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The Inclusion Illusion – study reveals 'endemic' D&I failings in UK workplace

Susi Donaldson tells HRNews how ‘buy-in’ at senior level is vital for success with a diversity and inclusion strategy

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  • Transcript

    They are calling it ‘The Inclusion Illusion’. New research by the CMI has revealed that, despite the appearance of an ‘all-inclusive’ workplace culture, many employees in the UK are based in organisations that have systemic challenges when it comes to workplace inclusion. We’ll consider what employers can do to improve that picture.

    The Guardian reports on this, describing the findings as ‘worrying’. They say the CMI’s data – a poll of over 2,000 employees – suggests that UK employers may be paying lip service to promises to promote equality and diversity, rendering workplace inclusivity an ‘illusion’ two years after the Black Lives Matter protests. The CMI says the figures reveal ‘complacency within UK organisations that is a barrier to future economic performance and organisational success.’

    Personnel Today reports on this, highlighting how black, Asian and LGBTQ+ workers have been disadvantaged. More than 70% of black and Asian workers have been overlooked for employment opportunities whilst 65% of LGBTQ+ workers had a similar experience. The latter group also experienced the highest levels of harassment and bullying.

    In response to the findings CMI chief executive Ann Francke said progress with diversity and inclusion was ‘evident but painfully slow’. She said ‘We can’t afford to wait two generations to harness all of our available talent given the economic, societal and environmental challenges we face. Employers and managers must strive to go much further than paying lip service to equality, diversity and inclusion, and commit to addressing the inequalities that exist.’

    We agree with that - businesses do need to fully commit to addressing inequalities. It needs to be a strategic priority within the business, driven by HR, with support at the most senior level - and that is something we are helping a number of our clients to achieve. Susi Donaldson is involved in that work and she joined me by video link from Glasgow to discuss it:

    Susi Donaldson: "It’s absolutely essential that this flows from the top and boards should be absolutely instrumental in the development and implementation of their racial diversity, equality and inclusion policies. We need to ensure that they're role modelling the correct behaviours, there needs to be executive sponsorship for these initiatives, and it needs to be embedded into the company's overall strategy. So, I would say it should be a standing item on the board agenda, for example, and there should be the key performance indicators. Board members could be involved in various mentoring schemes, for example, and also should be encouraged to be open about how they progressed to the senior levels within the within the organisation."

    Joe Glavina: "So what's your key message Susi. One point for HR to focus on?"

    Susi Donaldson: "I think it's absolutely critical to have the data. If you don't know what is going on within your organisation you can't take steps to improve your policies and procedures, there's no measurement there for you, there's no reference point. So, I think the first step is for organisations to gather the data and then, once they have the data, they can set aspirational targets and have some accountability. So many of our clients, for example, at the moment are in the process of collecting their diversity data and traditionally, because it's sensitive data, special category data under the GDPR, companies would do this on an anonymous basis, but I think there's a growing realisation that this sort of data has much more value if it can be linked to the individual. For example, many companies are now gathering the data through their HR systems and where it can be linked to the individual it means that you can track progress in terms of diversity, so you can track the effectiveness of your policies and procedures, your succession plans and talent programmes and promotion schemes in terms of the different diversity strands and that feeds into your target setting. Equally, there are a lot of organisations for example who are proactively reporting on their ethnicity pay gap even though it's not yet a mandatory requirement and, again, that sort of initiative just helps to shine a spotlight on the issue of ethnic diversity, helps them to understand what's happening within their organisations and to devise their initiatives accordingly."

    Susi has talked to this programme a number of times on the subject of diversity and inclusion and written several articles issues with a sector focus - most recently on how the pandemic has stalled progress on the gender pay gap in construction. You can find all that on the Out-Law website.

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