How can HR implement D&I into the business strategy?

HR has a central role within any organisation's D&I strategy but how should it be embedded within a business’ strategy?

Words by Jade Burke | Design by Matt Bonnar


Back in 2018, HR guru Josh Bersin branded diversity and inclusion (D&I) a ‘very hot topic’ in a blog post - something most Hr practitioners will have known already. And, it has continued to be one of the most integral aspects of any workplace, something that every HR practitioner has had to manage and drive – yet it isn’t always so simple. D&I encompasses a number of factors - from race and religion and gender, to age and disability and cognitive function - meaning crafting an appropriate approach to D&I may be tough to implement within the business strategy.

According to Wild Goose’s 2019 Diversity & Inclusivity in the Workplace survey, 55% of UK employees surveyed stated that disability inclusion was the top aspect of diversity their organisation could improve on, meanwhile when asked if they thought their place of work was inclusive, 26.5% said no, compared to 73.5% who said yes. While these figures are promising, work still needs to be done when it comes to factors such as equal pay. For example, findings from 2019 revealed that companies within the public sector are still struggling to close the gender pay gap. The Guardian previously reported that women are in fact paid an average 86p for every pound to men, in these firms.

Recognising and acting on what employees want when it comes to D&I is essential to boost productivity and morale, but research has also discovered that having a diverse organisation can actually lead to higher profits. A study by Harvard Business Review in 2018 supported this, as it found that companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues. This is a notion supported by Elaine Bremner, Chief HR and Talent Officer at media agency MediaCom. She tells HR Grapevine: “We know that D&I can have a direct impact on the bottom line so there is a serious business consideration for it to be a priority. It's well recognised that diverse companies are more creative and more productive; research also finds diverse companies to be more profitable. This in itself ensures D&I is an integral element to any business strategy.”

It's well recognised that diverse companies are more creative and more productive

Not just a ‘box-ticking exercise’

Having a progressive strategy when it comes to D&I is something that will be on the radar of many HR leaders. Whether that is striving for better gender parity, hiring more BAME employees or ensuring the workplace is appropriate for any individual with a disability, HR leaders hope to be able to ensure an organisation is inclusive for everyone. While this may be true, Kelly Metcalf, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing at tech services company Fujitsu UK & Ireland, warns that D&I shouldn’t be viewed as a ‘box-ticking exercise’ and should in fact be ingrained within any business strategy. “Too many organisations view D&I as a box-ticking exercise. The reality is that D&I needs to be fully incorporated into a business’s DNA for the benefits to be realised,” Metcalf suggests.

With this mind, HR teams should strive to find out exactly what a workforce expects from an organisation when it comes to delivering a better D&I strategy, but how can this be achieved?

Benefiting from D&I

Julie Dennis, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Acas explains that all employers can benefit from greater diversity and inclusion, and the business case is clear:

  • Employees who feel valued are more likely to be engaged with their work, and inclusivity increases productivity in the workplace.
  • Diverse teams bring an advantage in relation to customer insight, helping us design better policies and services.
  • Diverse views around the table lead to more innovation and new ideas.
  • As a great inclusive employer, we are better able to attract and retain great people.

Driving the data

For HR practitioners to fully drive D&I into the business strategy Metcalf suggests that to achieve this HR must drill down into the employee data available to them, to ensure the workplace is serving the needs of its staff. “Whilst there are many steps businesses can take to facilitate a diverse and inclusive environment, before this can happen, businesses need to take a step back and look at the data. This includes the diversity information for their current workforce, talent pools within the external market and the experiences that diverse communities have within the organisation. Understanding the data and using it to evidence where progress is needed can be a great lever to commanding the attention and commitment of senior leadership,” she adds.

This is a notion that is also supported by Acas' Julie Dennis at the public body Acas. She explains: “Use the knowledge you have of the workforce to provide robust data-based evidence that shows the need to change. Make sure you engage stakeholders in gathering and owning that data to ensure you achieve ownership across your business.”

Too many organisations view D&I as a box-ticking exercise

Attracting talent

While implementing D&I within the business strategy will help to ensure every current employee feels included (by ensuring it is an important part of operations), guaranteeing that D&I is intrinsically linked to a business’ strategy will also ensure that organisations are keen to attract the best talent possible. For example, a Glassdoor study previously highlighted that two-thirds of jobseekers say a diverse workforce is an important factor when evaluating companies and job offers.

This, according to Acas’ Dennis says can lead to a far more diverse workforce, which in turn can help build a more inclusive, positive culture, something that many jobseekers and employees want from an organisation. “The more inclusive our workplaces, the more attractive employers are to a diverse prospective workforce and the more likely they are to see a diverse range of staff progress and thrive in their organisations. Greater diversity in an organisation leads to a more inclusive culture,” she explains.

Research from the World Economic Forum also supports this. The body found that by the year 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be Millennials. This group is also far more concerned about D&I, believing it to be an important factor when taking up a new job as 47% cite this is an important factor compared with an average of 35% of older workers.


A snapshot of D&I

  • People with disabilities are more likely to be working part-time than those without disabilities House of Commons Library
  • 32% of LGBT employees choose to hide their sexual orientation - Market Inspector
  • Just eight per cent of women say they have never experienced gender bias in the workplace - ISACA
  • Only one in 16 top management positions are held by an ethnic minority person - BITC

Taking ownership

While initiatives can be put in place to improve recruitment, encourage a more open culture or drive fairer pay, if these notions are not supported by the business as a whole then a D&I strategy will not be as effective. This is something that Dennis alludes to: “In order to be successful, D&I needs to be owned by the business and not just HR. You know you have succeeded when the business takes the initiative for example by running positive action programmes in their specific business areas to increase gender or ethnic representation. A key role HR can make is to be a critical friend of the business as they take on ownership of integration.”

In order to be successful, D&I needs to be owned by the business and not just HR

She also adds that HR should not get disheartened if a new initiative takes time to prove fruitful, pointing out that overnight success is not guaranteed but that HR should be prepared to take action and make changes in order to drive D&I within any business strategy. “Integrating D&I successfully with business is not an overnight activity, plus one size does not fit all. So, what may work for one business may not necessarily work for the other. The key thing is to understand your business using data and then you can understand what your priorities are.

“Be prepared to take risks and learn from your mistakes. And don’t take no for an answer, no matter how big the problem or barrier may be, there is always a solution.”

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