Who are we overlooking in the workforce?

Diversity & inclusion forms part of the backbone of any good HR strategy, but who should it be servicing? 

Words by Kieran Howells|Design by Jonathan Balallo

Coronavirus has brought to light many key issues within the workforce. Mental health and wellbeing has taken a front seat in the minds of many in the field of HR, largely due to the toll that the virus has taken both personally and professionally on the nation’s workforce. Yet, in the race to ensure that business is still performing at optimum efficiency in the eye of the COVID-19 storm, it may be the case that other lynchpins in the HR portfolio, such as diversity and inclusion, have been relegated to the sidelines.


According to CNN research, Millennial and Gen Z demographics are the most diverse in history: only 56% of the 87 million Millennials in the country are white, as compared to 72% of the 76 million members of the baby boomer generation.

Only 40% of women feel satisfied with the decision-making process at their organisation (versus 70% of men), which leads to job dissatisfaction and poor employee retention.

Glassdoor found that 67% of jobseekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and more than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity.


Case Study


A key example of this re-prioritisation occurred in mid-May within tech giant Google which, according to reports by Forbes and ABC News, has scaled back its D&I initiatives drastically.

Reports, alleged to originate from within the company’s current and ex-employer base, state this includes a reduction in training programs, outsourcing of resources that were once in-house, and a shrinking of the team responsible for ensuring that D&I is on the company’s agenda.

Google has previous, too. In the past, the company’s leadership admitted that it had an issue with diversity within its workforce. Senior Vice President Lazlo Block issued a statement in 2014, which said: “Put simply, Google is not where we want to be when it comes to diversity”. The statement came with a statistical breakdown of the company’s workforce that found it to be 70% male and 61% white.

Whilst Google continues to make headlines for its alleged D&I failings, the issue is by no means limited to the company. The technology industry as a whole has an issue with both diversity. Data compiled by the Digest of Education Statistics found that just 18% of all computer science degrees were earned by women whilst under 10% were earned by members of the BAME community. What’s more, it’s an issue that is actively growing; from 2006 to 2011, the number of women gaining qualifications within the sector fell by 22%.


What groups are HR failing?

Vicki Field, HR Director at London Doctor’s Clinic, tells HR Grapevine that whilst the focus in the past has largely been on gender diversity – a key issue that has led to the mandatory release of annual Gender Pay Gap reporting – the issue is much bigger than this one marginalised group.

She says: “Diversity is now so much more than gender, nationality or ethnicity; it includes religious and political beliefs, cultures, sexual orientation, disabilities and even socio-economic groupings and education. Many companies used to have a Board comprised of white men in their 40s or 50s. Many still do. But multiple global studies have shown that better problem-solving, decision-making and increased creativity are positively associated with diversity.”


Why diversity and inclusion is essential

A Boston Consulting Group study confirmed that companies with above-average diversity on their management teams also reported innovation revenue 19% higher than that of companies with below-average leadership diversity – 45% of total revenue versus just 26%.

McKinsey’s most recent Delivering Through Diversity report found corporations that embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were also more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. It makes sense that people from different backgrounds look at problems and solutions from different perspectives, and this richness of ideas goes to develop and enhance corporate strategy.

Field goes on to state that, at London Doctor’s Clinic, D&I supports every decision she makes: “As an HR professional, I’ve always used data to underpin my HR strategy; clearly there is a moral and legal responsibility for D&I, but furthermore there are real business benefits from having a range of different people sat around the table. No matter what table it is.”

It makes sense that people from different backgrounds look at problems and solutions from different perspectives, and this richness of ideas goes to develop and enhance corporate strategy.


LGBTQ representation

LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall states that whilst representation within the workplace has improved in recent years, the community should still be a key consideration for HR. Research by YouGov, which polled 3,213 LGBT+ employees, found that 35% of professionals have hidden that they belong to the community for fear of discrimination, whilst one in 10 BAME LGBT+ employees have been physically attacked by customers or colleagues within the last year.

Ruth Hunt, ex-Chief Executive of Stonewall and Founder of Deeds and Words, says that the onus is very much on HR to ensure that this group feels empowered to belong in the workplace. “No matter what the sector, no matter what the starting point, employers can take straightforward steps to change this situation. By allowing staff to be themselves in the workplace employers can create an inclusive, supportive workforce and get the best from everyone”.


How can HR respond?

There isn’t one simple answer for ensuring that a D&I strategy is effective, yet Barry Hoffman, HR Director at property development and investment company Landsec, says that taking a ‘holistic’ methodology is the best way to approach initiatives. “Categorising people into just one group is a mistake – many individuals contribute to the diversity of a business in multiple ways. A holistic approach to diversity and inclusion is really important,” he says.

“HR teams certainly have a role to play in advising businesses on their D&I strategy and in highlighting best practice, but a big part of an HR team’s objectives should be empowering the rest of their business to adopt D&I into their day-to-day approach to work,” Hoffman concludes.


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