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  • Writer's pictureTrish Driver

True equality isn't about treating everyone the same- it's about hearing everyone's voice

One of the things we love about our work at A New Normal is the really interesting conversations we get to have under the guise of work. And we’ve been having some really interesting conversations recently. As part of the work we do, we’re privileged to be invited in to work alongside our clients and their people and start impactful conversations around diversity and inclusivity in and beyond the workplace. Because we set up safe spaces for conversations, we find that people are really open and ask us brilliant questions about the subjects of diversity, inclusion, ally-ship, privilege and power at work.

And one of the most fascinating topics we’ve discussed has come out of something which can feel quite “dry” when talking about inclusion at work – “reasonable adjustments” for employees.

We tend to talk about this topic more when it comes to running inclusive recruitment workshops, but it serves as a neat explainer for the topic of inclusion at work more broadly. ACAS define a reasonable adjustment as follows:

A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a change to remove or reduce the effect of:

an employee’s disability so they can do their job

a job applicant’s disability when applying for a job

The reasonable adjustment could be to:

the workplace

the ways things are done

get someone to help the employee or job applicant

So far, so good… The Equality Act makes provision for “reasonable adjustments” to be made for those with a disability to remove or reduce the effect of an employee’s disability. But we think that when we’re talking about inclusion and equality at work it’s absolutely key to broaden out this perspective to level the playing field for everyone.

True equality at work (and an inclusive working environment) doesn’t come from treating everyone the same. It comes from understanding the differing perspectives, history and needs of all of your people, and providing an environment which gives an equality of experience, not just equal treatment.

We work with our brilliant partners at great{with}talent on a number of our culture change programmes of work. There are many reasons we love working with them, but the critical piece for us is that true equality at work (and an inclusive culture) doesn’t come from treating everyone the same. It comes from understanding the differing perspectives, history and needs of all of your people, and providing an environment which gives an equality of experience, not just equal treatment. And what the work we do with great{with}talent enables us to do is to identify for our clients which groups of people are having a less positive experience at work, and crucially, what needs to change to level up this experience.

This varies from company to company, but one thing tends to be true, even in organisations with a great culture and kind, well-intentioned people: without a concerted effort, those who traditionally have less “power” in society will be more likely to have a less positive experience at work. So, making a sweeping generalisation, straight, white, cisgender (not trans), middle class men will almost always tend to have better experiences in the workplace, and to feel more able to voice their opinions. Because traditional power structures mean that they have the absence of challenge which comes from being part of this demographic group. Because these demographics are also more likely to make up the leadership of an organisation, it can be hard to imagine what the perspective of those who aren’t part of this group might be.

So really understanding who your people are, and how they feel about life at work gives a great opportunity to both ensure that everyone feels heard (which is critical when it comes to building a more inclusive culture – how can you say that your culture is inclusive if not everyone has had a say!?), and to make the changes which result in a truly equal experience for everyone.

And for those who are still unconvinced of the benefits of providing an equally positive experience for all who work in their organisation - doing this means that companies are much more likely to end up with a group of people from a really diverse range of backgrounds, with different life experiences and a range of perspectives. And whether you’re a charity, a consultancy, a tech firm or in the media sector, that’s only going to have a positive impact on those you are ultimately working for or representing, which is probably why McKinsey identified that the most diverse organisations in any given sector outperform the least diverse by up to 35%. A great incentive to give up on the notion of treating everyone the same and start thinking about how to provide an equally positive experience for everyone at work.

At A New Normal, we work with our clients providing everything from one-off interventions around Unconscious Bias, Inclusive Leadership and ally-ship at work, inclusive recruitment audits and workshops through to large-scale culture change programmes. Our clients sit in sectors as diverse as pharmaceutical, tech, media, not for profit and consulting, and are as geographically dispersed as you’d expect them to be, so we work across the UK, with team members based in London, Hampshire, Surrey, Hertfordshire and Dorset. If you want to make a change in your organisation, why not get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.


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