While many large organisations are functioning better than ever before when it comes to implementing effective diversity and inclusion (D&I) policies, smaller firms are facing some acute challenges in this area. Here, Rachel Morar, Chief Operating Officer at MyKindaFuture, the leading underrepresented talent specialist, offers her insight into how SMEs can best create an effective D&I strategy.
WHY A STANDARDISED APPROACH TO D&I DOESN’T WORK
Only 40 percent of the UK’s working population is employed by large organisations; the remaining 60 percent work for SMEs. It therefore doesn’t make sense for large firms to define best practice when it comes to D&I. A policy that works well within a global corporation will not necessarily translate effectively for a business that employs far fewer staff – let’s say, a high street law firm with nine employees on the payroll. There are several reasons why this is.
Different Business Structures
Often, when D&I policies that have been developed in big firms are rolled out in much smaller organisations, those implementing the strategy fail to recognise that not all businesses are structured in the same way. The reality is that there’s often more of a hierarchy in big business and the remits of job roles tend to be more set in stone, offering less flexibility.
Such businesses have the ability to employ D&I specialists. It’s rare to find an SME with the capacity to do this. Instead, the responsibility for overseeing D&I policy is more likely to be given to an existing job role in HR, perhaps to somebody already responsible for staff wellbeing, payroll, and a whole plethora of other things. This can present challenges when it comes to prioritising, and lead to senior leadership teams debating the value of D&I above the wellbeing of all staff, for instance.
In addition, D&I is all too often discussed in the context of large budgets, which SMEs simply don’t have. For example, while technology systems to encourage unconscious bias during recruitment processes, like blind CVs, are effective, they’re costly investments. They tend to not be designed practically for smaller enterprises, making them inaccessible for many businesses across the UK.
Employee engagement surveys are a great way to gauge the experience of all staff and can be used to help identify D&I challenges within a business. The problem that SMEs face is that these surveys can’t be as confidential as they are when filled out by staff working for large organisations. If a firm only employees a handful of people from ethnic minorities, it’s easy to work out what certain individuals are thinking. This can affect how honest respondents are and completely skew the results, making them less valuable.
In addition, for smaller businesses, one person’s experience can disproportionately impact the results, making the data less reliable and harder to draw conclusions from.
While D&I policies can’t be easily replicated across businesses with vastly different structures and budgets, the good news for SMEs is that they’re adaptable and are faced with less bureaucracy than larger organisations. This means that they can be relatively nimble, and approach D&I in a different, but effective way.
A good starting point for small firms is to engage in open, honest, and non-judgmental conversations with staff. This will highlight if there are any issues in the way the business is operating, and these can be tackled on an individual basis.
It’s also worth SMEs reaching out to their customer and client bases to gauge their opinions. Firms should ask what their impression of the business is and what more they can do to better represent them.
Act on Analysis
SMEs can take this further by using gap analysis, which is a means to compare the actual performance of a business against the desired performance. Firms can apply this type of analysis to D&I by consulting with a cross section of employees to ascertain perceptions of D&I in the organisation and highlight any failings in its current commitment to implementing effective policies. This analysis can be done in relation to the protected characteristics, which the Equality Act 2010 identifies as age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
Gap analysis is a useful way of identifying potential issues, particularly in smaller businesses where employee surveys are less effective, however, it is vital that the findings are acted upon. Although uncomfortable, SMEs must recognise any subconscious biases or discrimination within their organisation and implement policies to work towards the goal of eradicating them.
A Consistent Experience
In order to cultivate a truly inclusive culture, progressive policies should be embedded across entire organisations. For example, flexible working policies shouldn’t be exclusively reserved for parents and carers; instead, all staff should be given the opportunity to benefit from them. Regardless of their size, SMEs must drive a consistent experience for their workforces – someone in payroll shouldn’t have a different experience to someone working front of house.
A FINAL WORD
When it comes to D&I for SMEs, it isn’t good enough to simply try and translate policies that work in large organisations. SMEs have a unique make-up, and need to incorporate systems and processes that’ll work for them. For the benefit of the millions of employees that work for SMEs up and down the UK, and those that will in the future, it is vital that we shift away from focussing solely on the strategies that work for big organisations and instead move toward helping smaller firms develop D&I policies that bring about real change.
To find out more about how MyKindaFuture supports organisations to engage with diverse and overlooked talent across the UK, visit https://www.mykindafuture.com/2019/12/12/supporting-diverse-talent/