D&I: Is it working?

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With the introduction of gender pay gap reporting, and regular media coverage about discrimination in the workplace, diversity and inclusion has become the main topic of discussion when it comes to social justice issues. I’ve previously written on the benefits of a truly diverse workforce, and while there is widespread agreement that it is good for business, there is still more to do if we are to make a meaningful change. In fact, recent research shockingly reveals that levels of discrimination in the UK are unchanged since the late 1960s.

During the study, 3,200 CVs were sent out containing names of people from a variety of different ethnicities. The applications were for manual and non-manual jobs, including software engineers, marketing professionals, chefs and shop assistants. The results, which were gathered by the Centre for Social Investigation at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, revealed that ‘applicants’ from minority ethnic backgrounds had to send 80% more applications to get a positive response from an employer than a white person of British origin. When compared to a similar study dating back to 1969, it was seen that discrimination against black Britons and those of south Asian origin – particularly Pakistanis – had remained unchanged for almost 50 years.

Why is there no change?

It seems that while people are becoming more aware of diversity and inclusivity issues, it is still extremely difficult to get people to change their behaviour. Individuals may have the right intentions, however this study suggests that unconscious bias is still prevalent and having a detrimental impact on the recruitment process. Without realising, people are allowing prejudice to creep into their decision-making while hiring. Due to the mechanics of the unconscious mind, hiring managers are choosing individuals that look like them or possess characteristics that are socially perceived as favourable. Unfortunately, we are often unaware of how we are judging someone or applying bias to them through our own background, culture and personal encounters. In fact, Project Implicit’s Race Bias Test, revealed that male Europeans displayed the highest bias across all groups, and in the UK, two thirds of people polled who were in top executive positions showed bias they may not have been aware of.

What is diversity today?

Diversity and inclusivity can trigger different meanings amongst people. While some may automatically think of BAME individuals, others may consider gender or disability. Regardless of what comes to mind first, it is imperative that HR professionals consider all minorities in the workplace in order to achieve real inclusivity, not only in the recruitment process, but also once individuals are in work.

A new study from LGBT+ organisation Stonewall, suggests that acceptance of bisexual and trans people in the workplace is lower than acceptance of gay and lesbian employees. While almost 90% of gay men and lesbians say their workplace is inclusive, only 57% of trans people do. The figures for bi women and bi men are 69% and 63% respectively. These figures show that while progression is being made in some areas, other minorities still feel overlooked. Employers must do more to tackle these issues.

When it comes to disability in the workplace, there is also still significant work needed to be done to level the playing field: while 80% of people without disabilities are employed, only half with disabilities are.   

Why do organisations need to be diverse and inclusive?

Our society is an impressive melting pot of people from all backgrounds and walks of life. The majority of businesses’ clients reflect this mixture, and workforces should accurately mirror the diversity of the customers they serve. There are numerous business-related benefits to a diverse team such as being more likely to capture a new market or improve existing market share. However, being fair and moral should be at the forefront of every company’s efforts. All individuals deserve opportunities to develop their skills and have their work recognised.

There has been a significant increase in the amount of BAME people with degrees, and according to the McGregor-Smith review, helping black and minority ethnic people to progress in their careers at the same rate as their white counterparts can add £24 billion to the UK economy. Unfortunately, the current labour market is still not utilising this talent. According to a leading thinktank, analysis showed that Pakistani and Bangladeshi people are about 12% less likely to be in work than white British graduates, and that Indian and black Caribbean graduates have a jobs gap of about 5%. The data also showed that black African and Bangladeshi graduates are twice as likely to work in low-paying occupations as white graduates.

If businesses were to practice diversity and inclusivity, it is likely that they will see greater profit. According to a McKinsey study, US public companies with a diverse executive board have a 95% higher return on equity than those with non-diverse boards. Other than physical financial benefits, businesses will be able to attract and retain talent better by boosting their employer brand. A survey by PwC showed that 54% of women and 45% of men said they researched if a company had D&I policies in place when deciding to accept a position with their most recent employer.

It all starts with the recruitment process

The great news is that there is an extensive and diverse talent pool waiting to be tapped into - you just need to hire them. As we have gathered, unconscious bias can affect even the most ethical HR team, so it is perhaps sensible to involve a third-party staffing firm to provide a fresh perspective and innovative approach. Working with good recruitment partners that use blind CVs and tailor the language in their job adverts to attract everyone for example, will allow you to have access to greater diverse talent.

About Nick Bowles

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