Making Diversity and Inclusion Approachable for SME's.

Updated: May 6, 2020

The road to diversity and inclusion can often be a long one. It takes time, effort and a strategic approach to build organisations that are able to attract, engage and retain a workforce, that is well supported to benefit from diversity.

It takes a whole organisation approach to planning, embed diversity and inclusion and to challenge unfairness and discrimination, and in operational and other business functions.

Making diversity approachable

There is much debate and focus on D&I in the workplace. Diversity and inclusion is steadily becoming a means of building productive, highly engaged companies. As such, there is increased conversation and focus on building diversity into the mechanics of people and operational processes.

There is however, some concern that many small and medium sized entities, lack clarity on the benefits of the business case for diversity.

These businesses are often unaware of the strategic benefits that can be realised from a highly engaged, inclusive workforce environment. Some remain largely in a state of confusion regarding the importance of building diversity into the business.

There is often a lack of clarity on the business case for diversity.

Without understanding of the organisational benefits of D&I, and knowledge of how to implement it within processes and functions, the likelihood of any paradigm shift, seems minimal.

Achieving diversity and inclusion is an action-centred activity. It cannot be achieved through the development of policies alone. It requires leaders and managers to partake in action focused conversations, that lead to the strategic planning of D&I. It requires a strategic investment in diversity, to build confidence and competence around this enabling business area.

The process requires a commitment from leaders and managers to change the status quo, in order to build out learning and engagement with D&I across all areas of business.

Whilst there has been progress towards embedding diversity, and inclusive processes, within large global corporations, there is still work to be done to engage smaller businesses with the concept of D&I.

Corporate organisations benefit from increased diversity with increased productivity and innovation.

Many SME's have yet to make serious consideration of embedding D&I, although many have devised a policy or two! This apparent lack of concern regarding diversity and inclusion, may be to due to lack of understanding of the ways in which D&I can significantly improve business outcomes.

Making the concept of D&I approachable to smaller entities, including start ups, and supporting them to take action, is the task of diversity consulting professionals. There are several positive steps that SME’s can take to understand the ‘Why and How’ of D&I.

Diversity and Inclusion– The Why and the How?

Let’s face it…. diversity conversations can be hard for some managers. It’s often seen as a ‘nice thing to have' but many organisations fail to understand the impact it can have on their workforce and operational deliverables.

Whilst this does not mean these managers are against the concept of D&I, it does demonstrate a lack of awareness of the business and workplace benefits of diversity and how it can positively impact all aspect of the business.

This lack of awareness can lead to a sense of apathy, which can result in non action, and a comprehensive reinforcement of the status quo.

By making the subject of diversity approachable and actionable for SME’s, diversity and inclusion can be identified as a necessary business goal.

This can then be understood as within the reach of these smaller businesses, rather than an activity that seems abstract, unnecessary and unobtainable.

The Business Case for Diversity.

By understanding the case for diversity, a business can develop a sense of validity for D&I, which can then underpin strategic planning activities. This will result in properly defined actions to develop and support, an inclusive and well balanced workforce.

Simply put, the strategic development of diversity and inclusion leads to more effective, engaged and innovative workplaces.

Although this does not occur overnight, it can be achieved by taking small, steady steps, which build into an effective procedural framework that supports D&I across the business.

Through the analysis of specific areas of the business, managers can identify where there is a need to build in more diversity and promote inclusive practices. Understanding the need to audit for diversity will build engagement around diversity and inclusion.

This will start the process that leads to planning and activities that ultimately lead to a more engaged workforce that feels included. It will also show results in operational effectiveness, behavioural and culture change and increased productivity, over time.

Workplace Diversity and Inclusion.

Diversity in the workplace is the first step of developing inclusion. An inclusive workplace is built on genuine commitment to redress current imbalances.

This commitment must seek to employ strategic mechanisms to enhance the diversity of staff, at all levels within the business.

It involves supportive practices that serve to make staff teams feel included and involved with the business. This includes enabling staff to contribute effectively within the business because it is open and transparent.

It embodies an element of trust between staff and management and a healthy level of engagement.

This is important. The lack of attention to diversity and inclusion issues, is a major cause of stress within the workplace. It leads to high levels of staff turnover, increased sickness rates due to stress and increased rates of litigation against the business.

Inadequate attention to diversity and inclusion issues are a major cause of workplace stress.

Diversity brings difference into the workplace. It is by no means the end result of being inclusive, but it leads to the formation of a platform, upon which inclusive practices can be built.

By cultivating a diverse workforce, your business will be better placed to gain more positive business results, through enhanced productivity, creativity and innovation.

When all members of a work team feel included, the whole team becomes more engaged and productive.

People from diverse communities and cultures, bring a wide variety of skills and ideas, that help to build innovation into teams, projects and services.

Recruiting for a Diverse Workforce

Building diversity into recruitment processes is crucial to building a workforce that is productive and innovative. Diversity of thought and experience is enhanced, when staff teams are supported to develop and progress within the business.

The diversity of ideas that come from people from different social experience, gender, racial, educational, lifestyle and ability backgrounds, helps to develop creativity.

It results in products and services that better serve customers and clients.

Creating a diverse team will not be achieved overnight. It is a process driven activity that requires strategic planning and activities to engage with a diverse range of potential candidates.


If respondent numbers indicate that your recruitment process is not appealing to a wide range of candidates, it probably indicates that it is structured in such a way that it disproportionately marginalises certain ethnic, social and cultural groups.

By analysing your recruitment process, and making the necessary adjustments, your ability to attract candidates from a wide range of cultures will be enhanced.

It will improve the quality of the candidates that respond to job openings, as well as increase diversity within work teams.

Advertising widely to attract a wide range of candidates from different social and cultural backgrounds, is part of being inclusive.

Attracting and range of candidates, enables business to build a company that is diverse. However, this alone does not necessarily mean that the business has a productive and engaging workplace environment!

Nor does it mean that visible diversity equates to inclusion!

Diversity is not a numbers game and much more has to be done to create an environment that will support diversity within the business, and enable all the business benefits of diversity to flourish.

Merely increasing the numbers of staff who are visually diverse, without underpinning organisational processes with strategies which embody inclusion, is a recipe for failure.

Engaging and Retaining a diverse staff team.

Attracting a wide range of diverse candidates to work within a business is a bonus for any employer. However, building inclusion into the processes that support the inclusion, development and retention of staff, is quite another.

A proactive and healthy workplace environment will embed steps to ensure that inclusion is part of developmental and progression processes.

It will focus on how culture and effective cultural communication, can help both the business and the employee, engage better with one another to achieve excellent business outcomes.

Developing processes that truly support inclusion will go some way towards making all staff feel included and supported to become the best that they can be, in an environment that is fair and balanced.

Everyone needs to have a fair chance to succeed.

Social media and diversity.

In times of social media and internet technology, it is an increasingly easy task to search for information about potential employers.

Employees, quite rightly, seek to find employment, in an environment where they are likely to feel supported and engaged.

  • A key consideration here is what potential talent is learning about diversity and inclusion within your business.

  • What does your website say about diversity of your board membership?

  • Are your senior leaders gender and racial balance of your leadership?

Prospective employees will take into consideration, the diverse make-up of your business, when making a decision on whether or not to apply. ​

From a prospective employee's point of view, lack of diversity can lead to the assumption that they fill not fit into the business and will feel isolated.

Social media can speak volumes about diversity within your organisation.

Potential candidates are looking for a place to work where they feel they will fit in and feel included.

They are looking for an environment that is fair and equitable, where they feel that they have good chances to excel and realise their developmental aspirations.

Top talent is international.... potential candidates need to feel that they will fit into your organisation.

Consider, what does your business brand say about you.

  • Do you actively promote the diversity within your business?

  • What does your leadership do to promote diversity within the business?

  • Do you have diversity champions?

  • Has your business been externally validated and benchmarked for diversity?