• June 3, 2022

Diversity and inclusion policies can reduce workplace conflict

Diverse and inclusive workplace policies use a positive approach to formally recognise that each employee is different, bringing unique experience, knowledge, understanding and skills to the workplace. They are policies designed to cultivate a positive culture at work, with their success directly related to how they are implemented.

Diverse and inclusion policies are wishful thinking if not implemented properly

Most of us have experienced a workplace that talks a good inclusion and diversity game but is about as inclusive as a boardroom full of men discussing the company’s maternity leave policy. In short, you’ll know if your workplace is really living these policies because you’ll feel it. And if you’re not feeling it – it may mean that a commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace is insincere, and these are policies in name only.

Ask your manager or boss to explain how these policies work and to provide you with examples of the policies in action. A company trading on the appeal of such polices without bothering to practically implement them or measure their impact is a likely breeding ground for workplace conflict.

Develop inclusion and diversity policies through consultation with staff

Large organisations do this well through working groups made up of employees, many of whom have lived experience of a particular culture or identity. While you don’t have to be a person of colour or identify as queer to be passionate about doing everything in the workplace to extinguish racial discrimination or homophobia, it’s important that people who do identify with a diverse or minority group have a voice in what these policies should be and how they are implemented.

Corporations with deep pockets should not be the only workplaces that have the resources or are expected to design and implement diversity and inclusion policies and initiatives. Small businesses should also aim to develop a culture that celebrates diversity and inclusion – and having commitment to a clear and acknowledged policy is a good place to start. There are numerous examples of what such policies can cover and resources to assist companies to develop policy on the internet – and with input from and consultation with employees, a solid and reflective policy can begin to take shape.

Consultation might be as simple as discussing company diversity and inclusion policy with a new starter over a coffee and answering any questions they may have. Clear and simple communication of what the polices are (behaviours) why the policies are in place (who they protect) and how they are implemented (examples) gives the new employee a sound understanding of the culture of the workplace and the standard of behaviour expected.

 Everyone benefits from diversity and inclusion policies at work

Because they work. And when they work, employees are happier because they feel safe, they feel seen, and their voices heard. Everyone needs to feel valued at work. And if people are happier at work, they are more likely to be engaged and better collaborators.

Inclusion and diversity policies also provide a framework for discussion on how to deal with an issue should it arise in the workplace. It also helps if the policies are clear and transparent – for example respectful communication means collegiate and courteous discussion – in person and over email, etc. The less ‘abstract’ the better. Most importantly, implementation and evolution of these policies create a culture of support and belonging – and that can be hugely positive force in the workplace.

Diversity and inclusion policies are designed to prevent workplace conflict 

If not dealt with quickly, grievances in the workplace can fester over time into major conflict in the workplace. Many of the workplace conflicts we address as mediators begin with multiple acts of ‘small’ behaviours – off colour jokes, unconscious biases, uneven workloads and power imbalances in the team, inappropriate conversations. These small acts can have a major impact on another person, making them increasingly uncomfortable in the workplace. That feeling of discomfort can evolve into alienation leading to all kinds of negative long-term outcomes, for the person and the organisation where they work. A good test of the workplace inclusion and diversity policies is to reality test them as a means of stamping out behaviours like gender, religious, racial, LGBTQ+, cultural, class and disability discrimination. Will these policies protect people and enable them to feel comfortable and engaged at work? Will they be able to feel valued and do their job irrespective of what they worship, who they love or where they come from? If you can answer these questions with your policies, then you are on the right path to owning the responsibility of reducing the potential for destructive conflict in your workplace.

An inclusive and diverse workplace is always evolving to reflect broader cultural shifts 

Ongoing feedback from employees is vital in the successful and ongoing implementation of diversity and inclusion policies. An open mind to evolve the policies as needed is important to truly reflect broader societal shifts. It’s important to educate yourself and your employees around a growing list of behaviours that may impact people – especially in relation to things like polarising dialogues being discussed in politics and the media (particularly social media) leading to increasingly divisive perspectives. A workplace free of these pressures and their impacts on people will help prevent and if it should arise, deal with workplace issues before they become major conflict scenarios debilitating people, productivity, profit, and brand reputation.

And most importantly of all, inclusion and diversity policies should apply to all employees – from the top down. Everyone needs to adhere to the policies, and everyone is accountable for their actions.

Author: Kris Darmody

Lawyer, Mediator, Conciliator, Conflict Coach + Family Dispute Practitioner, Fresh Start Mediation

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