Diversity and inclusion at work: facing up to the business case

New CIPD research considers the outcomes of diversity at work, the barriers keeping inequalities in place and how organisations can make work an equal business

The moral and business cases for diversity and inclusion at work are compelling; equal access to, and opportunity at work is simply the right thing to do for individuals and society and makes sense for businesses too.

Despite welcome progress in some areas there is undoubtedly more work to be done. According to the 2016 Parker Review, the current focus on gender diversity in the UK boardroom ‘has not benefited women of colour to the same extent as it has women who are not ethnic minorities’. It’s clear that progress needs to accelerate to make work an equal business. To do this, we need to understand what works when it comes to diversity and inclusion, and in what context.

The evidence on diversity and inclusion at work

The CIPD’s new report, Diversity and inclusion at work: facing up to the business case, finds a wealth of research into the performance outcomes of diverse teams, underpinning the business case for diversity. The evidence base is complex and the relationship between diversity and performance isn’t linear, with context playing a significant role.

However, this shouldn’t deter organisations from pursuing diversity and inclusion; we need to challenge the narrow notion of the business case and ensure the case for diversity takes into account human outcomes such as well-being. There is an increasing recognition that inclusion is key to unlocking the potential of diversity.

Unsurprisingly, our research finds that discrimination and bias (whether conscious, or unconscious) clearly exists at work, with negative outcomes for individuals, from psychological impacts to reduced access to the labour market.

While discrimination and bias can exist anytime, there are several points in the employee lifecycle where problems are particularly common. For example, call-back rates for interview are lower for many minority groups, and even structured interview processes may not fully mitigate unconscious bias. Such biases also influence individual experience at work, from performance evaluations, progression and pay.

Taking action to drive change

People professionals are in a unique position to champion the importance of an inclusive culture, and provoke sometimes difficult conversations, alongside focused intervention. We make some key recommendations for people professionals to drive change at specific points in the employee lifecycle alongside wider cultural and policy considerations below:

Attracting candidates

  • Review job adverts for gendered or other biased wording.
  • Review talent attraction methods, including recruitment webpages and other branded resources.

Candidate selection

  • Examine recruitment data to understand how diverse the talent pool is at each stage of the selection process.
  • Ensure hiring managers understand the provision for reasonable adjustments, are confident in being able to apply this, and are provided with support to put them into place.

Access to flexible work

  • Review flexible working policies and analyse take-up in your organisation. If flexible work is available, but not used, what barriers are at play?
  • Ensure jobs allow flexibility and think creatively about how jobs can be designed as flexible; as well as flexi-time and part-time working, are options such as job-sharing and self-rostering feasible?

Organisational culture and policies

  • Review existing data (such as employee surveys and culture measures) or collect additional data to understand whether employees feel the organisation is inclusive and values individual differences, alongside pay and progression data to highlight where intervention may be needed
  • Ensure organisational policies treat everyone fairly, taking into account an intersectional approach. It is often necessary to have policies to support specific groups (such as working carers), but the needs of other groups should also be noted.

Facing up to the business case

Whilst the moral case for diversity is clear, there is also a wider case for diversity that benefits organisations, such as enhanced corporate reputation, employee retention and financial performance. However, any business case for diversity should hold both human and business outcomes in balance and recognise the benefits at not only an organisational level, but from an individual and societal perspective too.

By focusing on only how diversity can impact the businesses bottom line, there is a danger of oversimplifying the relationship between diversity and organisational outcomes and failing to talk about inclusion- in other words, how do we support a diverse workforce?

Diversity representation is undoubtedly important, but hiring a diverse pool of talent is necessary but not sufficient to be truly inclusive. We need to talk about what inclusion looks and feels like at work to realise the benefits of diversity.

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