Communicate without barriers: understanding the needs of a diverse workforce

Emma Allen

Emma Allen, Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Lead, Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust shares five steps to foster an inclusive work environment and enable individuals to thrive. Emma is presenting at the CIPD Diversity and Inclusion Conference which takes place on 15 May 2019 in London. Book your ticket today.



Sometimes, we fall into the trap of thinking that inclusion is about treating everybody the same. If I had a tenner every time someone says they don’t need to consider equality because they are just fair to all and that should cover it, then I’d be able to retire to the Tuscan villa of my dreams.

In reality, different people need different things to reach their full potential in life and at work. Nobody wants to be considered part of a homogeneous group and to feel engaged, valued and motivated people need to be seen as individuals with discrete needs and aspirations.

As employers, there are some important things we need to do to understand those needs and meet them for every person who works in our organisations. Here are my five steps to get it right!


1 – Build Confidence

Create an environment of trust so people feel safe and encouraged to openly share their identities and needs rather than hiding them from fear of stigma or prejudice. Proactively offer opportunities for people to request workplace adjustments such as changes to working hours, assistive software or personalised coaching.

Make people aware of your commitment to diversity and inclusion. They should see and feel more than a general statement on a job advert. It should be clear every day, in how people behave, how the client base is represented in the workforce, how accessibility is promoted and how diversity is celebrated internally and publically.

Be visible, explicit and specific about what you are doing to further the diversity and inclusion agenda. Make staff aware of their responsibilities and rights, and provide tools and training for employees to act in accessible and inclusive ways. Challenge discrimination and prejudice at all levels and do it visibly.


2 – Learn Stuff

Encourage employees to learn about people who are not like them. Whether that’s seeking out people with lived experience, awareness training, reverse mentoring or community engagement, actively pursue other perspectives and diverse ideas. Then provide channels for people to share that learning and spread the successes widely. The more people talk about diversity, the easier it is for people to talk about what they need.


3 – Ask People

For the most part, people already know what they need in order to be their best selves. They might need a safe space and support to figure it out in practical terms but generally, people will be able to tell you what the barriers are that they face in daily working life, and more importantly, how to remove them. And if they don’t, pitch in and work through it together.


4 – Trust People

This is important; Once an employee has articulated what is needed, believe them and, assuming the request is reasonable, provide what they have asked for. Exactly what they have asked for – not something similar that you think might be ok – not something cheaper which doesn’t quite meet the requirements – but what they have asked for! Questioning whether people really need the adjustment is rude, demotivating and unlikely to result in loyal and productive employees.


5 – Act Fast

Needs must be met quickly. Sometimes people request an adjustment but by the time it has been made, they have been under so much pressure, trying to perform without it that they become unwell. Act swiftly to remove barriers; It can be the difference between retaining valuable employees and losing them to illness or the competition.

And that’s it! Simple! Follow these steps, get the best from your diverse workforce and become an employer of choice!


Emma is speaking in the session titled “Quick-fire case studies – providing for different groups and protected characteristics to cherish and retain a diverse workforce” at the CIPD Diversity and Inclusion Conference which takes place on 15 May 2019 in London. Book your ticket today.