Equality, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) has certainly been a hot topic in the HR field of late. Shocking world events have triggered developments in the world of work to better embrace diversity and attract wider talent (though there is, of course, always room for improvement). But ED&I has been widely accepted as a key attribute of a successful business.
Indeed, there’s been a wealth of research reports showing why equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace is so important. And unconscious biases are now widely recognised as a trait that we all have. But recognising that it exists is the first step in helping address the ED&I agenda. This has, in part, led to more forward-thinking employers investing in the development of inclusive workplaces which naturally result in more diverse workforces. And the benefits have been widely documented.
In fact, McKinsey’s latest inclusion and diversity (I&D) report, the third in a series of research papers, sets out the business case for diversity. According to its 'Diversity wins' paper, the corporate value of these initiatives is greater than ever in a post-pandemic environment:
“The business case for inclusion and diversity (I&D) is stronger than ever. For diverse companies, the likelihood of outperforming industry peers on profitability has increased over time, while the penalties are getting steeper for those lacking diversity.”
The research revealed some highly interesting trends:
- There is a 48 percent performance differential between the most and least gender- diverse companies.
- In the case of ethnic and cultural diversity, companies in the top quartile of diverse leaders outperformed those in the fourth by 36 percent in terms of profitability.
- There continues to be a higher likelihood of outperformance difference with ethnicity than with gender diversity.
This is just one recent example of data that shows why implementing an efficient equality, diversity and inclusion strategy is so important. But in these uncertain and constantly evolving times, knowing how to get ED&I right and ensure its future is a challenge.
The many facets of ED&I
It’s important to begin with a look at the many levels of diverse talent. When many businesses look at building a diverse workforce there are common characteristics or demographics that are considered. The more widely recognised ‘areas’ or ‘projected characteristics’ (age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation, marriage and civil partnership and pregnancy and maternity) already make executive discussions.
But there are so many more strands to diversity:
- Disability inclusion: According to the ONS the unemployment rate for disabled people was 46.5% between July and September 2022. This compared to an unemployment rate of 18.4% for people who are not disabled.
- Ex-offenders: In the UK, roughly 11 million people have a criminal conviction. This shows that a large portion of society is vulnerable to unfair recruitment practices.
- Social mobility: This segment often gets overlooked, and the impact of this is certainly being noted. In fact, in 2021, the Social Mobility Commission warned that the UK has struggled with the “damaging impact” of Covid-19 and as a result social mobility which is “already stagnant” could move backwards.
- Neurodiversity: According to recent estimates, around 15% of the UK population are neurodiverse. That means a significant proportion of the workforce also fall into this category. While there’s been an encouraging move towards better inclusion initiatives to support neurodiverse talent, creating an environment that is appropriate and appealing for this audience remains a challenge for those businesses that are yet to fully understand and appreciate the adjustments that are needed.
- And much more!
A truly inclusive workplace, then, isn’t one that focuses on a particular segment, but rather creates a work environment that welcomes and nurtures all talent. One where employees feel valued and empowered by equality, diversity and inclusion initiatives. But how can you achieve this in your firm?
The key to a successful diversity and inclusion strategy: Trust
One of the biggest factors in achieving a successful diversity and inclusion strategy is trust.
Indeed, diversity and inclusion specialist, the Clear Company, outlined in its 'Guide to flexible working' that trust is a key trait of an inclusive leader. The presenteeism culture that has long existed in too many workplaces has certainly been removed for many, and we’ll only continue to see this shift as remote working remains in place. But to make it work and to ensure that an inclusive company culture is truly nurtured, there needs to be trust in your employees.
It’s important to add that this extends to the equality, diversity and inclusion strategy that’s built for your business as well. As seasoned talent experts know, you can’t simply force a business culture on your workforce and assume everyone will fall in line.
A company’s culture – and in turn, its ability to be diverse and inclusive – is driven by the talent the business engages. And it needs to be defined by them, not by the executive team. Senior leaders need to create an inclusive environment and to do this, they need to trust their staff to drive ED&I themselves.
Getting it right
Beyond the need for trust, there are many other ways that those involved in talent acquisition and management can create a meaningful equality, diversity and inclusion strategy:
- Involve managers from the start: If you’re to get buy-in from the whole company, ED&I needs to be welcomed and adopted at the top and filtered down to the business, from the CEO to the most junior employee. By involving managers from the start, it is much easier to get their support for any initiatives.
- Make it natural: As mentioned above, truly inclusive cultures can’t be designed, they evolve. Forcing views and initiatives on the workforce won’t have the desired impact.
- Consistency is needed: While ED&I is constantly evolving as the world of work shifts and adapts, consistency in terms of the message and stance of the business is needed. The communication to the entire workplace – whether that’s permanent, temporary, contingent or external – needs to be aligned to avoid conflicting messages.
- Passion is a key driver: Diversity and inclusion efforts will be wasted if they are not driven by those who are truly passionate about the subject. It’s important to add that this doesn’t have to be someone at management level or in the talent team. Instead, look at the resources in your business and identify who has a personal desire to create an inclusive workplace.
While equality, diversity and inclusion has certainly moved up the corporate agenda recently, the business environment we find ourselves working in now could see ED&I continue to change rapidly in the near future.
The pandemic has created a level of equality that has long been battled for by some audiences. With travel requirements and geographical borders now irrelevant for many in a remote working environment, it will be interesting to see how the disabled community will benefit, having always required a degree of flexibility from employers for remote work environments. It is also encouraging to see mental health becoming a much greater consideration by employers.
However, the economic climate does present some concern. With cost-cutting a priority for many businesses and budgets tightening, ED&I could be impacted. However, it’s crucial that employers keep diversity on the executive agenda. In the short term, letting inclusion drop off the priority list could impact productivity among existing teams. In the longer term, it’s likely to impact your employer brand. People will remember how your business handled this time of change and uncertainty. If your company is to be in the best position to compete for top talent in the future, its actions on D&I now need to be strategic (note that this doesn’t have to be costly, though).
In fact, McKinsey’s 'Diversity wins' report, echoed this sentiment:
“Some of the companies we have spoken to are viewing I&D as a “luxury we cannot afford” during the crisis. We believe that these companies risk tarnishing their license to operate in the long term and could lose out on very real opportunities to innovate their business model and strengthen their business recovery.”
And with the makeup of the workforce changing – with a greater reliance on contingent and external talent, as well as an increasing use of service providers – future proofing your equality, diversity and inclusion strategy to cover all areas of your workforce is now vital for your competitive stance.