Diversity & Inclusion for Retailers : An Employer's Perspective

  • By Shaherazad Umbreen

Diversity & Inclusion for Retailers : An Employer's Perspective

A modern business should be inclusive, but what exactly does inclusion mean and how can retailers do more in this area?

Every business should strive to promote a culture of inclusion and appreciate the values of diversity. This guide will provide useful information about what exactly inclusion means in the modern workplace and how retailers can do more to enable both their employees and their communities to benefit from this.

What exactly is inclusion in the modern workplace?

The practice of being an inclusive workplace involves treating every individual with the same level of respect and ensuring that every member of the team feels able to participate in work-related tasks (and social activities) actively and freely. Although there is legislation in place to prevent discrimination, it’s always beneficial for employers to go the extra mile to actively support measures that promote inclusive behaviour and foster an environment, in which everyone feels able to play a part.

In its most basic form it means respect for and appreciation of differences in ethnicity, gender, age, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, education, and religion. But, being truly inclusive means so much more than this.  It means fostering a working environment that values individual and group differences within its workforce. It enables an organisation to embrace the diversity of backgrounds and perspectives of its employees, which in turn increases their talent, innovation, creativity and contributions.  Inclusion is a call to action within the workforce that means actively involving every employee's ideas, knowledge, perspectives, approaches, and styles to maximise business success.

The difference between doing the bare minimum in terms of adhering to guidelines and being an exemplary inclusive workplace lies in using diversity and inclusion to add value to that workplace and encouraging every individual employee to enjoy and take pride in what they do and how they may be “different”.  An effective strategy to breed inclusion should actively engage and enthuse the workforce and ensure that every person feels able to get involved in work life. Inclusion will undoubtedly improve self-esteem, increase productivity and enhance wellbeing.

Diverse Group of Women Wearing Shoes by Shaherazad

The modern workplace is a very different proposition to those of generations gone by, and businesses should seek to encourage equality, collaboration and the chance to perform on a level playing field. The law dictates that factors such as race and gender should never hold anyone back, but employers can go a lot further and promote policies and ideas that underline and celebrate the importance of ensuring every individual is valued and treated in the right way.

Remember, an inclusive workplace is likely to be a happier, more productive place.

What should retailers be doing to be more inclusive for the workforce?

Being inclusive has never been more important. If you read the papers or watch the news, there are debates on this subject on a daily basis. In the context of the workplace, there are many ways in which retailers can do more to promote inclusion in both the workforce and the wider community.

It’s important to recognise the difference between diversity and inclusion. A diverse workplace isn’t always necessarily an inclusive entity. You can have a diverse workforce while still having individuals on board who don’t feel valued or like they’re part of the team. The ethos of a modern workplace should focus on celebrating both diversity and inclusion. The key is to work towards building on foundations that concentrate on ensuring that everyone is respected, everyone has the right to participate at work, and everyone is supported. It’s not about encouraging everyone to behave in the same way, it’s about welcoming differences.  Once you know that this is the aim, how do you go about doing this?

Collaboration and communication are key to creating an inclusive culture. Get the workforce involved in discussions, ask for opinions and ensure everyone has the opportunity to speak if they wish to. Open up the floor to debate, encourage cooperation and teamwork and lead by example. Inclusion is a goal that should be shared by all. It’s also really beneficial for retailers to talk to employees and find out how they feel, what would they change and how they believe the working environment could be improved. You may find that you think that the workplace is inclusive, but some employees may disagree. Learn from mistakes and understand the value of feedback. If issues are flagged up, you can address them and ensure that you move in the right direction. Change is a staple, and it’s always advantageous for retailers to be open to adjustments and evolution.

Spending time together can help to build relationships and strengthen ties. Be mindful of the kinds of activities people are interested in and the type of events or outings that could benefit them. Try and search for ways to bond that will involve and enthuse everyone.

Retailers should be aware of the importance of respecting the beliefs, traditions and values of individuals. By offering specialist training, groups that promote interaction or policies that cater for individuals, you can work to ensure that every individual is able to go about their daily business feeling respected, confident and cherished.

Woman in a headscarf

An inclusive environment requires both individual diversity awareness skills and effective organisational systems that support diversity and inclusion.  Cultural competence is a set of attitudes, skills and behaviours that enable organisations and staff to work effectively in cross-cultural and cross-ability situations.

Practical examples of what individuals, groups and the work force in general can do

There are so many ways in which work places can make a significant shift towards being more inclusive.  Here are just a few examples:

  1. Set inclusion goals for the organisation which can be linked to the overall business objectives.
  2. Encourage staff to complete Engagement Surveys and listen hard to the feedback.
  3. Apply effort in demonstrating inclusion such as encouraging leaders to chair committees, take non-executive board roles, or lead events which contribute to inclusion awareness.
  4. Encourage leaders to become experts, even “spokespeople”, for diversity issues which are not personally their own.
  5. Be aware of less obvious inclusion elements such as socio-economic background and education level.
  6. Make an effort not to book important conferences on dates where a number of attendees may be celebrating significant religious events such as Eid, Hanukkah or Diwali.
  7. Assure staff that noticing difference, and then welcoming it, is a good thing.  Gone are the days when it was acceptable to say “I don’t notice what colour / size / age people are” as through not noticing comes a lack of awareness of individual’s needs, struggles and context in life.  For example, saying you’ve noticed that someone has a disability means not ignoring the opportunity to support someone who faces barriers because of that disability.  Notice; acknowledge; then welcome the opportunity.
  8. Think about the language senior leaders use and how it could be made more accessible (and therefore more modern) within the workplace.  Imagine how it might feel to be a black person in a team listening to a “black sheep” analogy, or a devout Christian listening to a company manual being referred to as “The Bible”.  The former example is racist and yet more often than not racism will not be the intent of the speaker; and the latter can often be deemed as blasphemous and cause offence, again often without intent.
  9. Be considerate when it comes to dietary inclusion.  A “lunch included” meeting becomes frustrating when vegetarian and vegan sandwiches are served on the same tray as the meat sandwiches.  Even more frustrating is when dietary requirements are not considered at all.
  10. Understand your organisation’s gender pay gap.  Then do everything you can to address it.  Remember to tell your work force what you are doing and why.
  11. Becoming a more inclusive place to work takes time and there is not a final destination as there are always new ways to improve.  Be tolerant of staff members who do not yet appreciate the value of diversity.  Negative behaviour can often come from ignorance rather than malice so a concerted effort to educate over time will make a big impact.

Championing inclusion in the community

Retailers don’t just have a duty to encourage inclusion and diversity in the workplace. There is also a responsibility to engage with local people and champion these values in the local community. There are many ways in which retailers can become more inclusive, from working with a diverse range of organisations, authorities and charities, to supporting the availability of products and events that involve different parts of the community and the community as a whole. Building partnerships, supporting others and getting involved in schemes to raise money for good causes can all help to make ties more robust and encourage individuals and groups to get involved and feel like a valued part of the community. Building an inclusive network, which reaches out to every corner, will undoubtedly strengthen community spirit and foster an environment of equality and togetherness.

2 women standing

Inclusive retailing is non-negotiable

Inclusion is a word you come across on a regular basis when talking about modern workplaces. There are laws in place to promote elements of inclusion, but retailers and businesses can do a lot more to try and create a welcoming environment which celebrates every single individual. A modern workplace should focus on valuing every member of the team and building a culture and an ethos based on collaboration. An inclusive workforce is more likely to be a happy, efficient and productive workforce. There is a broad spectrum of techniques that can be used to champion inclusion from making policies that protect individuals, as well as encouraging them to get the best out of their job, and listening to feedback from employees to nurturing togetherness and promoting teamwork. Outside of the workplace, it’s possible to reach out into the community and extend the value of inclusion by incorporating every group in events and activities and building partnerships with a diverse range of third parties and organisations.

Shoes by Shaherazad is proud to be leading the way in inclusive retailing.  Check out our range of empowering heels and flats here.

Much Love,


Shoe Empowerment Officer


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