Head of Executive Education Edinburgh Business School
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D&I needs to move up the workplace agenda

1st Dec 2020
Head of Executive Education Edinburgh Business School
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According to a new research report from Udemy wellness training in the workplace in 2020 has unsurprisingly gone up. However, the fact that it has grown by a staggering 4,000% is more of an eye opener.

As the pandemic continues to keep many of us homebound, organisations are increasingly looking for ways to ensure that they stay connected to their teams and that each person is supported in this new working environment.

Over the past months I have heard of many great examples of initiatives that businesses have put into place. These range from our own Employee Assistance Programme which provides free and confidential counselling and advice on a range of topics and issues through to more fun wellness initiatives such as Lunchtime Funded Hour, where employees are encouraged to get away from their desks and do something totally unrelated to work such as painting, walking, baking etc. Employees can access a fund to help pay for their chosen activity.

It strikes me that times have changed from the obligatory offering of gym membership which was viewed by many organisations as the token panacea for mental and physical wellbeing. Go to the gym and all your ills will be cured – you’ll get fit AND get the head space away from your desk. And whilst this is undoubtedly beneficial and certainly for many a nice to have, for many others it was not a benefit and it failed to address any underlying issues. And that’s what is important. The underlying issues. Mental health has over the past few years risen up the agenda. With patrons such as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge supporting charities to help end the stigma surrounding mental health, increasingly we are becoming more aware of the health of ourselves and others. But is it enough? The stats say no. One of the largest contributors to mental health issues are feelings of isolation, which is why diversity and inclusion (D&I) are so important for workplaces today.

They say birds of a feather flock together. It is therefore unsurprising that in many workplaces across the world you find clusters of similar people with limited diversity. The communication industry, for instance, in comparison to other media sectors has a very low percentage of BAME employees – and in fact there is a charity; the Taylor Bennet Foundation; which aims to address this imbalance by training BAME graduates and finding placements for them in agencies around the UK.

For the LGBTQ community there are also no-go sectors. Each year the Human Rights Campaign Foundation puts out an annual Corporate Equality Index (CEI) to measure the LGBTQ equality policies of companies. Each one is scored on a scale of 0 to 100, based on criteria such as non-discrimination policies, equivalent spouse and partner benefits and public commitment. The engineering sector was found to be the least LGBTQ progressive with no companies scoring 100%. The hospitality sector on the other hand received a score of 67%. And outrageously in the US it is still legal for employers to fire gay and transgender workers for their sexuality in 17 states.

And in terms of gender, according to the 30% Club, only 20 per cent of FTSE 350 CEOs are currently female.

Age is also an issue. Age discrimination for tech workers now starts at 29 according recruitment firm CWJobs. It’s no surprise then that 61 percent of workers in the sector answered ‘yes’ when asked if, in the tech industry employees experience prejudice when considered to be older, the highest of any UK sector.

And despite the Equality Act one fifth of disabled workers feel like they are discriminated against at work. Three quarters do not disclose a disability on their CV for fear of being overlooked.

Despite these clear signs of discrimination for minority groups, the fact that these statistics have been calculated and that these counter measure initiatives exist is positive. Also in most cases employers don’t go out of their way to be discriminative. The problem is subconscious bias. People like to hire people that remind them of themselves. It is human nature and most of the time totally unconscious. However, this bias can actually be damaging to an organisation. Studies show that a business is likely to perform better if its workforce is more diverse. Recent McKinsey research shows that the least diverse companies, in both gender and ethnic terms, are 29 per cent more likely to underperform in terms of profitability.

What is clear is that, like mental health, D&I now also needs to rise up the agenda as it is part and parcel of wellness. Consequently is it time you thought about looking at diversity and inclusion training for your teams?

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