In years gone by, equality and diversity haven’t always been at the forefront of business owners’ minds. However, in recent years more and more business leaders are recognising that respecting equality and diversity make good business sense.
So, what makes equality and diversity increasingly vital when you are setting up and running a business? We asked entrepreneur and author, Jackie Arnold to explain;
During the early eighties, I had been a Co-Director/Partner in two language schools one in Switzerland and the other in Poland.
It was in 1988 that I decided to start my own language school in Brighton UK. During my time in Switzerland and Poland, I had learnt first-hand how important it was to encourage respect, co-operation and trust among both staff and students. We had students and teachers from very diverse backgrounds and education, so it was vital to cultivate an atmosphere of tolerance and model our appreciation of differences.
In 2001 I sold my language school and set up as an international executive and business coach. My first assignment was to support Airbus executives from four different countries to build international teams and to bring a previously divided business into one organisation.
Each country had different ways of being and working. It was our role to encourage tolerance and support individual values. At the same time ensuring they were in line with those of the organisation where possible.
Encouraging diversity builds staff trust, engagement and loyalty
In my view encouraging and supporting diversity is essential to building trust, employee engagement and loyalty. You then gain better understanding, co-operation and creative thinking which in turn fosters excellent internal and external customer relations. This also has a direct impact on performance.
In a small to medium sized business it is useful to understand what unites people. Focusing on the similarities, common goals and shared values rather than the differences. In order for employees to gain understanding and build respect, it is essential to communicate openly and regularly.
At meetings, encourage employees to share aspects of themselves both from their professional and personal life. This can be in the form of a personal achievement or how they handled a particular work issue or problem. This is a great leveller and promotes both equality and diversity.
At Airbus, the Spanish and Italians regularly shared photos and anecdotes of family outings and festivities with the rest of the teams.
This helped to break the ice and encouraged those who were more reticent to open up. It united the diverse teams and helped with the communication and understanding of complex workplace issues.
Common ground helps to dispel fears and initial discomfort, opening up deeper and more productive conversations.
In a diverse workforce it is often enlightening to hear how others deal with issues and problems both at work and outside. Shared hobbies and interests can help employees bond more naturally and this creates better understanding and trust.
Build on creative strategies such as out of work activities that unite your staff and help them to achieve a shared goal. Another strategy is to encourage staff to discuss and come up with the company’s vision, values and codes of conduct. They will be far more willing to buy into the company’s values and direction if they have a share in their creation.
Building strong relationships and sharing values will in turn help people to appreciate equality and diversity.
Be open and honest in your communication
One of the key elements in sustaining equality and diversity is to ensure issues and problems are aired as soon as they arise. Be open and honest in your communication as this dispels rumour and speculation.
Do not avoid conflict, as out of conflict can come useful and constructive conversations if handled with respect and tolerance. Help your staff to be non-judgemental and to listen to and respect differences of opinion.
Begin to notice the behaviour traits and language staff use on a daily basis. Nip any unhelpful or biased comments in the bud and address any poor or unacceptable behaviour. Be a role model for your staff and set an example of tolerance and respect for them to follow.
Show that you admire your employees regardless of talent or style, praise good work and show your appreciation whatever your own views or preferred working style. Recognise effort and allow people to learn from their mistakes. In this way, you will set an example and enable your staff to trust one another in spite of their differences.
About the author
This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Jackie Arnold is an Accredited ICF international business coach & supervisor working across cultures and countries. She is also the author of, Coaching Skills for Leaders in the Workplace, published by Robinson, priced £14.99. For more information see www.coach4executives.com.