Diversity and inclusion are becoming increasingly important to businesses.
Public pressure has prompted companies to become more vocal about their equality agendas, and political institutions are introducing frameworks to make sure employers stick to their word. In the U.K., companies with 250 or more employees now have to publish their gender pay gaps under new legislation.
However, it's not only companies who can drive change. Employees can fly the flag for diversity, too. In fact, according to diversity specialist Julie Gebauer, individuals play just as important a role in changing the status quo.
Gebauer is global head of human capital and benefits at Willis Towers Watson. She broke through the glass ceiling to become the second-most-senior executive at the global advisory firm and has since been a diversity advisor to many large companies.
CNBC Make It spoke to Gebauer to find out her tips for promoting diversity and inclusion in your office.
First off, try asking either your direct manager or HR for an "accurate view" of the company's inclusion and diversity strategy.
Gebauer suggested finding a constructive way of doing that to avoid sounding confrontational and potentially creating friction with your employer. For example, rather than saying "when will you sort the gender pay gap?" which could sound accusatory, try framing the question as "what is your pay philosophy?"
"Those are less aggressive questions and I think business leaders would be willing to answer them," said Gebauer.
It's possible that the person you ask may not have the answer, but it could give them the impetus to take the issue further up the line to press senior management, said Gebauer.
"These are questions that should be asked and it's about finding the confidence to do it," she said.
Apart from figuring out what your employer is doing to encourage diversity and inclusion, you can push the agenda by making your manager aware of your career goals.
Whether you consider yourself a minority or not, it could motivate them to consider you for tasks they may not otherwise have done. Ultimately, this will allow you to input your inclusivity ideals as you rise in the ranks.
Managers can't be mind readers, said Gebauer, so it's important to "clearly articulate your career ambitions."
That can be especially important for ensuring you don't get overlooked for promotions, if, for example, you plan to take time out to start a family but want to return to work afterwards.
Gebauer said she rejects the idea that you can "have it all," i.e. excel at work while juggling parenthood and other household duties. However, she stressed that taking a break to have a family is "not a lifelong decision," and having a frank discussion with your manager can make it easier to come up with a strategy for dealing with such breaks and reaching your long-term career goals.
Employee resource groups or inclusion committees can provide an excellent way of educating colleagues and advancing your company's diversity agenda, said Gebauer.
Increasingly, companies are putting those kinds of networks in place. If your workplace doesn't have one to suit you, Gebauer suggested collaborating with HR to create one, noting that such groups are most effective when backed by leadership figures.
That could be a direct manager, a senior colleague belonging to the relevant minority group, or a mixture of the two. According to Gebauer, having them on the side could also provide a great opportunity for mentorship.
"You can find individuals who really want to share their experience and guide others," she said. "I find the best are those within your organisation."
Gebauer said that, alongside inherited diversity — i.e. gender, ethnicity, sexuality — there is also acquired diversity, which results from the kinds of experiences you have in your day-to-day life. You should be sensitive to both, and not make assumptions about who may or may not be interested in joining your cause, she said.
"It's all about raising awareness and educating others. But you shouldn't assume that certain people won't be interested — they may actually provide a new way of looking at things."
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