By Fareeha Usman, Equality Diversity & Inclusion Manager at Dynamo North East
Fareeha is a highly regarded social entrepreneur and inclusivity campaigner. She is leading Dynamo’s research into the benefits of, and barriers to, inclusivity in the North East’s tech sector
“Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) give space for accessing better talent and stimulates overall business growth”.
When we look at this message, it’s easy to think that we’re perhaps oversimplifying the complexities which come with the development of EDI policies for business, but there is much research to support this perspective (including my own). Even distilled in this way, there is little doubt that EDI should be an integral part of any business strategy to accelerate growth potential and success, especially in relation to innovation.
The North of Tyne Combined Authority recently launched the Innovation Recovery Grant – a programme offering 50% funding towards innovative projects totalling between £10k-£20k – to stimulate economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19.
Of the many factors that enable successful innovation, EDI is proving to be one of the most significant, and this grant is a welcome addition to the funding landscape for SMEs and social enterprises across Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside and could bring dynamic changes in the way they view and implement EDI practice.
To help get you started, here is my run down of how EDI practice can enable successful innovation in your business, and how innovation can also help you tackle inequality.
When we talk about EDI, what do we really mean?
Diversity is not merely a soft skill. To stimulate growth, we must have people who think differently from each other. People who bring different sets of skills with them, come from different backgrounds, and have differing perspectives on life. Intellectual diversity can be a game changer for businesses, it brings forth the opportunity for true innovation and business best-practice, that workplaces can benefit from. When we see information through different lenses and when we are introduced to it from different points of view, this is when we truly question our intellect and open ourselves and our minds up to new discoveries.
Equality must be practiced every day in every aspect of the workplace. From hiring to everyday duties to promotional decisions, equality is a company’s moral responsibility. Toxic work environments can negatively impact a corporate image and can lead to problems with retaining talent – leading to financial instability. Employers must leave no room for mistreatment and always look forward to building fair and safe workplaces – from the boardroom to the office, shop and factory floor.
Inclusivity can involve educating your leaders and forming platforms to celebrate the differences people bring with them. Communicating goals and holding more effective training to support inclusion must also be practiced if we are to reduce discrimination, a lack of equity and institutional bias.
Why innovation in tech is important and what does it have to do with EDI?
Technological advancement is crucial to aid the development of equality, diversity & inclusion.
Research shows that 94% of employees would stay longer in a company if it supported career development.
Where can tech support EDI delivery?
Solutions that are technology-enabled and focus on providing hands-on experience can bring a subject to life through virtual reality training. Topics such as company ethics, understanding bias, eliminating discrimination are no doubt very important but are not that effective if not implemented in real terms. Virtual reality provides real life experiences that allow learners to better understand why equality, diversity and inclusion is important.
Another innovative approach is formulating employee engagement platforms. As employers it is important for us to look after the happiness and success of our workforce. Employees want to feel connected and be considered valued and important. They want to voice their opinion and be respected for their ideas and contributions.
To regulate a healthy environment of inclusion it is our responsibility as employers and leaders to track employee engagement, be aware of any unfair treatment that might exist and make sure that the workforce feels empowered. For this, online social clubs, mentorship programs, learning software and inclusion coaching & mentoring sessions can be incorporated.
Rewards and recognition platforms can support a workforce to celebrate the smallest of wins and enhance their team working skills. It can boost overall performance and improve the happiness index of an organisation. While intelligent automation can also work to reveal pay gaps without human error or bias.
When EDI is not taken seriously, the economic impact on businesses should not be underestimated. Unengaged workforces who feel discriminated against or not included in a business journey can identify a lack of opportunity and take their skillset elsewhere. Additionally, the impact on mental health can have a very real impact on a business’s bottom-line, so there should be a real focus on ensuring there is adequate support for all, especially for those from intersectional groups and people with protected characteristics.
The voices of people who identify themselves as disabled or differently abled go unheard all too often. Additionally, mental health concerns arising from a lack of inclusion increases for those who are neurodiverse, differently abled, married, seeking maternity or paternity support, belonging from a particular race, religion or belief, from different age groups, genders and sexual orientations – especially when they identify across more than one of these groups.
Funded through the North of Tyne Recovery Innovation Fund, this new grant programme has been designed to help businesses grow by adopting innovative practice or by bringing innovative products or services to market. We believe that this innovation grant can also help businesses breakdown barriers to innovation caused by a lack of diversity. Business cultures that embrace equality, diversity and inclusion see more success, innovation, growth and employee mental & physical wellbeing.
The North of Tyne Innovation Recovery Grant programme is delivered by NBSL in partnership with Innovation SuperNetwork, who part-fund our work at Dynamo to support diversity and increase innovation across the tech sector.
To learn more about the grant, the application process, and support available to bring your innovative project to life, visit: https://ntca-innovationrecoverygrant.co.uk/