Blackfriar: Are businesses embracing inclusion?

It’s National Inclusion Week - an annual campaign to raise awareness of inclusion in the workplace.

M&S launched an inclusion strategy this year.

The campaign is owned and managed by Inclusive Employers, a membership organisation for employers looking to build inclusive workplaces.

This week social media platforms have been full of businesses pledging their support for the campaign.

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Some of these companies will be genuinely keen to make long-term positive changes to their culture and diversify their workforce. For others, it’s a token gesture. Even so, the fact that they are raising awareness and talking about the topic can be seen as a positive.

More worryingly, there are many businesses - including big Yorkshire names on the stock exchange - who appear to be ignoring the issue completely.

Maybe it’s because they’re just quietly getting on with it and don’t feel the need to shout about what they’re doing. Or maybe it’s because it’s not high on their list of priorities at the moment.

Either way, there are noticeable absences from this week’s inclusion conversation.

On the other hand, there are a number of enthusiastic supporters.

M&S, which already has a culture of inclusion in the workplace, launched an inclusion strategy this year as part of a new hub on its intranet system.

In celebration of National Inclusion Week, it’s hosting an event at Leeds University tomorrow - the latest talk in its On Your Marks Networking Series. The discussion will focus on M&S’s diversity and inclusion journey to date, why this is important for business success and how new research is helping M&S to ensure it is an inclusive employer for everyone.

Meanwhile, O2 has pledged its commitment to disability inclusion by joining The Valuable 500, a movement aimed at putting disability on the business leadership agenda.

Across the business it is marking National Inclusion Week 2019 with a series of workshops, live streams and staff engagement plans.

Jo Bertram, director of business and executive sponsor for inclusion at O2, said: “For me, moments like National Inclusion Week are vitally important, as they highlight the importance of doing the right thing for our people and communities, not as a one off, but whole year round.

“We’ve had great success in 2019, launching some industry-leading inclusive initiatives, but we want to be continually pushing ourselves to do more, be more ambitious, and make changes.”

PwC launched a campaign this week to raise awareness of what being inclusive in the workplace actually means. Asda, Stagecoach Yorkshire and construction giant BAM have also pledged their support for National Inclusion Week.

“It’s about coming together and creating an inclusive culture where everyone feels like they belong,” PwC said.

Two of the most enthusiastic supporters of the campaign are Leeds and Leeds Beckett universities. Together they have organised a week-long programme of events to celebrate their international and diverse staff and student communities. They are also keen to raise awareness of the initiatives they organise throughout the year.

It’s important to see inclusion being embraced in education.

Hopefully one day there will be no need to have a national inclusion week because inclusion and acceptance will be such a part of our society that there won’t be anything to highlight.

Until then, events like these are hugely important because they are setting the bar for employers both now and of the future.