Practical lessons for small businesses on fostering diversity and inclusion at work

Practical lessons for small businesses on fostering diversity and inclusion at work

When looking to hire, consider the positive qualities they can add to a team that are not already present. Image: Shutterstock

Diversity and inclusion have been the business buzzwords of the year but it doesn’t take a genius to appreciate why you should embrace them.

Women currently make up 47 per cent of the UK workforce. Within STEM businesses, women on average account for 14.4 per cent of workers and within technology, women comprise 28 per cent of the industry.

We have worked hard to create a culture of inclusion at I-COM, and this has aided us in attracting some of the most experienced and talented women in our sector. More than half (57 per cent) of the senior management team is women and our workforce itself features 43 per cent women.

Any business owner would be proud of this gender spilt, especially because the benefits of having a balanced team speak for themselves. According to McKinsey, companies with a significant representation of women on their boards consistently outperform those without by 56 per cent in terms of operating results.

Unfortunately, the industry has a serious skills gap plus a lack of experienced female specialists. This is down to historic preconceptions of the sector and because it has been male-dominated in the past. However, due to technological advances, changes in mindsets and investment in education, the industry and perceptions are evolving.


When looking to hire, consider the positive qualities they can add to a team that are not already present. Image: Shutterstock

How did we do it?

When assessing recruitment processes, the focus should not only be on hiring individuals with the right skills set, one needs to consider whether they fit with your culture, values and attitudes. The choice should be based on merit over anything else, but it is important to find people that stand out from the norm because they will bring a diverse range of experiences and viewpoints. In addition to their skills and experience, look broadly at the positive qualities they can add to a team that are not already present.

We hired women into senior positions in the business early-on, and this has helped to make us an attractive option to potential recruits. We have also employed a number of female graduates whom we have trained, nurtured and seen their progress. Focus on retention regardless of gender, because no business can afford a high turnover of staff and when looking to promote, the factors that matter are the quality of work that has been delivered and the potential of the individual.

By being empathetic to people’s needs outside of working hours, you can have a happier workforce that focus and perform better when in the office. To this end, we try to be as flexible as possible where family life is concerned, whether the employee is male or female. Many women often deal with the pressures of childcare so we offer flexible working hours, and when necessary, employees can work from home. We also think it is important to make allowances for new parents by enabling them to work fewer hours if necessary – and our sector certainly offers the opportunity to work part time, as do many others industries.

It is important to ensure that everyone feels included. A good way to do this is to vary the types of activities planned for company social events. By gathering ideas from employees throughout the business and taking into account what the whole team enjoys, everyone can be involved and enjoy the benefits. The message of inclusivity – that everyone is equal regardless of gender, sex, race, religion and so on – can permeate the organisation in this way.


Consider this

There is no right or wrong way of creating a gender balanced workforce, however, there are a couple of things that you can review that will set you on the right path to embed a culture of inclusion.

  1. Firstly, think about your employer brand and how you are perceived in the market place. This is a critical factor to you attracting and retaining employees, both male and female.
  2. consider your benefits package, do you offer flexibility, childcare facilities, part-time hours – think about what will support a female to be able to raise a family and have a successful career
  3. Review the structure of your business, the line of hierarchy and the opportunities for progression. Always promote on merit, commitment and hard work
  4. Make sure your social and team building events are gender-neutral so that everybody feels comfortable joining in
  5. Create a natural environment whereby hard work is recognised.

Finally, when trying to build a diverse workforce the question to ask about every candidate is “does this person bring a set of complementary skills and experience to the business or are we hiring this person because it’s who we’d expect to see in the job?” If you bear this in mind, you should find yourself considering different types of people and your business will see the benefit.


About the author

Mike Blackburn is the managing director I-COM – a digital marketing agency based in Manchester. He is an advocate for equality, leading a supportive, equal and inclusive workplace. I-COM is currently bucking the trend with the percentage of females at 47 per cent, almost double the national average of just 26. 



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