Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion is a top priority for employers today. The Black Lives Matter movement has been pivotal in highlighting the importance of creating a fair society for all minorities and has demonstrated how far away we still are from this being a reality.

Despite a significant focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) from some organisations, a lot of work is still to be done.

Not enough companies are taking the necessary actions to champion true diversity and inclusion within their organisations. For example, A McKinsey study (November 2020) found that diverse team members have struggled the most during the ongoing pandemic – a lack of awareness around diversity, equity and inclusion issues negatively affects employees right now.

The pandemic has challenged the nature of work, job roles, organisational culture, and business strategy, and from this shake-up, we can carve a new path towards increased success in DEI.

In this report, we take a deep dive into the enormity of the DEI conversation and offer advice to Finance businesses looking to become more diverse and inclusive.


How Can We Define Diversity, Equity and Inclusion?

Along with diversity and inclusion, the matter of equity is now often included. ‘Equity’ meaning the validation of each individual, as opposed to when minorities are ‘included’ at a surface level, yet their voices are still not ‘heard’.

An initial problem arises when considering diversity, equity and inclusion because these terms are often interchangeable; they sometimes overlap and usually mean different things to each individual.

To embed a workable DEI policy in your organisation, you must be clear on what these terms represent, which means defining them.

Diversity is being invited to the disco, and inclusion is being asked to dance.”

The above quote from leading diversity expert Vernā Myers is a simple and effective way to explain diversity and inclusion. It is more than just a surface level of ‘representation’; it also needs to include active participation.

‘Diversity’ means difference – and can be split into inherent diversity and acquired diversity. Inherent diversity relates to immutable traits such as race, age and gender, whereas acquired diversity results from characteristics such as background and political beliefs.

It is worth noting that the Centre for Talent Innovation, who coined these terms found that companies with high levels of both kinds of diversity were 45% more likely to have expanded their market share and 70% more likely to have captured a new market in the last 12 months.

Remember, DEI isn’t about displaying the ‘right’ words and phrases on your vision and mission statement. Think about how you will bring your policy to life through daily actions and behaviours? For example:

  • How will you embed your commitments in your culture?
  • How will it link to your company values?
  • What needs to happen for your policy to be reflected in your internal systems and processes?

This includes everything from recruiting, onboarding, performance management, career development programmes, succession planning, how individuals and team are managed, and how senior leaders ‘walk the talk’.

At its core, your DEI policy should exist to create an environment where everyone is on the same level playing field, whether they are a security guard, cleaner, CEO, a first-time manager or a receptionist.

And this doesn’t just mean including pictures of everyone on your ‘about us’ website page; it is about cultivating an environment – every single day – where there is zero discrimination present in a business. Come to think of it, how often do you see even in small companies the ‘meet the team‘ page as essentially a meet the leadership team. This isn’t exactly an example of ‘equity’.

Successful DEI is when tasks are delegated, decisions made, individuals grow and develop, job opportunities are created and filled by the best, most suitable person, because the company’s culture, systems and processes fully embrace diversity, equity and inclusion.

That said, businesses who have focused on DEI in recent years might believe that they are operating inclusively, but there is often more to it than meets the eye.

Consider the following; who is it that speaks first in company meetings?

If it is always the most senior member, this is an example of dis-inclusivity hiding in plain sight.

Hierarchically speaking, if junior members of the team share ideas, how often are these ideas taken on board? Real inclusion is valuing every employee’s voice, no matter their level of seniority or time with the business.

Remember that diversity should mean a ‘diversity of thought’ – it goes deeper than just employing people from different demographics and ethnicities. Genuine diversity comes from a variety of ideas, beliefs and concepts.

Legal Obligations for Employers

Each country has its diversity issues in the workplace, and various legislation aims to improve this; some do it better than others.

World-leading data and insights consultancy Kantar launched the world’s first Inclusion Index in 2019, surveying over 18,000 people in 14 countries. They identified Canada and the USA as the most diverse and inclusive countries. However, none of the countries surveyed scored above 66% of the index, suggesting no countries perform exceptionally well.

The primary laws that exist to ensure equality in the workplace in the U.K. are;

  • The Equality Act (2010), which prohibits discrimination due to age, gender, disability, race, religion and marriage status
  • The Race Relations Act (2000), which, when introduced in 1965, banned racial discrimination in public places and made it a crime to promote hatred on the grounds of race.

As you can see, these pieces of legislation have not been revisited for many years. While we wait for them to be updated, what can employers do to ensure they act in non-discriminatory ways?

It all comes down to businesses holding themselves accountable.

While these laws are in place to stop outright discrimination against anyone due to their race, age, physical capabilities, sexuality or gender, there is still a lot of unconscious bias within organisations. There is growing pressure for employers to take responsibility for writing their own rule book.

Age discrimination is also a legal matter, but it can also be present in attitudes rather than visual discrimination.

This kind of bias is so subtle and widespread; even the BBC failed on this issue. In 2011, Countryfile presenter Miriam O’Reilly won a case against her former employer after being dropped from her role in what has been identified as age discrimination. The BBC apologised, and senior members of staff who were responsible for the decision underwent additional training.

Organisations can operate in a discriminatory way towards older employees and candidates, often unwittingly. Do your job descriptions or adverts use age-discriminatory words or phrases such as ‘fresh talent’ or ‘up and coming’?

Age and experience are often intertwined, but they should not be viewed as a way of defining a person. Do you expect that someone older will have more in-depth knowledge? Or perhaps that they will be less up-to-date with technology? The ingrained ideas around age and the workplace run very deep – and recognising that these stereotypes are harmful is the first step to overcoming the issue.

The gender pay gap is also a legal matter which is shrouded in various levels of transparency.

While women’s rights advocates continue to campaign for pay transparency, many organisations are still secretive with this information.

The gender pay gap in the U.K. is closing – down from 17.4% in 2019 to 15.5% in 2020. However, the pay gap remained the largest in higher-paid roles, highlighting the inequality at top levels.

Currently, only companies with over 250 employees are legally obliged to publish their salary data. Is your organisation transparent with pay scales? An organisation cannot be considered truly diverse or inclusive if they hide behind this information.


Are Employers Doing All They Can?

In every Finance organisation, visible and invisible structures, networks, beliefs, behaviours and opinions contribute to the overarching company culture.

No matter what size your company is, there needs to be a workable system in place and a management team who believe in the system and lead by example to allow real DEI to flourish.

However, even organisations with commendable focus and systems for encouraging DEI can sometimes fall victim to broader infrastructure problems. And this can happen in sectors that have deep-rooted, ingrained stereotypes.

For example, women in the U.K. are four times more likely to work in health and social care than in either manufacturing or construction. Is this down to individual employers, or is it more to do with historical gendered stereotypes still present today?

Although the tide is turning, there is still progress to be made for some sectors to become truly gender diverse.

As an employer, you can have a dedicated focus on improving DEI and if you haven’t already – now is the time to start.

Employers must encourage individuals to believe that they can fulfil their career goals and not be held back by labels. This means giving genuine, equal opportunities to all employees and candidates; it’s about challenging stereotypes in yourself and those around you.

Businesses sometimes pick what makes the most sense to them. On the one hand, working on improving one section of DEI and then moving on to the next seems a logical approach to take.

For example, a company could decide to drive promoting women in male-heavy industries such as STEM roles.

The downside of this approach means businesses work in a small area of DEI. The danger is that this is perceived as a box-ticking exercise instead of viewing it as a holistic challenge which results in shifting values, beliefs and ultimately behaviours.

So let’s look at strategies you can implement to improve DEI in your organisation to create this shift.


Effective Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Strategies to Implement Now

Until recently, DEI was sometimes viewed as a ‘side project’ or an optional extra that some organisations focused on to give them the edge in the employer branding stakes.

But now, as the public’s appetite for equality grows thanks to widespread media and transparency movements, diversity and inclusion are something that employers can’t ignore any longer.

In a recent McKinsey report, DEI was highlighted as playing a significant role in the economy’s Covid recovery. The report states, “companies pulling back on I&D now may be placing themselves at a disadvantage: they could not only face a backlash from customers and talent now but also, down the line, fail to better position themselves for growth and renewal.”

So, how can employers do better?


1. Create a Culture of Respect

An employer can be legally above board in terms of discrimination, and yet there can still be a culture where there is a lack of respect between employees. This is toxic and can be harmful to the progression of DEI.

Think about:

  • Do your management employ ‘old school’ work ethics, such as being overly harsh or critical in an effort to improve standards?
  • Is bad language tolerated in your workplace?
  • What well-known cliques operate in your company?
  • How developed is your employee’s emotional intelligence?

Creating a respectful culture is the first step to improving diversity and inclusion, as acceptance and tolerance, high emotional intelligence, kindness and consideration are all necessary for forward-thinking organisations.

Disrespectful behaviour should not be tolerated, and this message needs to come from the leadership team. Bullish tactics are not an acceptable part of the modern workplace and can lead to discriminatory territory.


2. Internal Training

Employers should also focus on training in any areas where employees need help to create a level playing field in terms of skills and career progression.

Offering excellent training programmes to all employees is one of the best ways to support people with different skills and abilities.

Be aware that individuals from different backgrounds will have different skill sets – a robust training programme is vital for equality. For example, would you encourage the same development opportunities in the part-time mother as opposed to the new graduate?


3. External Consultancy and Training

If you are going to provide training focused on DEI in your organisation, external training is the way to go.

Being trained in these areas by an in-house manager or colleague will lessen the impact compared to an external expert.

This is because it is easier for an internal trainer to sell the company perspective, whereas an external trainer is impartial. They can come into an organisation as a fresh pair of eyes, and they can make the call as to the best approach to highlight ‘potential problems’ they observe and can be more direct in their assessment and recommendations.

If you are commissioning a piece of training, it might not be possible to bring in an external trainer. Your company vision might currently be too narrow for the training to have any kind of impact. There first needs to be an environment where employees fully understand the importance of DEI.

An external trainer must act as a consultancy first to check that the training is even possible, find the gaps and then work out what this means in terms of training within the organisation.

An external trainer’s impartial viewpoint is necessary for DEI training to have a resounding effect. Have you looked into providing DEI training in your organisation? There are various providers across the country; do your research and call in the experts to make a real impact.


4. Genuinely Listen

In your company, would an idea or suggestion be treated with the same respect if it came from somebody at the bottom of the internal ecosystem instead of an executive?

Treating employees inclusively means giving them a voice.

This means listening to everybody at all levels and making organisational changes based on your team’s ideas. It might sound like a radical notion, but some employers do this to great effect.

Multinational Virgin is known for instigating debates among staff to drive innovation and create a better workplace. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. When was the last time someone in an entry-level position was asked for their input on a significant decision?
  2. How did you demonstrate their opinion was valued?
  3. When did you last act on an idea put forward by a junior staff member or someone new to your business?


5. Fair Career Progression Structures

Have structures in place which allow people to progress no matter what their background.

Businesses should not reward generalists over specialists in an unequal way. Most employees are specialists in their skills and abilities, but this very fact can hold them back.

Offer the same development opportunities to everyone; don’t be blinkered into thinking someone will do well over another based solely on their previous employment history and current skill-set.

Offering different people the same opportunities is necessary, but it needs to go further as a leader. It recognises that some individuals who previously have been discriminated against may not feel confident to put themselves forward. As leaders, we need to recognise talent, encourage it, and inspire people to put themselves forward.

At the highest level of your career progression strategy, make sure succession plans also represent your DEI policy.


6. Appraisals

There are a few ways you can build D, E & I into your performance management – consider the following:

  • Base performance on facts, always – sometimes factors such as gender or age can affect a manager’s ability to be objective in performance reviews. Continually assess performance expectations, and analyse whether reviews are in-line with data rather than opinions.
  • Use inclusive language – avoid using words or phrases which perpetuate stereotypes. For example, saying, “I was surprised that you did so well on this project, I didn’t expect that you would have such an interest in this topic” can limit employees’ beliefs that they can progress in areas they are not familiar with.
  • Ask for feedback, and listen – ask your team ‘what more could I be doing to help you be your authentic self at work’ and put into practice their suggestions.

Appraisals are often overlooked in terms of DEI, so it’s a good idea to re-evaluate them through the DEI lens.


7. Accountability

Accountability is something that many businesses lack, which mean it is an area for improvement if your company wants to embrace DEI.

There needs to be a recognition among all employees, from new starters to the CEO, that DEI is not an isolated construct but a core principle of your organisation.

There is also a recognition of the need to educate middle managers on different career progression routes. The older model of starting at the bottom and working your way up should now be challenged.

People study and progress in their careers differently now; you do not require decades of experience to be regarded as an expert any more.

Challenge your own beliefs and discuss your decisions with colleagues – championing diversity and inclusion is about having conversations that others might find uncomfortable.


8. Marketing and Communications

Marketing, both internal and external, has a significant role to play in improving DEI.

There can be discrimination built into the language we use every day, and there are ways we can modify our language to make it more inclusive.

For example, someone tells you a story about their lawyer; if you reply and assume that their lawyer is male, this is an example of the ingrained stereotypes we can challenge by changing our language.

Beth Dunn, UX Operations Lead at HubSpot in a Medium article, states, “Try not to present the privileged, tech-savvy, wealthy, able-bodied, white, cis-gendered, anglo-centric male experience as ‘standard’ and everything else as ‘other’ or ‘diverse.’ Seek ways to place the ‘other’ in the centre of things instead.”

It’s about challenging our own unconscious biases and striving to view the world through the eyes of those who carry less privilege.

Many marketing images are still laden with white, male business-like figures. Think about the language changes you can make in your internal communications and everyday language, as well as external marketing material.

Often companies will arbitrarily include a woman or a person of colour into their images to appear more diverse; if you’re trying to appear more diverse than you are, you are engaging in performative DEI.

The Issue of Performative Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Sometimes companies get it wrong.

With an increased focus on diversity in recent years, we have also seen a rise in performative DEI, appearing to be an inclusive employer on the surface and failing behind the scenes.

An example of this is when businesses go out of their way to create an inclusive hiring process and a diverse shortlist. They hire diverse employees but then fail to make them feel included. This happens when DEI strategies are not embedded and implemented within the business. It could also be because the strategy is too vague or even non-existent.

Employees are increasingly less tolerant of employers who don’t deliver on health and well-being, diversity, and inclusion.

Some businesses will hire ‘diversely’ and then fail to make the new recruit welcome – this must be addressed.

A high-profile example of performative DEI occurred in the wake of the Black Lives Matter
(BLM) 2020 movement when brands came out to show their support for racial inclusivity.

Beauty brand L’Oreal posted a message supporting the BLM protests, after which former employee Munroe Bergdorf spoke out, stating that the brand had ‘thrown her to the wolves’ in 2017 when she was fired for posting about “the racial violence of white people”. Bergdof has since re-joined the L’Oreal team on the company’s U.K. diversity and inclusion advisory board.

Finally, as companies look to improve DEI, let’s look at the role recruitment companies have to play.


The Implications for Your Recruitment Process

Improving DEI all starts with recruitment.

Evolving your recruitment strategy and processes is the easiest way to champion inclusion and make your workforce more diverse.

But as with the issue of performative diversity and inclusion, your hiring processes should not be made more diverse solely to look better to the outside world. There needs to be a DEI support mechanism to assist employees during their onboarding and as they begin to build their new career.

What organisations should not forget is that recruitment is about finding the best person for the job – and not hiring arbitrarily to fulfil quotas. Create an environment of inclusivity, and this will permeate through your hiring and the type of talent you will attract.

As long as the recruitment company you work with has a matrix that is non-biased, you are doing the right thing – how prominently is DEI featured in your current hiring process?

How often are you having conversations among the hiring department about how diversity, equity and inclusion can be incorporated into your hiring decisions?

Below are some of the first places to look to make your recruitment strategy more inclusive.


1. Use Inclusive Language in Your Job Descriptions

Audit your previous job descriptions and look at how you can make them more inclusive by changing the language. You might notice that the language you have used in the past was geared towards certain demographics – this can happen when you start the recruitment process with an idea of the ‘type’ of person you want already in mind.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to mention that you welcome candidates from all different backgrounds.


2. Have Managers Complete Unconscious Bias Training

Unconscious bias can derail the recruitment process. Implement training for everyone involved in your recruitment processes on how to spot and eradicate unconscious bias to create a fairer system.


3. Use ‘Blind’ Recruitment in the Early stages

This means considering employees without being aware of personal details such as name, age, ethnicity, sexuality etc. Scrutinising candidates in this way creates an equal playing field, although it can be difficult to achieve in practice without the right recruitment and CV tools. Talk to your recruitment provider about blind recruitment and how it could work for you.


We will be able to work with you on your current hiring process to advise on implementing excellent recruitment strategies.

To find out more about our recruitment services, contact us today