There is no doubt that the last 18 months have been some of the most uncertain times many of us will have ever experienced. COVID-19 not only challenged us on a personal level, but also economically and environmentally too.
Its impact on employment rates is substantial, especially amongst minority ethnic groups, with numbers dropping by 5.3 percent in just 12 months. This is in comparison to a 0.2 percent decrease for white employees. It is also hitting young people hard, with 18-24 year olds being almost three times more likely to be unemployed compared to older workers.
Although the numbers make for bleak reading, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not only are we starting to see UK businesses prioritising their diversity and inclusion strategies again, but many are taking it to the next level by focusing on inclusion first, and diversity second. So what is I&D?
Being Truly Inclusive
To many D&I and I&D might sound the same, but there is an important difference that anyone truly committed to employing diverse talent needs to understand. Just because a business is hitting its diversity targets does not mean it is an inclusive place to work. There could be a significant turnover of diverse staff because of the lack of inclusivity, or that talent could not be progressing as it should.
For instance research* found that employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds take 25 percent longer to progress through a company, despite no evidence of poorer performance. This increases to 32 percent for those employees who also identify as Black.
Well, the tide is turning on this. Proactive and market leading businesses that have put inclusion first, have reversed this trend and are feeling the benefits of levelling up their teams.
Recent studies from McKinsey & Company show that businesses in the top quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity outperform those in the fourth quartile by 36 percent in profitability. The same study highlighted that those in the top quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 25 percent more profitable than those in the bottom quartile.
There are some significant factors which have caused this I&D momentum to build.
Inclusivity Driving Forces
For all the horrors and tragedy that have coincided with the arrival, and seemingly endless stay of COVID-19, it has actually had a positive effect on D&I culture within UK businesses. For example, it brought with it the rise, and in some cases introduction, of flexible and remote working. This has been particularly welcomed by many of the underrepresented groups, such as parents with young children and those with disabilities.
Businesses allowing employees to operate in this way have opened the doors to a huge amount of talent that has historically not been able to do a ‘normal 9-5’. This is the same for those not able to travel, or those that are not comfortable in an office-style environment.
On top of this, being a more virtual world has allowed young people, and in particular those from underrepresented or disadvantaged groups, to participate in virtual work experience programmes, providing them with valuable, necessary skills whilst negating geographical and socioeconomic barriers.
The rise in highly analytical mentoring programmes has also enabled multiple inclusion challenges to be tackled.
Mentoring can act as the first touch point with a future employee, but it also can ensure current workers feel like they belong in their role. For instance, with the perfect pairing of the parties involved, mentoring offers support and empowerment to underrepresented groups, teaching people lifelong employability skills and giving them networking opportunities.
Such mentoring perhaps most commonly involves senior employees pairing up with their more junior colleagues, to show them that someone who looks like them, shares the same cultural beliefs, or has a similar backstory, has progressed through the company. However, we’re seeing analytical reverse mentoring also having an impact on inclusion. Take the tech industry where age discrimination is a potential concern, younger employees mentoring older employees and supporting them in their learning of digital skills is proving hugely beneficial to everyone involved.
No matter how the rise in I&D has come about, the benefits it brings are substantial. It will benefit the UK’s economy, the businesses getting it right, the senior people within those organisations, and the new hires finding their way in their careers. It is a win/win.
In order to continue the momentum building, we have to ensure that people are not just going through the motions and treating diversity as a tick box exercise. Just because you hired the right amount of people, doesn’t mean you have done it right, or that your business will reap the rewards. Creating an inclusive culture will not only ensure a more diverse pool of talent stays, but it will also make an employer more attractive to others. It lessens staff turnover, saving the business money, and it makes the business more profitable.