We pull out key findings from our recent Inclusion at Work survey report, in partnership with Reed, giving valuable insight into what employers are doing in practice to create more diverse, inclusive and fair workplaces. 

As discussed in my last CIPD Voice article, under half (48%) of employers surveyed have an I&D strategy or action plan in place (either standalone or as part of their wider people strategy). And a quarter of organisations have a reactive approach to I&D, for example in response to mandatory reporting requirements or societal events. This is disappointing as meaningful and lasting change in UK workplaces requires a genuine, long-term and whole-business commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion. In our press release, we urge employers to be proactive in their approach to I&D and formalise these efforts in a strategy or action plan.

However, our survey found that the majority of employers are likely to be doing something to try and improve I&D in their organisation, even if not guided by an overall strategy or plan. We asked which specific practices they use and then, interestingly, we asked a selection of those using each practice about its effectiveness. We also asked employers to tell us what areas of I&D, or personal characteristics, their organisation has focused on over the past 5 years as well as what they’re planning to focus on in the next 5 years. Here’s an overview of the findings. 

What specific practices are organisations using to improve I&D?

We asked employers which I&D practices related to recruitment, HR policies, people management, employee development and communication they’ve adopted.

The top 3 most common practices used to make the recruitment approach more inclusive are: 

  • reviewing job descriptions to accurately reflect the requirements of the job (43%)
  • making reasonable adjustments where possible throughout the recruitment process (34%)
  • and using structured interviews (for example standardised questions) (33%). 

The least-used practices were concerned with encouraging applicants from underrepresented groups, including targeting job adverts, outreach and giving underrepresented groups guidance on the recruitment process.

We asked a selection of those who said they used a practice about its effectiveness. To highlight just one finding here, although giving underrepresented groups guidance on the recruitment process was the least used recruitment-related practice (used by just 6% of employers), it was rated highly in terms of effectiveness. 

Some of the lesser used activities to make the recruitment approach more inclusive are examples of positive action that we know many employers are nervous about taking. We believe positive action programmes should form a central part of any I&D strategy. My colleague Lutfur Ali is producing practical guidance for employers to help them use positive action in a way that delivers a step-change in equality of outcomes and impact in employment for discriminated-against and marginalised people in their organisations. If you would like to find out more about this work and share your thoughts and current practice, please do email Lutfur: Lutfur.ali@cipd.co.uk  

Looking at what employers are doing to make their people management approaches fairer and more inclusive, the top 3 most commonly used practices are: 

  • managers are trained in how to address conflict in their teams and deal with any concerns and complaints (25%)
  • training managers in fair and inclusive people management (23%) 
  • and training or awareness sessions for all employees on inclusion and diversity topics 23%). 

All practices related to improving management capability had low uptake but were rated highly in terms of effectiveness. For example, 87% of those who said they train managers in fair and inclusive people management and were asked about it, said it’s effective in helping create an inclusive and diverse workforce.

Which areas of I&D, or personal characteristics, are organisations focusing on?

The most common areas of I&D employers have focused on over the past 5 years are mental health (29%), race/ethnicity (23%) and gender (21%). This is no surprise given the greater societal awareness of and attention on these areas, driven largely by significant world events of the past few years. But also independent reviews, supported by government, aimed at increasing representation; gender pay gap reporting; discussion around the possible introduction of ethnicity pay gap reporting, to name but a few drivers of action.

In contrast, other areas are receiving much less attention. Just 5% of employers have focused on making their organisations more inclusive with respect to gender reassignment, and only 7% have focused on neurodiversity. Religion and belief have been a focus for 8% of employers, and just 9% looked at how to improve I&D in relation to social mobility/socio-economic status. Table 4 on page 27 of the report provides the full list of areas we asked about. We’re planning to further develop our resources in some of these areas, providing practical recommendations for action, starting with an upcoming guide on creating trans inclusive workplaces.

There are significant differences in focus in terms of size of organisation, which are important to highlight to give context to the findings. Large organisations are significantly more likely to be focusing on all the personal characteristics apart from age, for which there is almost equal focus. For example, although 29% of organisations we surveyed overall said they are focusing on I&D relating to mental health, 41% of large organisations are doing so, compared to 27% of SMEs. 

Interestingly, we asked employers to tell us the reasons why they chose particular personal characteristics to focus on. Two key motivations for focusing on the majority of the personal characteristics as to do with improving people’s working lives and the benefits such a focus will bring to their organisation. This is encouraging, suggesting employers are motivated by both the business benefits of I&D as well as the social justice argument for action. 

However, what is concerning is that the response option of ‘data showing there are inequalities in this area within the organisation’ did not appear in the top 5 list of reasons for focusing on the inclusion and diversity of any of the personal characteristics. This is disappointing and, together with other findings from the survey, suggests a lack of data-driven and evidence-based EDI practice. 

Future plans 

It’s concerning that 36% of organisations say they’re not planning to focus on any areas of I&D/personal characteristics over the next 5 years. This compares to just 5% of organisations who said they haven’t focused on any areas of I&D in the past 5 years. Of course, although the 36% of employers may still be taking action to improve inclusion, it’s worrying that this proportion of employers are saying they’re not planning to focus on the inequalities experienced by specific groups.

We found that this shift in focus is evident across organisations of all sizes. However, the biggest shift is in the SME population. Two possible reasons are that SMEs haven’t planned that far ahead, as we know they’re less likely to have a formal strategy or plan in place than larger organisations and are less likely to be proactive in their approach to I&D. Or it may be that they may no longer have the resources to dedicate to I&D with current priorities taking over. In the report, one of the practical recommendations is about I&D approaches needing to be tailored to the organisation context. We highlight how a focus on I&D can help support SME growth, giving some ideas of practices to consider based on the findings.

A further concern when looking ahead is that the percentage of employers saying they plan to focus on each area or personal characteristic is notably smaller. For example, 15% of employers say race/ethnicity will be a focus for their organisation over the next 5 years, compared with 23% in the past 5 years.

What next?

There are a number of areas which we’d like to explore further in the next edition of the survey. For example, the extent to which organisations are focusing on both diversity and inclusion. And to understand more about why employers are not focusing on particular areas of I&D/personal characteristics. Also, it would be interesting to include tracker questions to see if there is the shift in focus that a significant number of organisations anticipate, examining the reasons for any increase or decrease in focus on EDI. 

We’ll be using the survey data to help inform our areas of work at the CIPD and policy engagement, as well as working together with Reed to inform and inspire employer practice. We’re keen to invite members of this policy forum to input into the design of the next Inclusion at Work survey

About the author

Jill Miller, Policy Adviser, Diversity and Inclusion

Jill is Senior Policy Adviser for Inclusion and Diversity 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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