The Project
Research Summaries

Making a Positive Difference

The challenges of making a positive difference to EDI in the workplace are multiple and can feel impossible.

Here we draw on practical examples, fundamental insights into the nature of the problem, research evidence and the experience of outstanding organisations that have succeeded in making a positive difference to provide practical help.

This section provides insights into how to most effectively address EDI issues in relation to a range of frequently encountered topics.


Recruitment, Selection and Promotion

Diversity goals and inclusive recruitment practices are urgently needed to right the pervasive and sustained wrongs that people from various minority groups have been subject to over many decades within work organizations  – discrimination in relation to recruitment, selection and promotion.

Recruitment, selection and promotion processes continue to do damage to people, organisations and our society. Discrimination is inherent in the  ways that people are recruited, selected, promoted and developed in many organisations, undermining trust not just in work organisations but in society generally, One reason is that we have focused too much on the ‘predictive validity’ of these procedures as the primary criterion for their use – do they help us select the person who will best perform this role? There has been much less focus on the question of do the methods we use ensure fairness and prevent discrimination? We should make fairness the primary concern.

Of course, our methods should still ensure a high level of validity because a method which is  not valid as a predictor of performance remains unfair. But the importance of fairness must be raised to at least equivalent status as validity. In many large organisations, such as those in the English National Health Service, discrimination against minority groups proves to be the most accurate barometer of staff morale overall. The destructive ripples of discrimination spread out and affect all staff. Unfair recruitment, selection and promotion lead to damaged self-esteem, resentment, and a strong sense of social injustice that affects the whole of society. In order to promote relatedness, competence and autonomy and control, we must make fairness our priority. We describe emerging methods of achieving this here.

Some examples of how to improve recruitment, selection and promotion processes can be found on different pages of this web site. A case study by Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust demonstrates how they have been able to improve BME representation in senior positions. An initiative at EY helped create a more diverse and inclusive organisation. In a book chapter, Kossek and colleagues provide a review of human resources strategies in the literature to manage workforce diversity.


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Bullying, Harassment, and Disciplinary processes

Bullying and harassment have a dramatic impact on the lives of people at work, damaging their health and well-being, their engagement, commitment and quality of life. Moreover, subtle organisational processes often lead to staff from minority groups being targeted with disciplinary processes under the guise of performance management in a way that is disproportionate and discriminatory. Monitoring staff perceptions of bulling, harassment (including sexual harassment) and abuse is essential for addressing the pervasive problem of workplace aggression. It is also vital to monitor the unfair, differential application of disciplinary processes that can cause major and chronic stress for groups of people at work.

At the same time we have to nurture positive workplaces that value the role of compassion or kindness in interactions with our fellow workers in organizations -including those we work with, those we lead and those we provide products and services for (e.g., in health care, telecommunications, transport, retail, counselling). And there is much evidence of the beneficial effects of empathy, forgiveness and caring upon wellbeing and resilience. Neglect, incivility, bullying and harassment have dramatically damaging effects in contrast.

In effective teams and organisations, there is an ethic of care and this occurs where leaders foster integration, nurture trust and respect the emotional lives of people. Helping leaders to develop compassionate ways of working will equip teams and organisations of the future to deal effectively with the challenges they face. When our focus is on understanding and helping others in service of a shared vision or cause, our collaboration and teamwork will be much more effective than when our focus is on meeting our own goals, regardless of the needs of others (and that applies to other species also). 

The way in which bullying and harassment can be addressed, particularly for people from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, is demonstrated by a case study from Chesterfield NHS Foundation Trust. Many organisations have recognised that bullying can decrease engagement, reduce productivity and ultimately cost the organisation in terms of staff turnover and agency costs. The slides from this presentation by US academic Eden King explain this further, and explains what solutions have been shown to work. It is important that people recognise bullying and know what to do to tackle it.  Knowing what to do to deal with bullying will make a real difference to individual members of staff and ultimately improve patient care, patient safety and patient satisfaction.

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Leading for Inclusion

Inclusion is, quite simply, about ensuring that management practices are aimed at including rather than excluding people in processes such as recruitment, selection, promotion, training, development, having the opportunity to take on challenging tasks, having voice and influence, and the many other core organisational processes at work.

Leading for Inclusion requires we ensure that the views and ideas of all those in our organizations are heard and integrated – especially those whose views may have been excluded historically. Leading for inclusion means ensuring that all are listened to respectfully, positively and with authenticity in order that people feel valued, respected and supported. When people are consulted, listened to, and involved in shaping change they are more likely to bring wisdom, compassion, intelligence, commitment and courage to their work.

But inclusion, speaking up and listening are more likely to occur where leaders have created conditions of ‘psychological safety’.  That in turn enables constructive disagreement. Leaders encourage all groups to shape the work of the organisation inevitably means creating the potential for conflict because of differing perspectives and interests. The effective management of competing perspectives is fundamental to inclusion, which in turn generates creativity and innovation.

When people work in a climate of inclusion where they feel their voices are listened to and acted on, they are more positive, committed and satisfied at work and this has a significant impact on their willingness to adapt to and initiate change. In turn, positive moods are associated with increased compassion, prosocial or helping behaviours, better teamwork, higher levels of creativity and innovation, more job satisfaction, motivation and productivity, and more effective decision-making and conflict resolution.

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Valuing Diversity

Justice is first and foremost a moral issue and it is the role of leaders in any context to create just environments. Organisational justice is dependent on perceptions about the distribution of rewards, the means by which they are distributed, the civility with which people are treated and the clarity, openness and honesty of information that is communicated in teams and organisations. The more people perceive their team and organisational environments as just, where diversity is valued, the more motivated they are to be engaged in their work, loyal to the organisation and to go above and beyond what they are strictly required to do. And the better their well-being and quality of life.

The benefits of diversity such as improved performance and innovation occur when difference is valued and the focus is on inclusion rather than exclusion of people. Inclusive practices ensure all people influence key decisions and processes within their teams and organisations. This results in a richer information pool, better decision making and more positive climates. Building inclusive teams and organisations within which diversity is positively valued significantly improves job attitudes and performance, creating positive work experiences resulting in higher engagement, trust and a sense of fairness. 

Contrast this with the deep hurt, anger and rejection felt by people in organisations where discrimination and exclusion are evident (widespread in organisations and teams throughout the world of work). Ensuring inclusion means positively valuing diversity and better meeting the needs of all people at work for belonging, competence and control.

Leaders in organisations can help to create positive work environments where people flourish by ensuring that there is a strong commitment to positively valuing diversity and to organisational justice. 

The Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust addressed one of the issues they were experiencing around workplace diversity (i.e. inequalities in leadership positions experienced by BME employees). They did this by initiating a mentoring programme for BME staff which resulted in an improvement in the percentage of BME staff in senior positions. Their commitment and approach to resolving this pertinent issue around EDI reflects value for diversity. You can read more about this here.

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Compassionate and Inclusive Cultures

Developing compassionate and inclusive cultures requires developing the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values of leaders at every level to model compassion in how they lead. Leaders must learn to attend to all those they lead, not just those who are like them.

The first and most important task for leaders is to ensure they listen deeply to all those they lead in order that they have an appreciation of the situations they face. Leaders must seek to understand the situations and challenges those they lead face, but not by imposing an understanding. They also have to put themselves into the shoes of those from disadvantaged or discriminated against groups and empathise with them. Most important is taking intelligent action to serve or help all those they lead, particularly those who are subject to discrimination.

Directive, brusque managers dilute the ability of staff to make good decisions, deplete their emotional resources and hinder their ability to relate effectively to others, and it creates fertile conditions for bullying, harassment and discrimination.  Learning and innovation are more likely to occur where there is compassionate leadership and in the context of psychological safety rather than a blame culture.

In the best performing organisations, compassionate leaders (from the top to the front line) make it clear that valuing, respecting and supporting all others is the priority. They also practise compassionate management of performance by negotiating and agreeing clear, aligned and challenging objectives for teams and individuals at all levels. This is quite different from the institution of top-down, target-driven cultures to drive change – an approach that has limited success and is associated with higher levels of discrimination.

Some examples of how to create compassionate and inclusive cultures are offered in case studies on this web site such as Merseycare’s Just and Learning Culture; EY’s Inclusive Leadership approach and Oxfam’s initiative to facilitate gender equality.  There is also helpful information on achieving cultures of compassion and inclusion in the Work Foundation seminar on Leading for cultures of compassion and a research paper Harnessing demographic differences in organizations.

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