Building a diverse and inclusive workplace

Diversity and inclusion is about recognising that we all have many great things in common but at the same time, we also have many great differences that set us apart from each other. In the world of work, everybody should have the right to equal access to employment, equal pay and access to training and development.

This article takes a practical look at how inequality throughout the employee lifecycle can exist, even without realising and we consider steps we can take to tackle it.


What is Diversity and Inequality?

Inequality continues across society. We know that too many people from a minority background face discrimination and are disadvantaged.  Diversity is about recognising that we all have many great things in common, and that we also have many great differences that sets us apart from each other. Inclusion is about ensuring everybody has the same right to equal access to employment, equal pay and access to training and development, as well as not to be discriminated against.

Unconscious Bias

To fully understand inequality, it is essential to be aware of unconscious bias. Unconscious bias is a learned stereotype that is automatic, unintentional, or deeply engrained within our beliefs and can affect our behaviour. One example being if you are stuck in a car park with a flat tyre, in general, it is most likely that you would approach a man rather than a woman if you needed assistance. Or, if a lost child were wandering around the supermarket; again, in most cases, you would most likely seek to find their mother.

These examples are innocent but not all unconscious bias is. It can become problematic when it crosses into the working environment. Perhaps the main area it is likely to manifest itself is regarding recruitment or promotional decisions, although it can also influence other areas of people management such as performance management.

Looking at recruitment for instance, one example is where an individual holds the belief that foreign workers will not have a good enough understanding of English to complete the job and so is not selected. Clearly this is not true, but even if this was an innocently held unconscious belief by the recruiting manager then it will have significant implications for the recruitment decision. This example illustrates that a connection to a protected characteristic (in this case somebody’s race), then it leads to discriminatory behaviour.

Protected characteristics

The Equality Act 2010 protects against discrimination, victimisation, and harassment. The protected characteristics that are covered include:

  • Age
  • Disability
  • Gender reassignment
  • Marriage and civil partnership
  • Pregnancy and maternity
  • Race
  • Religion or belief
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation

Inequality within the Employee Lifecycle

Despite the Equality Act 2010, we know that discrimination and inequality remains prevalent throughout the employee lifecycle:


To be able to raise awareness within your organisation on inequality and to be able to understand the role everybody must play to eradicate it, it is important to develop an organisational diversity and inclusion strategy.

The strategy will then determine how each policy, procedure, and practice already in place needs to operate to be able to align to it. Consequently, there will be a need to explore whether your current policies, procedures and practices are underpinned by principles that actively celebrate and encourage difference.

A clearly developed strategy should look at the whole employment lifecycle, recruitment, onboarding, development, retention, and separation and should communicate your organisations’ intentions and deliver a message of zero tolerance for inequality.


Inequality in the workplace can occur because of ineffective recruitment practices. Reviewing your current policy, procedures, and practices to eliminate any bias or discrimination in recruitment will be crucial.

Examples of how both unconscious bias and discrimination can occur:

  • An Egyptian student applies for a part time job but is declined because it was felt they would not fit in with the rest of the staff because they are all English
  • A BAME employee applied for an internal role within the company’s telesales team. She was not shortlisted for an interview because she is quiet at work and the manager who handled her application assumed that she spoke limited English and would therefore not be suited to a telephone-based role
  • A BAME employee moved to the UK from France 4 years ago to attend university. On graduating, they are looking for their first full time job. On applying, they were turned down because they had not been a UK resident for 5 years.


Once you have appointed and are manging the early days of somebody’s employment, unconscious bias and discrimination can creep in. Here are some examples:

  • A new employee with dyslexia is not progressing in the role as well as another new colleague who is not. Their probation is ended early for under performance.
  • An older new employee is struggling in using the company’s IT systems and is viewed as “old school” in how they carry out their role. They are dismissed at the end of their probation period for being too slow and not up to using the latest systems.


Everyone should have equal access to work and opportunity, yet we know that:

  • Ethnic minorities are less likely to hold jobs as managers, directors, and senior officials than those who are white
  • Structural, historical bias prevents ethnic minorities from progressing in their careers
  • Black employees with degrees earn 23.1% less than a white employee
  • Only 45% of BAME employees reported satisfied with training received in their current organisation


Employee retention covers a broad range of areas that contributes to the retaining of staff. It is about how the employee is managed in the workplace and the steps an employer takes to ensure they can retain their staff through their policies and practices:

  • Black employees with degrees earn 23.1% less than a white employee
  • Black people were the most likely to be employed in low paid occupations (41.5%)
  • From a 2018 report by the Ministry of Justice we know that
  • There was a 17% increase in race claims
  • And a 24% increase in disability claims


Unconscious bias and discrimination can also appear when managing the end of the employment relationship. Separation is about the ending of employment, whether this is by the employee or the employer. Examples of discrimination or unconscious bias include:

  • Making inappropriate comments or jokes, about age, race, religion etc can lead to resignations
  • Referring to employees of a certain race in slang terms or code words can also be a case of discrimination and lead to resignations
  • Unfairly dismissing certain employees such as those who are older, those of an ethnic background or someone with a disability

Building an Inclusive Workplace

Using the employee lifecycle, this article will now look at practical step’s organisations can take to eradicate inequality and discrimination:


  • An inclusive workplace begins at the top and necessitates having a diversity strategy and set of values recognising differences.
  • Diversity must be led from the top down – have CEO sponsorship
  • Raise awareness on inequality and educate your workforce on the role they play in eradicating inequality and discrimination and then monitor your systems and practices
  • Explore whether your current policies, procedures and practices align to the company’s diversity policy and they are underpinned by principles that actively celebrate and encourage difference
  • Have policies, procedures and practices that actively celebrate and encourage difference
  • Have a clearly developed strategy that looks at the whole employment lifecycle and which clearly communicates your organisations’ intentions and is transparent to all
  • Adopt a zero tolerance for inequality.
  • Monitor trends and decisions to understand what is happening in the workplace- such as the makeup of your job applicants, decisions made in your employee relations activity (disciplinary, grievance), monitor the ethnicity of your workforce
  • Critically appraise your organisational culture
  • Actively encourage employee voice to facilitate change
  • Address unconscious bias
  • Incorporate company wide diversity training from company induction through to line management training and evaluate the effectiveness so you have evidence if you need it, such as a tribunal claim.


  • Reviewing your current policy and practices to eliminate any bias or discrimination will be crucial.
  • Make it mandatory for line managers to receive Diversity Training before taking an active role in your recruitment
  • Review all person specifications to ensure there is no practice that can indirectly discriminate anybody due to their age, gender, race
  • Advertise in a wide range of places, using a variety of mediums so you can reach out to a diverse group as possible
  • Be sure to not inadvertently discriminate by requiring application forms to be completed by hand. This could discriminate those whose first language is not English
  • Standardise your recruitment process and use structured skill-based questioning to avoid bias
  • Carry out blind screening of applications so that you review their application purely on skills and experience
  • Consider whether a recruitment strategy that allows for positive action in line with the Equality Act. This must be used with caution however and in only very limited circumstances, which are explained further on below in the article
  • Review job adverts for gendered or other biased wording
  • Ensure hiring managers understand provision for reasonable adjustments and are confident in being able to apply this
  • Examine recruitment data to understand how diverse the talent pool is at each stage of the selection process.
  • Positive action in recruitment
  • Positive action under the Equality Act 2010, allows employers to take positive “proportionate” steps to help remove the hurdles faced by sections of the community that are underrepresented in its workforce.
  • It allows an employer to take steps to encourage people from an under-represented group to take advantage of opportunities for employment. However, there are strict conditions in taking this approach and an employer will be required to have clear objective in place for reducing the number of under-represented in the workforce.
  • It also allows for an employer to select an applicant for recruitment or promotion from an under-represented group, in favour of another applicant who is not from that group. Again, there are very strict rules in place around this and this can only occur when both applicants are as qualified as each other. So you could see this where there is a tie between two candidates, one white one from BAME and you select the BAME candidate from an under represented group.

Onboarding and Development

  • Have a probation and performance process that accommodates employees with disabilities
  • Have standardised company-wide processes in place for how you manage training needs
  • Establish a clear process that works alongside the company’s performance appraisal process linking training needs to objectives and performance.
  • Seek identify whether there are any barriers to career progression for employees


  • Transparent reward strategy that is objective rather than subjective
  • A reward strategy that benchmarks both externally and internally
  • Introduce pay gap reporting,
  • Undertake a review of salaries annually (does not need to commit to awarding increases each year)
  • Ensure all your employees and line managers receive Diversity Training
  • Support better quality people management
  • Record and monitor Employee Relations activity to ensure equal treatment and consistency of your formal policies, such as disciplinary, grievance
  • Act thoroughly and quickly on claims of discrimination
  • Audit the decision making of your formal processes ensuring you are not disproportionately upholding grievances or disproportionately awarding disciplinary sanctions to certain groups of the workplace
  • Seek Government financial support to employ disabled workers (access to work schemes)
  • Review flexible working policies and take up. If flexible working is available but not used, explore what the barriers could be
  • Ensure job design allows flexibility and think creatively about how jobs can be flexible as well as flexi time, part time working and whether options such as job share are feasible?


  • Look to implement and act on Exit Interviews
  • Monitor reasons for leaving
  • Review cases of sudden resignations, especially any that arise on the back of a grievance case or disciplinary process
  • Review dismissal data to identify any disproportionate decisions to dismiss from any group of the workforce
Legal Considerations

It is unlawful to discriminate on grounds of a ‘protected characteristic’ (race, sex, disability, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, pregnancy, marital status, gender reassignment or civil partnership).

The Equality Act 2010 also contains a clause which allows employers to positively discriminate during recruitment in favour of disadvantaged groups when choosing between candidates who are otherwise equally qualified.

Further HR Guidance

You can access our webinar recording on Managing Diversity in the Workplace.


All companies pride themselves on being inclusive and promoting equality of treatment, but beyond policies and good intentions, what are the common pitfalls for companies?

Train your team with our CPD accredited, half day course that celebrates equality, diversity and inclusion and highlights the advantage of having a diverse workforce.

It also reminds attendees of the, often hard fought for, legislation that underpins the Equality Act 2010, and challenges stereotypes.

You can view our upcoming training course dates here.

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