The danger in silence on diversity & inclusion at work

Companies that respect their employees and foster a safe environment through diversity & inclusion will attract and retain the best talent through even the most challenging times

Companies that respect their employees and foster a safe environment through diversity & inclusion will attract and retain the best talent through even the most challenging times, writes Aaron Green

Silence can be deafening – especially when it comes from the place where you work. As Australia has decided that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, I implore businesses in Australia to break this silence and build a system of support in their workplaces.

Politics are typically taboo dinner-party topics, and many feel that they should remain off-limits in the workplace. With the ‘yes’ vote high on the media’s agenda and heated comments appearing on social media platforms, colleagues and employers alike are reflecting if they should publicly voice their position.

It might seem safe to do if your organisation has a diversity and inclusiveness strategy. But does this guarantee a secure environment for employees to express their opinions?

Most businesses have diversity on their radar and seek to make it a priority within their companies. A Hays study found 68 per cent of Australian companies were taking steps to build an inclusive workforce, defined to include people of various genders, ages, cultural backgrounds and disabilities. While this is important in knowing there is a backdrop of respect and inclusion in a business, it doesn’t go far enough in building a safe environment where all employees are protected.

“We are moving into a time where employees may be walking into offices feeling as if they are treading on eggshells”

From LGBTI-identified employees to workplace allies, people across all sections of Australian society have experienced increased levels of stress from conversations around the marriage survey. We are moving into a time where employees may be walking into offices feeling as if they are treading on eggshells.

This is particularly true for those employees who the survey impacts personally. A study published by the American Journal of Mental Health found the LGBTI community suffered increased anxiety and mood disorders during 2004 and 2005, when some states were banning same-sex marriage.

Businesses could choose to remain silent about what is happening inside the company and in the world around us. It is easy to ignore this; to hope that it blows away quickly and quietly. But making a stand is more important than ever to ensure employees are protected, empowered and included.

Organisations such as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation have set up a hotline for staff and provided a toolkit to support employees who are impacted by the marriage equality debate. Many leaders from businesses both large and small have come forward with statements to encourage respect and workplace inclusion.

“Great leaders and businesses will need to step up and say that diversity and inclusion are pillars of being a great place to work”

The first step is having robust diversity and inclusion programs within organisations. The University of Sydney found 62 per cent of HR practitioners have budget for diversity and inclusion programs, with 61 per cent saying these budgets were adequate for the business’ needs. However, 38 per cent reported having no diversity and inclusion budget at all. Addressing this ensures staff are protected during the marriage equality debate and beyond it.

There are also a number of steps HR leaders can take internally to ensure staff are supported as they navigate through this debate, including:

  1. Offer counselling and support to employees who may be affected
  2. Make diversity and inclusiveness policies more visible to employees as a reminder of company values
  3. Help managers identify employees that require support and empower them to have conversations
  4. Provide toolkits that frame the narrative to acknowledge different points of view
  5. Allow employees who may be affected time away from work during or after the survey results are announced

During this time, great leaders and businesses will need to step up and say that diversity and inclusion are pillars of being a great place to work. The companies that respect their employees and foster a safe environment will attract and retain the best talent through even the most challenging times.

For more information on SAP SuccessFactors, the workforce of the future, the role of technology and what these mean for HR, visit SAP HR InsightsImage source: iStock