How to make your business more inclusive according to a diversity and inclusion expert

Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion founder Michael Bach has never seen an employer enforce a zero-tolerance policy.

We all want a workplace that accepts us for who we are. It’s 2SLGBTQI+ history month in Canada, and while it’s good to hear that the Government of Canada is taking steps to support the 2SLGBTQI+ community through a federal action plan, it’s also an opportunity for businesses to place their diversity and inclusion policies under a microscope.

Michael Bach, founder of the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion (CCDI)—a social organization with offices in Toronto and Calgary—and the CEO of its consulting arm, CCDI Consulting, says that in the 15 years that he’s worked in this field (including having served as KPMG’s head of diversity in Canada and deputy chief diversity officer globally), he’s never actually seen an employer enforce a zero-tolerance policy. 

“If you’re going to have a code of conduct, then it has to be enforced,” he maintains. “The first time someone does something, I think it’s better to educate them to help them understand why their behaviour was not inclusive. The second time, maybe then we have to actually look at the zero-tolerance policy.”

READ MORE: Q&A: Michael Bach makes the business case for diversity and inclusion

More often than not, when someone says something offensive, you’ll hear that they’re a really good performer or that they bring in a lot of business. Bach heard that a lot himself until one day he decided to calculate how much a homophobic employee was costing the organization he was working for at the time. 

“Turns out, that person was costing us as much as they were bringing into the firm,” the UVic grad recalls. “They were costing us in things like voluntary turnover rates, lower levels of engagement, lower productivity, lower innovation and lawsuits, because the guy was just a bully. But we were only looking at the value of the business that he brought into the organization.”

What inclusive workplaces look like

Bach has written two bestselling books on the topic of inclusive workplaces called Alphabet Soup: The Essential Guide to LGBTQ2+ Inclusion at Work and Birds of all Feathers: Doing Diversity and Inclusion Right. Over the years he’s come to categorize 2SLGBTQI+ people into two groups in the office: one is a person who is closeted around their sexuality or gender identity and the other is a person who has come out to people in the workplace and thus ends up playing the role of an educator.

While the closeted person has a constant awareness of identity (maybe they’re doing mental calisthenics to hide a relationship that they’re in or code switching by using opposite sex pronouns), the one who has the role of the educator thrust upon them is fielding questions that are often inappropriate. In either case, these individuals are not doing the job that they’re in the office for. 

Contrary to what many business leaders today might think, Bach considers participating in Pride celebrations to be the “least effective mechanism” to attract and retain 2SLGBTQI+ talent. “Who goes to a pride parade thinking, I’m looking for a job?” he asks. “They’re half drunk, they’ve got black tape on their nipples, they’re dancing around in a tutu, they’re not looking for their next employer… there’s a process to make sure that you don’t have as many 2SLGBTQI+ people going out the back door as you have coming in the front.”

He recommends sponsoring local organizations to get your name out there, holding recruiting events targeting 2SLGBTQI+ people, and ensuring that when such talent enters your organization, they’re not faced with discrimination. Particularly for people who don’t have passive privilege (maybe they’re non-binary and present very gender-neutral), that person needs to be in an environment where they’re embraced, not tolerated. 

“My mother in law, may she rest in peace, she tolerated me,” says Bach. 

As an employer, it’s important to put the pieces in place so that an employee’s experience lines up with the marketing statements. In realizing that safe space, the key is to educate all employees on their role in creating an inclusive workplace, having strong policies and using inclusive language (for example, “parental leave” vs. “maternity leave”). 

“Policies are the foundation of the house,” Bach adds. “Without a good foundation, the house falls down.”