How to inspire diversity when not in leadership

11 March 2019

While the bottom-line benefits of diversity in the workplace are well-known, most of us simply want to see more of it for the sake of our own job satisfaction. With a broad range of talent occupying roles from junior level all the way up to senior management, fresh perspectives flow freely throughout the organisation and employees feel empowered to contribute their ideas no matter their race, ethnicity, gender or social background.

They say trickle-down diversity is the ticket to transforming company culture; that leading from the front is the key to building an inclusive environment that attracts and retains a diverse pool of talent – and it is, to a certain extent. When a leadership team demonstrates a sustained commitment to improving diversity, the company benefits from an overhaul of outdated systems and a much-needed injection of inclusivity to the veins of the corporate culture.

For those of us who do not occupy senior roles, however, inspiring behavioural change and influencing core decisions relating to diversity can seem like more of a challenge. Without the authority to implement new solutions, it’s easy to feel like you’re fighting a losing battle. In fact, there are a number of steps that employees like us can take to inspire transformation:


Take responsibility for improving inclusion

You may not be in a position to launch staff-wide initiatives, but you shouldn’t rely on a title to be a leader. In truth, we all have the ability to influence change in our working environments, and we all have a responsibility for making people feel comfortable. While training programs implemented by management can help to raise awareness in the long-term, daily efforts to communicate a sense of belonging can make a huge difference in the day-to-day. As well as making an active effort to bring people in to projects and social plans, we can help to inspire change by educating our colleagues when we witness examples of behaviours that are oppressive to a particular group.


Get diversity on the agenda

Research has consistently found that hiding our true identities drastically impacts our performance and productivity. With this in mind, businesses must be open to different points of view and ensure all workers are able to express their individuality. Diversity isn’t about successfully hitting a quota, it’s about changing the mindset of the business and creating a culture in which all staff feel equal in their ability to contribute. While it may be easier for a leader to boost workplace diversity by setting the tone for the organisation, raising key issues to management and getting it on the agenda at meetings can alert senior staff to the importance of such issues and help to illustrate the link between inclusion and engagement.


Take advantage of referral schemes

Referrals can often act as a bottleneck to diversity due to the fact that most people’s social and professional networks are generally comprised of people who are demographically similar to them. However, if your employer has an employee referral scheme in place, this can act as an opportunity for you to influence the demographic of the workplace. Sure, your schedule is already jam-packed and you don’t want to spend every minute of your spare time searching for diverse candidates with the skills to pay the bills, but if your network does happen to be more diverse in nature, encouraging talented individuals to explore job opportunities within your company can be a win-win for everyone.


Champion the cause from behind the scenes

Inspiring a shift in mentality throughout an organisation can be achieved no matter the nature or seniority of your role. No leader in their right mind will prevent you from organising events, holding discussions or suggesting initiatives to promote diversity and raise awareness of the struggles faced by employees of minority groups. If you want to make a difference, start talking to your peers about what changes they would like to see; perhaps you could even send a staff-wide email to gauge interest in ideas you may have to improve inclusivity throughout the business.


Of course, it’s easy to sit back, do nothing and wait for change, just as it’s easy to make excuses about our lack of control or influence in the workplace. The more effort that we put into creating awareness and challenging members of management staff to make a change, the more attention key issues will receive from leaders. It seems trite to tell you to be the change you want to see in the world, but in the case of workplace diversity, playing a waiting game will only be to the detriment of society.