Last reviewed 9 June 2022

June is Pride Month. Many employers are using this time to display their commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. But employers should not see this as a month-long exercise: continuous effort is needed to create a diverse and inclusive environment.

The development of a diverse and inclusive culture that values and recognises the differences between employees is more than a token gesture of a pride banner displayed for a month. A commitment to equality requires the development of a workplace culture through company policies, practices and the actions of those within it, from the very top to the most junior employee.

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace culture

The value to the business of such a culture is significant and well worth the effort it takes to develop it. The opportunity to develop skills and talents, regardless of the employee’s upbringing, circumstances or identity, and reaching their full potential, is important to individual wellbeing. Being recognised and rewarded for work and knowing that employees have a voice in the organisation will also promote loyalty and engagement with the organisation.

There are also economic benefits to the business to be gained. A sustainable business is one that is able to adapt as the world changes around it, and having a diverse workforce gives an organisation a distinct advantage over their competitors in being able to weather those storms. Increased diversity means different experiences, knowledge and skills that can make an organisation stand out.

Promoting equality in the workplace

To create good relations with staff, improve retention rates and avoid legal risk, actions should go beyond tokenism and truly embrace a long-term commitment to equality. Below, we explore ways of doing this.

Learn about LGBTIQ+ employment rights

Employers looking to promote equality in the workplace should start by making sure they are aware of the relevant legislation and how it can be applied in the workplace. There are certain laws in place to protect staff from discrimination. The main law to know is the Equality Act 2010.

This protects people from being discriminated against because of these protected characteristics: age, sex, race, disability, religion, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity.

This law applies — in any public and business setting — to all workers, not just employees.

It’s important that staff know their legal rights and that employers are aware of their obligations. Failure to do this will not only hamper efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture within the workplace but could also potentially lead to costly claims for discrimination.

The Equality Act 2010 outlines the types of discrimination that staff are protected from.

  • Direct discrimination — an individual is treated unfavourably because of any protected characteristics.

  • Indirect discrimination — an individual is at a disadvantage because of workplace policies or ways of working that discriminate against or exclude any protected characteristics.

  • Harassment — an individual is offended, humiliated or degraded by someone because of any protected characteristics.

  • Victimisation — an individual is treated badly for making or supporting a discrimination claim.

As is clear from the above, there are a number of different ways discrimination can present itself; it does not have to be targeted at an individual, nor intended with malice to fall outside of the law.

For example, it could be something as simple as how a system is set up. Staff may not be able to update their details — but this might prevent trans staff from being able to use their preferred name.

Review policies

Review workplace policies to make sure there are no inclusion barriers. It’s especially important to look at family-friendly policies, such as parental leave and adoption, to ensure the language they use is gender neutral. All policies should be reviewed to make sure they are inclusive of all gender identities and sexualities.

There should also have a policy on equality and diversity that outlines:

  • the Equality Act 2010

  • the workplace attitude towards equality and discrimination

  • the work environment the company wants to create

  • the company zero-tolerance for discrimination and what will happen if anyone discriminates, ie disciplinary action.

Mind your language

The language used is important — not just in policies but in communication at work.

People use non-inclusive language every day, such as:

  • gendered greetings — “hey guys, ladies, gentlemen” — this excludes people who don't fall into a gender binary. It’s better to say “hi all/folks/friends/everyone”

  • inviting people’s girlfriends, boyfriends, wives, or husbands to work events — never assume that someone is heterosexual. It’s best to say partner or spouse

  • gendered job roles and phrases — such as best man for the job, mankind, chairman or barman. Instead, say best person for the job, humankind, chairperson, or bartender

  • referring to someone’s sexual preference — never refer to someone’s sexuality or gender identity as a lifestyle choice or preference. Instead, say sexuality or sexual orientation

  • using the gendered pronouns “he/she” — instead, use the neutral they/them.

The language used generally in the workplace is also something to be mindful of. In the case of Finn v British Bung Manufacturing, it was accepted that within the factory in which the claimant worked there was the use of “industrial language”. However, the act of a supervisor calling the claimant a “bald ****” had the effect of creating a degrading, intimidating or hostile atmosphere sufficient to be harassment on the grounds of sex (the claimant in this case was a man, and the all-male tribunal panel agreed that this was an issue affecting men particularly).

Support culture intentions with training and processes

Once policies are in place, it is necessary to ensure their implementation by making sure staff are aware of what they are, and the purpose behind them, to get staff on board with the companies’ intentions.

The best way to do this is to reinforce the message in training, team meetings and employee communications. Making sure policies are visible and supported by senior leaders in the company are also ways to make sure this comes across.

Diversity training helps staff become aware of their own assumptions and prejudices. It stresses the importance of equality and diversity, and can also help to boost awareness, build staff morale and stay legally compliant.

There should also be appropriate measures in place that should a staff member feel discriminated against, they are able to raise this and be confident that the matter will be dealt with sensitively and in a timely fashion. Training and supporting line managers in this will therefore be essential.

Final thoughts

Creating an environment that champions equality, and is diverse and inclusive, will not only help the organisation limit its legal liability but also promote a more open environment primed for staff members to reach their full potential and input their own individual creative ideas.