What will Brexit really mean for diversity?

04 February 2019

What will Brexit really mean for diversity?


With a mere matter of weeks to go before the UK’s historic exit from the European Union is made official, uncertainty still plagues businesses and individuals across the country regarding the job security of EU nationals.

With each passing day comes a new Brexit-related headline that sets the fear in employers and workers alike – after all, freedom of movement is the very reason our economy benefits from the contribution of employees hailing from EU countries. Now that the UK has flown the nest, however, the question as to whether businesses will still benefit from this contribution remains unanswered.

In preparation of a potential no-deal Brexit, the Home Office has released strict immigration plans which could come into force from March 26th. Considering the numerous cultures that EU nationals represent, restricting freedom of movement could throw a significant spanner in the works of our efforts to increase diversity in UK businesses. Already, EU net migration sank to a six-year low last year, sparking claims of a so-called “Brexodus” – the new word used to describe the departure of people and companies from the UK as a result of Brexit.

No policies may be in place as of yet, and already it’s clear that the country is less attractive than ever to Europeans citizens. While this can, in part, be attributed to the fall in the exchange rate, the lack of job security and general feeling of uncertainty surrounding the terms of our exit have undoubtedly contributed to the distinct drop in EU nationals working in the UK.

When interviewed about the potential domino effect that Brexit could have on diversity, Simon Collins, KMPG UK chairman, said the need for an unbiased analysis of the immigration trends affecting the UK could not be greater. Armed with this data, organisations will be able to identify the potential skills gaps that could arise in their business following a no-deal Brexit and put in place a succession plan for EU workers who may leave as a result. It’s not an ideal solution by any means, and one that – according to Collins – could derail our national efforts to boost diversity:

 “Brexit would damage the diversity of our workforce and the widespread business and societal benefits this brings,” said Collins.

“Securing the best talent and delivering the highest quality isn’t about one group versus another, hence the important ‘and inclusion’ added to the diversity issue. We need both UK diversity and international diversity. We can achieve this only by pulling barriers down, not putting them back up.”

If the UK restricts access to diverse candidates from Europe, the growing fear is that Brexit will indulge our existing bias and justify the recruitment of likeminded individuals with similar cultural backgrounds and beliefs.

But is post-Brexit Britain truly all doom and gloom on the diversity front?

While a no-deal scenario or a deal that restricts freedom of movement may limit the amount of EU nationals in the UK, some Brexit advocates see our departure from the EU as an opportunity to create a ‘Global Britain’, forging new relationships with partners who some believe have been long neglected.

Should this be the case, British businesses may get the chance to embrace the cultures of Commonwealth partners and others further afield, allowing us to tap into new perspectives and benefit from a boost in diversity to workforce composition.

With the terms of our exit still up in the air, time can only tell what impact Brexit will have on diversity and inclusion in UK workplaces – for now, business leaders and HR departments must continue to focus their attention on building inclusive cultures that celebrate individual differences and promote equal opportunities. The future may be uncertain, but Brexit is by no means an excuse to cease the momentum we have created in our national effort to boost workplace diversity.