Much to my surprise, I have just recently read an article in People Management magazine entitled: “Why Are We Still Getting Inclusion Wrong?”[1]  This surprised me because I thought that many organisations and companies in the UK were making great progress in their understanding and application of diversity and inclusion initiatives and that this was, slowly, becoming a less contentious issue.  

Then I read about the Cadbury Unity chocolate bar, which was meant to be a symbol of diversity and inclusion in that it went from milk chocolate through 3 shades to dark chocolate in one bar.  And I had to agree that this not only over-simplified a complex issue but was also horribly patronizing. 

Then I read that a survey by the Young Women’s Trust[2] reported that 1 in 8 UK companies are still reluctant to employ women they thought might become pregnant, and that 14% still took into account whether a woman who was pregnant or had young children in making decisions about career progression and promotion. 

Reading through the People Magazine article the statistics became eye-opening.  Privately educated people make up the majority of judges, 43% of news media and 34% of chief executives of PR firms – all of this despite the fact that only 7% of the population went to an independent school.  And there’s more, particularly around the inclusion of BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) and LGBT+ groups (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual plus – the “plus” is inclusive of other groups, such as asexual, intersex). 

People with their hands in a circle

So, there is much bias still, both direct and indirect. 

Direct discrimination is, of course, illegal.  Protected characteristics listed in the Equality Act 2010 make it clear that to directly discriminate on the basis of any of these at any stage of employment will likely result in legal action being taken and the company will lose. 

But indirect and unconscious discrimination is more pervasive. The example above of the different treatment of women is still an issue that should give food for thought.  Thirty years ago I attended an interview where I was asked directly if I was thinking about having children, as the interviewer (a man) couldn’t afford to have a woman go off and not come back. 

The introduction of legislation designed to give either parent the right to maternity and paternity and parental leave is a good step forward, but we aren’t anywhere close yet to the Scandinavian countries where it’s normal for a woman to return to work if she is the higher wage earner and the father to stay at home.  There’s far less macho angst than there would be in Britain if this country were to adopt those laws and this seems unlikely to change in the near future.

But in the long-term future?  It’s a chicken and egg thing. Do more men want to stay at home with a new baby in sufficient numbers to bring about a change in the law?  

If the law changes to allow a father to spend a year at home with his new child with 70% of his pay, would that change attitudes in the UK?  I’m not sure. 

In our main article on the benefits of Equality and Diversity in the workplace, the writer referred to a case study of a young Asian woman who was promoted by her company but wasn’t comfortable.  And the reason for this leads to the core of the problem: the company she worked for promoted her to “get their numbers up”.  

In other words, there was no commitment to diversity and inclusion.  The commitment was to be seen to act in a way that appeared to support the issue, so that the company could talk about this in its promotional activity. 

In our more recent article on Making Reasonable Adjustments, we talked about there being “no one size fits all”.  In other words, just picking up an issue and running with it because it might have worked elsewhere does not address the issue. 

In looking at genuinely wanting to ensure diversity and inclusion each company should act for itself, look at its own workforce and policies, etc and decide if it can be better within its own context, and how this can be achieved.  

Where to start? Basic measuring and monitoring is a good place

First, gather your current information.  For example: 

·         What is the ratio of men to women in your company? 

·         How many men hold senior positions as compared to women?

·         How many BAME staff are there in your organisation and does this reflect your local community balance?

·         How many BAME staff are in senior positions?

·         If there are BAME staff in senior positions, were they recruited or did they gain their positions through experience and merit?

·         Look at the most recent 5 hires.  Who was the hiring manager? What was the range of applications? What was the outcome? 

Office workers sat in a circle with their hands in

When you get the results of your initial survey/information gathering, if you find that your senior staff are all white men and your junior staff are all women and BAME people, then what message are you giving to both your existing and new staff?   That you may say that you value diversity and inclusion, but you don’t practice it. 

And to go back to the story of Nisha, the 34-year old British Asian engineer from our earlier article who felt that she had gained her promotion to make up numbers, not because of her experience, that company lost a highly qualified and experienced member of staff because their commitment was only skin deep. 

It’s all about individual experience. The next step on from gathering information is to ask the staff what they think, see, feel and experience about the diversity and inclusion of their workforce.  If this is a private survey, with no names revealed, then the company will be able to gather information about the experience of LGBT+ staff, how they feel they are treated, if they have been able to work comfortably with other staff knowing that they are LGBT+.  

The value of the information gained in individual responses cannot be underestimated.  If the company finds that it has a culture of anti-gay behaviour, then this is sufficiently serious to review the entire culture and decide how to make changes. 

And making changes based on all the information received is the final part of the review.  As we all know, long term sustainable change isn’t easy, but if the company can bear in mind that it is probably losing valuable staff who take their expertise to other competitor companies then surely that alone is worth spending some time to check on whether it is sufficiently diverse and inclusive to attract the best staff in the first place. 

What are some of the remedies?  

Training and education are the most obvious.  But for staff to understand why this is necessary they should see the outcome of the information gathering.  And getting their input could be helpful in determining what kind of training/education should first be tackled.   

Maybe they will make suggestions about how they can improve day-today D&I issues through focus groups and other managed open discussion. And the changes to come from the review shouldn’t just be about training staff.  There are also the issues of policies and procedures, attitudes of leadership and values. 

The HS2 project has seen some interesting challenges in diversity and inclusion.  There is a wide perception that engineers and rail workers will be men. Therefore, the hiring decision was to remove CVs and application forms and replace them with an anonymous skills-based assessment.  This approach increased the diversity of applicants at shortlisting stage from 17% to 47% for women and from 14% to 50% for BAME groups.[3] 

The current legal requirement to report on the gender pay gap only refers to companies with more than 250 staff, but it’s an annual requirement and there will come a time when that number decreases.  So it’s worth taking a look now at how pay is decided upon and whether or not there are gaps between the pay to men and women performing the same job, that cannot be in any way justified. 

But in the end, it comes back down to the attitudes and experiences of the individual.  And listening to what they have to say is the only place to start.

[1] People Management September 2019

[2] Youngwomen’ 2017

[3] CIPD Case Study People Management Sep 2019