With National Inclusion Week 2022 coming to a close, what will your organisation continue to do to support inclusion in the workplace? Thoughts often turn to workshops, diversity champions, EDI statistics (Equality, Diversity & Inclusion), and so on.

These require a significant time commitment, though, and the theme of National Inclusion Week 2022 is ‘Time to Act: The Power of Now.’

There are other, quicker, actions that can support inclusion just as much, even more perhaps. I’ll explain later in this article why I believe some of the common EDI activities can be risky and even damaging to inclusion.

So how can we act straightaway, using the ‘power of now’ to embrace inclusion while avoiding these potential risks?

The Power of Now

Inclusion is all about acceptance and accessibility; allowing everyone to be their true selves, and enabling access to your organisation for both service-users/customers and colleagues. Keep reading for some easy to implement ideas that we can start doing immediately.

5 simple things we can all do to improve inclusion (in work and outside work):

  1. Use #CamelCase in hashtags to make the words clearer, especially for people using screen readers.
  2. Add alt. text to all images, again for people using screen readers, and people with slow internet too, as sometimes only the alt. text will show instead of an image.
  3. Introduce a no interruptions rule in meetings and invite all attendees to share their ideas in the way they’re most comfortable.
  4. Be aware of the language you use, written and verbal, and avoid excluding anyone by using overly complicated language or making insensitive jokes.
  5. And last but not least, simply ask. Don’t assume everyone has the same needs or wants, and if appropriate ask your colleagues if they need/want help or any adjustments, whether or not they have a diagnosis or obvious need or difference.

5 simple things organisations can do easily to improve inclusion:

  1. Allow time and places for praying, pumping breast milk, medical needs, etc. Even a room divider can provide privacy, it doesn’t always need to be a separate room, but it shouldn’t be a toilet stall.
  2. Review job descriptions and adverts; consider if you really need applicants to hold a driving licence or if you only require travel. Do applicants really need a degree or just to have certain abilities.
  3. Be clear about the help and support available internally and from externally run colleague assistance programmes, so people can easily access help without having to ask if help even exists.
  4. Review documents and websites for clear language, easy-to-read fonts, and diverse images.
  5. Acknowledge and celebrate festivals and awareness days and communicate clearly that the organisation is an ally of the group being celebrated.

 The Risks in EDI

To explain my earlier comments about the risks in some of the more common EDI activities, it is due to the fact the ‘Purpose Paradox’ can be seen in many of these activities.

The ‘Purpose Paradox’ occurs when:

  • The purpose of a project or process (or the way it will be carried out) is not as aligned with the organisation’s purpose as first thought, or
  • The project or process will not actually achieve the desired purpose.

Consider the potential for the Purpose Paradox in some common EDI activities, all of which I’ve come across in recent years:

  • Colleagues asked to be diversity champions or on committees could be stressed by the extra workload on top of their day-jobs.
  •  Management may single out, and even put pressure on, their diverse colleagues to be the ‘face’ of inclusion in their workplace.
  •  When colleagues are asked sensitive questions, they can feel uncomfortable or even fear that they will be discriminated against.
  • There’s also the fact that collecting diversity data increases the security burden on the organisation.

Collecting EDI statistics lawfully

If your organisation is recording EDI statistics, here’s how to do it lawfully, and while protecting employees’ privacy and data rights.

The (UK)GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 specifically allow companies to record and monitor these four characteristics – ethnicity/race, religion, health/disability, and sexual orientation.

It is only lawful in certain circumstances though, which you can achieve by following the 5 ‘P’s.:

  1. Purpose: The purpose of the monitoring must be to maintain and/or improve equality of treatment and opportunity within the organisation, for service-users, customers, r colleagues. The purpose must not be to take action specifically regarding one or more individuals.
  2. Policy: The organisation needs a written policy on how and why EDI data is used.
  3. Principles: All principles of the (UK)GDPR and Data Protection Act must be followed too, as with all data processing.
  4. Processors: All the other requirements of the DP laws apply too, including the requirements for engaging sub-contractors, or Data Processors, lawfully.
  5. Privacy: Ideally the data should be recorded anonymously, or at the very least pseudonymously – it shouldn’t be sitting right next to the colleague’s name in your HR system, for example.

The relevant part of the DPA 2018, and the guidance above, relate specifically to the four characteristics – ethnicity/race, religion, health/disability, and sexual orientation. But sex, gender reassignment, age, and marriage status are also protected characteristics under the Equality Act.

While these are not “special categories of personal data”, organisations should still follow all the DP law principles and the other legal requirements too. Which starts with having a clear purpose of course. #StartWithPurpose.

Interestingly, the DP laws also allow organisations to essentially headhunt senior leaders of specific ethnicities in order to increase diversity, but this should also be used carefully.

We’ve discussed the fact that the monitoring of EDI data should link clearly to maintaining or improving equality in the organisation. Which is easier said than done! So, here’s how to ensure your monitoring activities are aligned with equality (just 4 this time – 4 ‘I’s):

  1. Identify the gaps/shortfall: Review your figures and consider if your results are falling short; for example, if you don’t appear to be employing a representative group of people.
  2. Investigate why your figures are showing a gap/falling short; don’t assume or guess. Is it a lack of equal opportunity or of equal treatment? For example, are people being put off applying, are people actually discriminated against if they do apply for jobs?
  3. Ideas for improvement: Once you’ve identified the areas you have issues in, focus on potential ways to increase accessibility and/or acceptance. You can work with consultants for specialist help, for example https://consultseated.com/ for disability accessibility advice.
  4. Implement the agreed improvements: Assess the ideas for improvement, and put the most appropriate processes in place. Not every idea will be appropriate to the risk, or possible. Remember the processes needed to prevent things slipping backwards and to ensure it’s not a one-off improvement.

Further Learning on EDI and DP:

Download our free ‘EDI meets Privacy Information Sheet’ that highlights the advice from this article and includes another 5 things that organisations can do to improve inclusion, that take a wee bit more of a time commitment.

Attend (for free) The Buzz online on 18th October, World Menopause Day, where we will discuss supporting colleagues through menopause while respecting their privacy.

Sign up to our upcoming training, 7th December, on EDI and DP. Just £67/ person if paying for yourself, or £200 per organisation for up to 3 attendees. (+ VAT)

Watch the half-hour Purpose Paradox webinar video: The Purpose Paradox & Its Solution – Is this Data Protection by stealth?

Or watch the super-short video if you don’t have half an hour free: Solving the Purpose Paradox in 72 secs

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me on LinkedIn or on email at Clare@cpdataprotection.com, always a pleasure to talk EDI and DP!

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Picture of Clare Paterson, Caucasian women in mid-40s with shoulder length wavy brown hair and wearing glasses

Author: Clare Paterson, CP Data Protection consultant & director

Clare draws on over 20 years of experience in risk management and quality assurance, including ten years in data protection, to provide clear and practical advice and training.

Don’t tell everyone (shh!) but Clare’s favourite sector is social housing, having worked in a large housing association for 12 years, although she loves to support all values-led organisations.