Barry Cullen: How employee engagement improves diversity

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Diversity is a valuable part of any employee engagement programme, and it is important that HR know how to make the two work together. Barry Cullen from RICS discusses more.

The value of diversity

RICS recently conducted some research that found only 63 per cent of professionals reported working for an employer with formal hiring policies in place to support diversity. With many industries facing an increasing skills shortage, now more than ever is the time to prioritise the development of a diverse workforce, so companies can tap into a wider pool of talent.

But diversity cannot be embedded without inclusion – creating a culture of openness that helps employees to feel comfortable being themselves at work, and employee engagement is integral to fostering this environment.

Next generation employee engagement

As technology facilitates a more fluid, flexible workplace culture, traditional modes of engaging employees, such as ‘town hall’ style events, are becoming redundant for some companies. Freelancers often don’t work from a central office, for example, so leaders need to think creatively about how to unite their teams.

The first step is creating an online survey to gather insight into the current engagement levels. Ask questions that reveal specific, relevant data that you can respond to – staff will expect their opinions to be heard and acted upon. The survey should be structured to encourage frank, anonymous feedback, so leaders can identify barriers and issues quickly.

Once you have the data, it’s the responsibility of the leadership to communicate the findings openly, with a clear plan to address any concerns. Diversity remains a challenge for many businesses and questions relevant to this issue may raise some sensitive topics. Authentic communication is key to building trust between teams and senior management, so be prepared to have some difficult conversations. Live streaming a Q&A with the leadership team, which explores some of the findings of the initial research, ensures all of your employees can be involved, regardless of their location.

The next step is ensuring managers are equipped with the right skills to act as role models and mentors. Commitments to diversity and inclusion cannot be lip service – organisations need to invest in formal training programmes to ensure their employees at manager level are able to embody the values they aim to uphold. Companies should train their managers to take an active role in developing engagement plans with their teams, as well as tracking managers’ performance based on engagement levels.

Taking the lead

A brilliant example of a company developing a forward thinking employee engagement strategy is building consultancy Arcadis. Alan Brookes, UK CEO, has spearheaded the development of six equality, diversity and inclusion workstreams (Age, Disability, Faith, Gender, LGBT+ and Race) within the organisation. From collating a series of personal stories from an employee representing each of the groups for their website, to assigning role models to help champion individuality, this is a best practice example of employee engagement that can dramatically impact company culture.

Take the story of Bright Ansah. Bright arrived as a new migrant to the UK in 2011, and began working as a security officer at Arcadis. He had hopes of becoming a surveyor one day, but with no financial support, opportunities to further his education, or work experience, were limited. A chance discussion with some of the team at Arcadis gave him an opportunity to showcase his raw talent, and he’s now a Trainee Quantity Surveyor in the business, studying his MSc in Construction Commercial Management at university and enrolled in the APC training. None of this would have been possible without the support of the senior team at Arcadis and their belief in investing in the next generation of talent.

Putting engagement at the heart of the IEQM

Arcadis is one of the signatories of the RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, developed to drive behaviour change amongst our membership firms. Through the self-assessment tool we’ve developed, businesses are encouraged to bi-annually assess and reflect on their performance against six key principles: leadership and vision; recruitment; staff development; staff retention; staff engagement and continuous improvement. Staff engagement is one of the most important pillars of the IEQM, because diversity will only flourish if employees at all levels are actively involved in developing, delivering and monitoring the diversity and inclusion of their workplace.

Success does not come from silos. Leaders should make engagement goals meaningful in the day-to-day experiences of their employees. Similarly, managers should discuss engagement at weekly meetings, project meetings and one-to-one meetings, so it becomes part of daily interactions and activities within teams.

Building a team for the future

At RICS, we aim to promote a workplace culture that not only values difference, but actively builds and applies it to drive performance. We know that boosting employee engagement significantly improves the productivity of your workforce. Diverse teams not only have a competitive edge, but they are also more likely to invest their career in an organisation long term – culture, values and leadership tend to encourage employees to stay in an organisation and build future success.

Different backgrounds and experiences bring fresh perspectives on the challenges businesses face every day. The success of a company thus depends on the people who work for it – leaders cannot expect to future-proof their business without ensuring they are building teams that reflect the diversity of the world we live in today.

If you are interested in engagement and reward or finding out more about transforming your workforce to be engaged you may be interested in our Employee Engagement and Reward Summit 2018 held in London on the 27th March. Click here for more details.

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About Barry Cullen

Barry Cullen is the Diversity and Inclusion Director at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.

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