As 2022 comes to a close, we take a look back at the predictions we made in January to see whether businesses’ DEI efforts developed as we expected, or whether focus changed throughout the year.
Our theme for this year was accountability. Accountability ensures businesses get into the mindset that inclusion is an evolving landscape, and a one-size-fits-all method won’t work for everyone. Businesses have encountered an increasing demand for accountability and transparency in their DEI actions and Audeliss’ and INvolve’s Founder & CEO, Suki Sandhu, explains why accountability is not only crucial for brand perception but also for employee retention, “Customers and employees expect and demand more from their organizations. Not only do diverse employees put a high value on inclusivity and diversity when making career decisions, but those who feel that their company has an issue with inclusivity are more likely to leave.”
Accountability can be achieved by creating targets and reporting on progress to ensure change is prioritized. In March this year, the 2022 edition of the Parker Review was published in the UK. The report issued results of its census focusing on the ethnic diversity of FTSE 100 and 250 companies’ boards following the recommendations set by the 2017 edition. In it, a target was set for every FTSE 100 company to have at least one diverse person in their boards by December 2021. The census found that, at the time of release, 89 out of the 100 organizations had met this goal.
Although this seems like progress is being made, the report had also revealed that across all FTSE 350 companies only 124 of the 998 board seats were held by directors of color. While FTSE 250 companies have until December 2024 to accomplish the target, this number shows how far organizations still have to go and brings up the question of whether this can be rectified in the next two years.
The Parker Review certainly helped businesses focus on the lack of diversity in the boardroom and should be used as a jumping point to being repairing diversity disparity company wide. In the U.S., Nasdaq’s Board Diversity Rules are also holding organizations accountable; any firm looking to be listed must report on the diversity of their boards and require that they have at least one female director and a member of an underrepresented minority. The next step would be for these initiatives to trickle down into executive, managerial, and junior levels, and as boards become more diverse, this will become a natural progression.
“The best diverse talent are choosing where to work based on brand perception, so if your company is not doing enough to visibly drive and push inclusion in and out of the workplace, you will not optimize opportunities to attract great talent. Ultimately, the lack of great talent will impact your business’ growth, innovation, employee engagement, and productivity”, states Sylvette Sawyers, Audeliss’ U.S. Managing Director.
The continued embrace of flexible working
In our predictions article, we envisioned that companies would continue to advocate for flexible working routines. As we are now approaching three years post-COVID, figures show, that HR professionals believe that flexible work is a valuable tool when recruiting, and research by Working Families found that 82 percent of parents in the UK are more likely to apply for a job if flexible working is listed in the job advert.
In fact, flexible working has become so important to worker’s wellbeing that the UK Government is putting a new Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Bill through to parliament that will allow employees the right to request work flexibility from the first day of employment, giving them more freedom to dictate how and where they can work from the get go.
Despite this, some companies and their CEOs have downright rejected the idea of flexible working. James Dyson, founder of tech firm Dyson, has criticized the decision of the Flexible Working Bill, saying that the uncertainty of when employees are working and the lack of “control” organizations will have over them can greatly hinder investors. Elon Musk, Reed Hastings, and Jamie Dimon have all also opposed flexible working for their companies (Tesla, Netflix, and JP Morgan respectively), citing no positives to working from home and worries of productivity loss as reasons why people should be coming into the office..
“Flexible working has many benefits for employees and for the company, such as employee loyalty and increase in productivity,” Audeliss UK’s Managing Director, Anja Skvortsova, commented, “But organizations must ensure that they are meeting the needs of employees so they are carrying out their job to the best of their abilities, whether they are fully remote or hybrid working.”
Indeed, some office spaces are not fit for purpose for the current climate of video call meetings. At the moment, the average workday is still mostly being spent in video call meetings, and if the office doesn’t have an infrastructure to handle that, hybrid work becomes incredibly tricky to carry out day-to-day tasks. In order to facilitate this, companies need to adapt their offices for latest technological advances such as allocating areas for video calls and building soundproof rooms or booths.
Another concern that crops up with flexible working is the impact that it has on workplace culture. Culture matters in the workplace because it gives employees a sense of belonging and connects them to the business and colleagues. It has been difficult to build culture when most of the workforce is remote, and issues like proximity bias and lack of relationship between employees and managers can make workers feel alienated and often result in high turnovers.
When it comes to flexible work there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution, and organizations need to assess each case as it comes and look at data to determine what the best outcome is. The best option is to always listen to what your employees are saying and come up with a solution that has their and the company’s best interest at heart.
The improvement of inclusive policies
When it comes to improving inclusive policies there has been some progress, however companies still have work to do.
Throughout the year, many research reports, such as INvolve’s corporate menopause support and experiences of LGBTQ+ employees in the workplace research, Pearn Kandola’s Hinduism Report, and Peppy’s Breastfeeding Support research have shown that the lack of specific policies and support for diverse employees, as well as their awareness, are impacting workers’ experiences in the workplace.
As Manuel Heichlinger, Audeliss’ UK Managing Director, explains, “The lack of clarity in policies and internal support for these issues is very troubling. Organizations that embrace DEI should review their approach and ensure positive initiatives are being conveyed to all their employees. Without doing so, employees will lose confidence in their company’s commitments to wellbeing and potentially feel discriminated against.”
Company policies are in place to outline clear processes and demonstrate to employees that the business is covering all elements of the employee experience. Organizations with DEI at its heart will have robust policies and other initiatives that define proper onboarding practices, outline procedures for employee progression, and highlight benefits, such as leave and health care.
Equity is key
In our 2022 predictions, we outlined the importance of placing emphasis on equity in organizations’ efforts to be more diverse and inclusive. When aiming to promote a culture of fairness and equal opportunity, companies had to explore in more depth the barriers and hurdles different minority groups face when entering the workforce.
Despite diversity and inclusion becoming a much more common conversation within organizations during 2022, the evidence suggests that biases and microaggressions remained a significant issue. A joint research by the Fawcett Society and The Runnymead Trust found that 75 percent of Black women have experienced racism at work, with 27 percent having suffered racial slurs. As a result, over 60 percent of women of color have reported changing themselves to fit in and avoid discrimination. This includes languages or words they use (37%), hairstyle (26%), and their name (22%).
“For women of color, the problem is not the glass ceiling – it is that the ceiling is made of concrete and can feel near impossible to shatter. Therefore, it is down to organizations and individuals alike to ensure there are equal opportunities for career progression, and to ensure they can realize their potential to help break down such barriers.”, remarked Rachel Huggins, Audeliss’ Practice Lead & Head of Race Representation.
Age discrimination also remains prevalent in today’s workplaces. In the U.S., a study by LiveCareer on Older People & the Workplace found that 77 percent of respondents haven’t been hired because of their age while 74 percent of employees who are over 50 years old have been fired because of it. The research also noted that almost half of respondents said that they have experienced bullying linked to age.
These reports have shown that bias is still running rampant in the workplace, and the only way to ensure real change is for education and action to be encouraged and driven by a top-down approach from executive level. However, preliminary findings from an upcoming research by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Boston College School of Social Work found that 63 percent of respondents said that their organization “allocated little to no resources to DE&I”, despite 65 percent of organizations saying that DEI is important. Additionally, 25 to 28 percent of organizations stated that their employees have experienced bias in the last two years, including racial, age, and gender bias.
In order to help eradicate this, earlier this year we created an Inclusive Recruitment Guide that looks into how companies can start hiring more inclusively and remove bias from the process. The guide helps business leaders navigate the best methodology for recruiting from a diverse pool of leaders; exploring how an inclusive recruitment process works, giving insights on how your organization should be recruiting for the best talent, and what candidates are looking for from a company that wants to increase diversity in their leadership teams.
Although great progress has been made in 2022, the fight for more diverse and inclusive organizations carries on into 2023. This next year will provide challenges for businesses as the cost-of-living crisis force us to make difficult decisions. However DEI commitments should not fall by wayside. Companies must innovate to continue prioritizing a fairer and more welcoming workplace for all employees.