The virtues of an inclusive and diverse workplace

Inclusion & Diversity action plan
Behind the scenes
20 July 2020

A cross-functional team of eight Air Liquide colleagues – drawn from the Netherlands, Belgium, the UK and the Nordic countries – was put together to identify how inclusion and diversity could be better embedded in Air Liquide’s teams in the North-West Europe (NWE) cluster. A number of inspirational initiatives were the result.

“Inclusion and diversity are wide-ranging concepts, so we had to choose our focus points first,” explains Rana Nasrallah, one of the Belgian-based team members. “Based on our own research, as well as on the results of an internal survey of Air Liquide NWE employees, we decided to focus on gender diversity and inter-generational inclusion. We were given a year to put together an action plan to support the ongoing work by our human resource teams.”

An internal survey had revealed that women represent about 22.5% of Air Liquide’s NWE workforce (2018 - 2019 figures), while the group’s 2020 KPI is aiming for at least 30%. The employee survey also discovered that employees in the 45-65 age category scored lower on the “inclusion” question (the feeling that their perspective is valued) compared to other age categories. These findings led the Diversity and Inclusion Team to develop a pilot programme in these two areas.

Everybody wins

It is essential to keep an eye on gender and age diversity in the workforce, not just from an ethical standpoint, but also because it is in the best interests of the company: “Simply put, the more diverse a group of people, the more diverse their ideas and solutions for a given challenge will be”, Rana adds.

“Imagine there’s a group of people with the same gender, age and cultural background who have followed the same course of study. If this group needs to solve a problem, there is a good chance that the solutions they come up with will also be similar,” Rana points out. “But if the group consists of men and women from different age categories and cultural backgrounds, they will probably bring more diverse solutions to the table.”

“Knowledge transfer is another focus for us. We have to make sure that knowledge and experience are valued and shared between the different generations within the company.”

From diversity to inclusion

Research shows that, in general, people perform better if they are engaged and feel part of the company. A company with a diverse workforce is also more attractive as an employer, making it easier to recruit new people.

“Diversity is about employing people from different demographic groups like age, gender and cultural background, while inclusion is about making sure every team member feels comfortable and at ease speaking out freely,” explains Judith Leiter, a Diversity and Inclusion team member based in the Netherlands. “It is important that everyone feels they are listened to and that they get the same opportunities.”

The team developed initiatives to improve inter-generational inclusion, such as a buddy system for new employees, ideas around senior career planning and more. To improve gender diversity, the team proposed a programme where job ads are co-written by both female and male employees in the expectation that elements of particular interest to women will be included. Another important initiative was a programme to invest in personal protective equipment for women, so that any woman who visits an Air Liquide site will find safety equipment that properly fits her.

Diversity and inclusion ambassadors will be appointed in every country in the cluster to ensure that locally deployed initiatives that were part of the Diversity and Inclusion pilot programme are extended more widely across the cluster.

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