Diversity and inclusion initiatives are crucial for a modern workplace, but how are businesses in Ireland working to achieve them?
What did many of last year’s ‘World’s Best Workplaces’ have in common? Overall, culture was a defining factor and diversity and inclusion played a massive part. Diversity and inclusion efforts have become a staple of any healthy business in more recent years, but they require focus, expertise and care if they are to succeed.
Though we still have plenty of learning and hard work ahead of us, many employers in Ireland have been working towards more inclusive workplaces. The goal is that support for employees will permeate working life fully, extending beyond one-off annual events such as International Women’s Day and Pride Month.
Conversation is critical. Achieving true inclusion and equality for workers in Ireland will not be possible without actively listening to people from different backgrounds and communities. Without that, it will be difficult for companies to move beyond the superficial initiatives.
Brendan Byrne, who leads Accenture Ireland’s LGBTQ employee resource group, recently told me that while many tech companies are making steps towards community acceptance, support for employees needs to be “ingrained in organisational culture” to truly have impact.
An important part of this, Byrne explained, is to be aware of “the gap between what you think is working and what your employees actually feel”. It is not enough for management to simply decide on a blanket strategy and pat themselves on the back for implementing it. Working towards diversity and inclusion must be an evolving journey with room for input, feedback and revision.
Women in the workplace
When I spoke to IWish co-founder Gillian Keating last year, her words resonated with me. She said: “Women don’t fear leadership, we have just been holding them back.”
There are many women working in Ireland who can attest to that. In Amgen, for example, senior manager Michelle Somers learned early in her career that “women can succeed even in less gender-diverse areas”.
While that may be the case, women in STEM should no longer feel the need to “prove themselves” valuable to their field, and women in any industry should not have to bear the burden of imposter syndrome. The onus must be on employers to make women feel like valued members of the team, not the other way around.
Inspiring the next generation is important, too. Teen-Turn is one charity in Ireland helping young girls to get involved in STEM. Earlier this year, MSD chose Teen-Turn as its 2020 Neighbour of Choice. It pledged €88,000 to the group and encouraged MSD employees to volunteer by mentoring students in exchange for additional hours of paid annual leave.
Cultural diversity and inclusion
MSD’s work with Teen-Turn is just one example of how a company can give back to society and advance progress towards equality in the workplace. Another is Mastercard’s Intercultural Day, which is championed in Dublin by the company’s vice-president of HR, Ann-Marie Clyne.
The benefits of celebrating different cultures at a company-wide event, Clyne said, include allowing colleagues to get to know each other and helping employees to not “compromise on their uniqueness” at work.
“Many companies define ‘diverse’ teams by narrow definitions, including only gender or ethnicity,” Clyne said. “This definition needs to evolve to include the characteristics, personal and professional skills and life experiences that we can and cannot see about a person.
“The presence of diverse brainpower alone is not enough. It’s also critical to create an open and inclusive workplace environment, so that all employees feel empowered to contribute. A company should be a place where people can bring their whole selves to work, and where everyone’s voice is heard.”
Clyne added that cultural diversity is also about hiring from “non-traditional backgrounds”. This has led to Mastercard’s Dublin data science team having a DJ, a graphic designer and a writer, among others.
Over at software company New Relic, cultural diversity is also a priority. The company’s senior director of EMEA solution engineering, Guro McCrea, spoke to me about what a “culture fit” really means.
When hiring for a culture fit, you shouldn’t be seeking someone similar to the employees you already have, she explained. Instead, their values should be aligned with those of the company and other members of staff. Beyond that, cultural diversity is crucial.
Neurodiversity at work
Further progress is also necessary for people with neurodiversities and disabilities. Adam Harris, founder of AsIAm.ie, spoke about autism-friendly workplaces at Inspirefest 2019. Harris was diagnosed with autism when he was a child and now works to support and empower other neurodiverse people.
He shared his insights on how we can adopt this mindset in the workplace, from writing “crystal-clear job descriptions” to educating staff about autism and making offices more accessible.
Some steps have already been taken to help us recognise and include neurodiverse people at work in Ireland. Earlier this year, DCU and Indeed launched a neurodiversity toolkit for recruiters. Its aim is to help organisations make their recruitment processes more inclusive for people with neurodiverse needs, including autistic people and those with ADHD and dyslexia.
Catering to different generations
It’s important to remember that workforces are also multi-generational, with employees of different ages bringing different things to the table. While older staff may have more experience, younger generations may have more native digital skills. To ensure everyone works together smoothly, leaders must acknowledge the different needs that crop up.
This is something that Dun & Bradstreet has focused on, its senior technical manager Patrick O’Sullivan told us. The company’s graduate programmes mean centennials and millennials are joining its team regularly, working with “more senior baby boomers to get a very varied perspective” on work at the business.
If you’re unsure of where to start when it comes to catering for the different generations in your workforce, this infographic from Instant Offices might help. It highlights the differences that may arise between generations, but also what they might have in common, such as their thoughts on flexible schedules and making an impact at work.