The CIPD’s new Inclusion at Work 2022 survey, in partnership with Reed, found that almost half (47%) of employers don’t have an inclusion and diversity (I&D) strategy or action plan in place. Furthermore, a quarter said their I&D approach is entirely or mostly reactive, for example in response to mandatory reporting requirements or societal events.

These findings are disappointing as meaningful and lasting change in UK workplaces requires a genuine, long-term commitment, with equality, diversity, and inclusion being fundamental principles on which every aspect of the organisation operates.

In the survey, employers told us that two of their key motivations for focusing on specific areas of I&D (e.g., gender, age, neurodiversity, and working carers, to name just a few we asked about) were to improve people’s working lives and the benefits such a focus will bring to the organisation. This is encouraging, reflecting that creating a fair, diverse, and inclusive organisation is the right thing to do as well as making business sense. 

However, there’s been a shift in the percentage of employers saying they’re not planning on looking at any areas of I&D between 2022 and 2027, compared with the number that focused on it in the previous five years. Five percent of employers said they hadn’t focused on any areas of I&D in the past five years. However, 36% said their organisation is not planning to focus on any I&D areas in the next five years. What we don’t know are the reasons for this shift, for example, the extent to which this forward planning hasn’t been done yet, if the senior decision makers completing the survey about their organisation aren’t aware of plans (an issue in itself), or the extent to which attention on current economic challenges has displaced focus on I&D. 

The top three areas of focus for employers are mental health (29%), race/ethnicity (23%), and gender (21%). The percentages focusing on each is low, with a slightly lower number saying they’re planning to look at each over the next five years. The survey report provides the full list of I&D areas we asked about.

In addition to questions about strategy and approach to I&D, we also asked employers about the role of line managers and leaders in improving I&D in the organisation, and whether and how employers collect and use I&D data. The findings in both of these areas point to the need for further investment and action – here's a few of the findings. 

Line managers’ job design is not supporting inclusion

A significant barrier holding managers back in this area of people management is the design of their roles. Just over a quarter of survey respondents (28%) said that managers are not given the time and resources needed to demonstrate a tangible commitment to I&D, and only 29% of managers have I&D as part of their performance objectives. Could a lack of effective job design help explain the finding that just under half (47%) of employers say that inclusion and diversity considerations take a back seat to operational imperatives, for example when managers are urgently hiring?

The survey suggests some employers are already taking steps to equip managers with the skills to manage inclusively. Interestingly, although just 23% of employers say they train managers in fair and inclusive people management, 87% who do this and were asked about it say it’s effective in creating a more inclusive and diverse workplace. In fact, all of the manager-related practices aiming to improve I&D had low uptake but were rated highly in terms of effectiveness.

Leaders need to role model inclusive behaviours and hold others accountable

Leaders can benefit from training like any other member of staff. Ensuring they have capability and confidence in this area is especially important as employees will look to them as role models. They need to exemplify inclusive behaviour as well as ensure inclusion is a key consideration in strategy and high-level business decisions. 

Around two-fifths of employers say senior leaders completely understand what equality (41%), diversity (39%) and inclusion (37%) mean. Just around three in ten (31%) say leaders completely understand how an inclusive workplace and diverse workforce can benefit the organisation.

In just 29% of organisations, tangible action on inclusion and diversity is part of how senior leaders’ performance is judged. As well as leading the way through their actions and behaviour, leaders also need to hold others accountable for creating an inclusive workplace. 

I&D data and insight is essential for buy-in, investment, and planning 

Data is needed to inform and plan activity and to review the people management approach, through identifying issues and tracking progress. Data is also essential to make the case for change and to challenge inaccurate perceptions of I&D and its importance in the business. This includes making the case for budget for I&D, which the survey found just 7% of organisations have, with a further 20% funding I&D activity through a wider training budget. 

It appears that the appetite for I&D data is there, as 61% of employers said that senior leaders are interested in the inclusion and diversity data collected in their organisation. Furthermore, around half of employers (49%) said there is a demand for more I&D data. However, inclusion and diversity data is only included in an organisation’s dashboard and shared with other business functions in a minority of organisations (28%). And in just 21% of organisations, inclusion and diversity data is connected to other organisation and business data.

Key challenges for HR are to understand the employee experience of different groups and at different employment lifecycle stages, examine how to improve data collection, interpretation, and usage, and to link I&D data to other business metrics. 

Seven recommendations for practice

These are just some of the headline findings from the Inclusion at Work 2022 survey and accompanying executive summary. We provide information on what UK employers are currently doing with respect to inclusion and diversity at work, how effective they’ve found specific practices to be in improving I&D in their organisation, and their future plans. Most importantly, the findings show areas where more action is needed. 

From the data, we’ve drawn out seven recommendations for people professionals to help improve or re-energise their approach to I&D, ensuring it’s a core operating principle. 

  • Build an evidence-based long-term plan or strategy with impact measures to track progress. 
  • Take a data-driven approach to gain buy-in, investment, and maximum impact. 
  • Critically assess your people management approach with an I&D lens. 
  • Enable managers, including through job design and training on core people management skills, to fulfil their key role in creating inclusive workplaces. 
  • Support leaders to champion I&D as role models and hold others accountable. 
  • Tailor your I&D approach to your organisation context. 
  • Take a long-term view; don’t take your foot off the pedal.

Summary

A large body of research shows there is a substantial amount of work to do before we can claim equality of opportunity in UK workplaces. Change needs to happen across all aspects of society, with employers playing a key part in that, taking a whole-system approach to ensure fair treatment and equality of opportunity at work. There is huge opportunity for organisations, across sectors and sizes, and we hope that our work will help increase the pace of progress.

In the report we link to our existing resources on these topics, and we’ll continue to engage with the HR profession on the findings, looking at key themes in more depth in 2023. To return to the title of this article, a whole-business commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion starts with taking a proactive approach to understanding the issues in your organisation and then developing an evidence-based strategy or action plan. 

We believe such a strategic commitment, together with effective implementation of activity to improve and address the barriers to equality, diversity, and inclusion can help businesses tackle many of the challenges they’re currently facing. For example, addressing skills shortages, aiding retention, contributing to a cost management focus, enhancing customer service, and ultimately demonstrating a genuine desire to being a socially responsible and sustainable business. It makes business sense and is the right thing to do.

About the author

Jill Miller, Senior Policy Adviser, Diversity and Inclusion

Jill is Senior Policy Adviser for Diversity and Inclusion at the CIPD. Her work focuses on the areas of gender, age and neurodiversity and she has recently led work on race inclusion, managing drug and alcohol misuse at work, and supporting employees through fertility treatment, pregnancy loss and still birth. Earlier in her career, Jill specialised in small business growth through good people management and employee wellbeing.

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