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This aticle was first published in the February/March 2019 Ireland edition of Accounting and Business magazine.

The demography of Ireland’s workforce is more varied than ever, with immigration, longer working lives and greater equality of opportunity combining to produce the most diverse workforce in the country’s history.

As employers battle to recruit and retain talent, the establishment and promotion of an inclusive workplace is fast becoming a prerequisite to compete in a tightening labour market. But how do you create an inclusive workplace culture that can harness the potential of a diverse workforce?

Recruiting a diverse range of individuals reaps rewards for an accountancy firm only if it also creates an inclusive culture in which employees from all backgrounds feel valued. Forward-thinking employers recognise that each employee has a unique perspective on the world that can add value to the organisation. Research is also demonstrating that a more inclusive workplace culture boosts productivity, happiness and engagement levels, which is not only good for employees but also for the bottom line.

To reap the rewards of diversity, firms need a recruitment process that focuses on shared values rather than candidates who seem similar to high-performing employees already in situ. Employers tend to have an unconscious bias towards recruiting candidates who remind them of themselves. This approach excludes a wealth of talent and can create a stale, homogeneous work environment. Instead, focus on recruiting candidates based on their commitment to values that align with the objectives of your organisation – a metaphorical glue that can bind your staff and your organisation together.

Inclusivity should become a central component of the firm rather than a sporadically pursued fad. Once the decision to harness diversity has been made, inclusivity should be put at the forefront of your organisational values and bolstered with a clear and coherent policy communicated to all employees – something tangible that staff can read and understand. If you don’t commit to diversity and inclusivity, your employees will dismiss the terms as business jargon.

You should educate yourself and your management team about the challenges of incorporating cultural differences into how you do business. Stereotypes or preconceptions must be confronted. Work practices may need to be adjusted to accommodate certain employees. The commitment to an inclusive workplace must come from the top, and educating the management team in how to translate inclusivity into work practices will go a long way in determining the success of an inclusivity policy.

Build diverse teams

When you are putting a team together, explore the possibilities for creating diversity within the group. If opportunities exist to assemble a team of individuals with, for example, different work styles, skillsets and levels of experience, explore the potential of asking them to work together on a project. A team-building approach will encourage a collaborative atmosphere and help generate innovative or fresh ideas. A diverse team may come up with a more efficient way of achieving your organisational goals.

While great strides have been made in reducing the gender pay gap, the bald fact is that women continue to earn less than men. Multiple factors contribute to gender imbalance, chief among them being existing maternity leave legislation. The notion that family responsibilities should predominantly be taken up by women is perpetuated by maternity leave laws that give mothers far greater entitlement to paid leave than fathers. If new fathers received additional support from their employers following the birth of a child, it would help reduce the negative impact of maternity leave on women’s long-term contributions to business.

The government’s introduction of paid parental leave for both parents in the most recent Budget is a welcome step in the right direction, with every parent of a child in their first year to gain two extra weeks of paid leave from November 2019. But employers who are serious about inclusivity should adopt a more proactive approach. With modern life becoming increasingly busy and demanding for the parents of young children, agile or flexible work arrangements can facilitate a more even distribution of caring responsibilities between the mother and father of young children. This in turn contributes to the workplace as a work/life balance initiative and as a means of tackling gender imbalances in pay and seniority. Both parents should also feel more equally valued, which is the primary goal of an inclusive workplace culture.

To properly harness the power of Ireland’s increasingly diverse workforce, employers must find ways to attract, retain and work with a wide range of talent. Research demonstrates that inclusive companies generate more innovative ideas and higher revenues, and are more likely to capture and excel in new markets. Rise to the challenge of making inclusivity a central part of your strategy, and you could be surprised by the wide range of positive results.

Moira Grassick is associate director at employment law and compliance provider Graphite.