Ignore the media attacks... Your ED&I agenda matters and it's employees who should be guiding it

ED&I is never far from the headlines and it often feels like it’s a divisive issue. But these attacks only serve to distract HR leaders from their main focus: Listening to employees to create an engaging and equitable experience for all...
HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
Ignore the media attacks... Your ED&I agenda matters and it's employees who should be guiding it
ED&I media attacks can distract HR from its purpose

“Jeremy Hunt tells staff to sack diversity managers to recruit more people,” reads a headline from The Telegraph. “UK financial regulators face City backlash over diversity drive,” says another from The Financial Times. “Health Secretary Steve Barclay orders NHS to stop recruiting for diversity and inclusion roles,” is a third title, this time from The Evening Standard.

Any HR, ED&I, or people leader taking a customary glance at the latest news – these examples were plucked at random from October 2023 – on the state of diversity and inclusion in the UK could be forgiven for having a glass half empty view of their work. These days, it seems that debate and division on the role of ED&I programs are never far from the headlines.

Plenty of politicians, business leaders, and celebrities or influencers are happy to chuck their opinions into the mix and stoke the fire of yet another culture war.

This narrative can make it difficult for HR teams to focus on their true purpose. ED&I leaders in particular have to battle to avoid spending their entire time justifying their very existence. The debate becomes distracting and it's all too easy to listen to the noise, rather than those who really matter: Your employees.

Is ED&I up for debate?

It’s certainly true that ED&I is going through a bit of a rethink. Companies including ASOS have scrapped diversity and inclusion targets for their leadership. Others, like X and Snap, have axed ED&I team members. There’s no doubt that many of these changes are done for the wrong reasons, influenced by attacks on ED&I in the media. “I believe it is being attacked,” says Sheree Atcheson, Group VP of Diversity and Inclusion, Valtech. “We see politicians discussing diversity and inclusion in ways that are unhelpful and facetious, leading to a divisive rhetoric.”

Rising supply chain costs are also reshaping ED&I efforts. “There is no business area that isn’t affected by this and ED&I is no different,” notes Atcheson. “This means a shift of focus in priorities, with less focus on hiring and external partnerships, and more on retention and supporting the growth of the current workforce.”

We see politicians discussing diversity and inclusion in ways that are unhelpful and facetious, leading to a divisive rhetoric

Sheree Atcheson | Group VP of Diversity and Inclusion, Valtech

But despite rising costs and rampant rhetoric, the work does not need to stall or stop. “Rising operational cost pressures and other breaking issues might be distracting, but in my mind, ED&I is resilient both in its place on corporate agendas and as a strategy for growth and development in both tough and good times,” says Lucy Kuri, VP of People & Organization for Global Emerging Markets, Mars.

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