualifications and training courses for the sector, including flexible courses that allow people to learn online or part time, helps to create a welcoming environment for all. It advises that training providers can make a difference by demonstrating that they are inclusive through their websites and other marketing materials.