Business Reporter guest blogger Nick Matthews calls for UK business to update approaches to diversity and inclusion
Is your organisation’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy more about keeping on the right side of legislation than equality? Is your management team distracted by making “reasonable adjustments” to cope with the 2010 Equality Act, rather than ensuring a level playing field for workforce opportunities?
If you’re quietly nodding yes to these questions, you’re not alone.
Many UK businesses need to update their approach to diversity and inclusion as evidence mounts of failing D&I programmes and, even more importantly for the longer term, changing demographics in Western countries which are bringing a younger, more self-aware workforce with wholly new expectations. Bosses must better understand the make-up of their workforce before they make D&I planning part of the company culture.
Demographic data and newer, smarter approaches to diversity monitoring tell a tale of pervasive inequality. The UK Government’s 2011 Census found that the white ethnic group had the highest employment rate of all 16 to 64 age groups, for both men and women, while the proportion of unemployed men was highest in the black and Caribbean groups. For women, unemployment was highest for black African, Caribbean and other black groups.
Fast forward eight years to a new survey of D&I programmes – affecting nearly 35,000 employees around the world – which found that BAME and LGBTQ groups don’t think companies’ decision-making is in their interest. While 69% of straight white men say their views are taken into account, only 57% of black male employees, 52% of LGBT women and 44% of black women held this view.
The survey also revealed gender disparity on the way companies are seen to be run: only 69% of straight white women saying they have equal opportunities to succeed compared to 80% for straight white men.
Because it draws on “representative” data (identifying who is in the workforce) as well as their workforce experiences, this new type of workplace engagement and culture research delivers deeper insights than the traditional company diversity survey.
A disconnect between strategy and experience
If it is not addressed, this disconnect between well-meaning (but failing) corporate inclusion strategies and a more diverse workforce’s actual experience will only become more acute amid rapid and fundamental demographic change. Research by the London School of Economics and other universities suggest that ethnic minorities will comprise 35-40% of the UK population by 2061 and a majority by the end of this century.¹ These studies demonstrate that minorities are increasingly influential in the workforce and will become the defining voice in the future.
But companies cannot address such a yawning gap by imposing “top down” D&I programmes. The UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel Development cites US academic research over a 30-year period showing that D&I initiatives often run aground because they restrict middle managers’ autonomy. As a result, company executives tend to resist or simply ignore diversity initiatives, negating their impact.²
Stronger actions needed
UK companies need to take several practical steps to ensure that their D&I strategies reflect these changes:
First, UK organisations need to collect better information to understand their workforce’s changing needs. Sadly, Britain is a laggard compared with countries such as US and Australia with the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission saying that only 36% of UK companies collects in-depth data on diversity.
But it isn’t simply a question of an annual diversity survey for the shareholder report, or tagging a few questions to an existing questionnaire. Today’s next generation employee engagement research tools show that firms that collect in-depth D&I data about the workforce’s representation as well as individual employees’ experience are more likely to analyse and act on the findings.
Second, organisations need to accept that diversity cannot be a standalone challenge. Academic and recent industry reports shows that management teams making D&I part of every facet of everyday workplace life, will successfully deliver on D&I target outcomes.
Third, management teams taking a “small wins” approach, such as being more transparent in their decision-making or making it easier for employees to engage with senior executives on these policies, see an uplift of 4% to 8% on target outcomes.
UK plc’s managers still have a lot to do to make diversity and inclusion part of company DNA and a practical proposition, rather than a troubling compliance matter, for individual departments. But the path forward, driven by better insights into our workforce, celebrating diversity in our places of work and seeking quick wins, is clear.
¹ What the UK population will look like by 2061 under hard, soft and no Brexit scenarios, London School of Economics, Brexit blog, 2019
² The CIPD’s 2019 leaflet Diversity Management That Works cites Dobbin, F. and Kalev, A. (2016) Why diversity programs fail, Harvard Business Review, 94, No 7/8, pp 52–60.
Nick Matthews is general manager EMEA at Culture Amp, the people and culture platform
Main image courtesy of iStockPhoto