Diversity & Inclusion

Promoting neurodiversity; reducing conflict

As I was pondering this piece, the ‘first rule of systems engineering’ popped into my head. This is popularly written as:

“Everything interacts with everything else.”

The point of this rule is to remind the systems engineer that any changes made will have knock-on effects. Optimising one piece of a system in isolation does not mean an optimisation to the system’s performance as a whole – in fact, it can often bring about the opposite effect.

And of course, our workplaces are systems. Every department, team, individual, is a component of the larger system. The individual contribution of each of these pieces means very little; it’s the cumulative impact across disciplines, projects, and departments that delivers organisational results. Most organisations abhor the ‘rockstar’ employee for this very reason – they’re an unpredictable and outsized component that can potentially cause similarly outsized damage.

Whilst this is a very dispassionate and dehumanising take, it speaks to the underlying nature of the modern workplace. Everybody is intentionally replaceable, else the whole system grinds to a halt.

But this take stands in contrast to how we speak about diversity and inclusion. After all, one of the key benefits of EDI is improved creativity and innovation; utilising the unique experiences and skills of all employees to unlock new opportunities.

The truth is that innovation and stability have always stood in conflict with each other. The workplace system exists in a state of balance, where risk lines are determined by whether something pushes that balance past a tipping point.

Which brings me, in a tortured and roundabout way, to neurodiversity.

Because, of all the aspects of diversity we talk about in the workplace, neurodiversity (and neurodiverse individuals) are those most likely to upset that balance.

Why do I think that? Why neurodiversity, more so than race, or age, or gender?

Because neurodiversity is fundamentally an issue of behaviour. Neurodiverse individuals, almost by definition, demonstrate behaviour that doesn’t fit societal or organisational norms. And we do a disservice by trying to ignore this. Indeed, the CIPD’s Neuroinclusion at work guidance mentions behaviour in the context of the neurodiverse individual only once across thousands of words.

And ‘different’ behaviour is, historically, classed as socially bad behaviour. The system, in all forms, penalises different. It contradicts the social contract and undermines cohesion. And some of the behaviour of neurodiverse individuals can often be a violation of societal expectations.

Coming back to the workplace as a system, we see that neurodiverse behaviours can be incorporated up until the point that they push past the unwritten balance point. But this balance point is different in different parts of the system. Having a neurodiverse team member has a greater impact on a team than the organisation as a whole.

This is where the theory and real world collide. Almost every line manager wants a hassle-free life. Removing stress factors is important to their mental health. Minimising team conflict is a key part of that. So their ideal is to build a team with diverse complementary skills and homogenous behavioural expectations. 

In practice, this has meant that success for underrepresented groups derives from adapting and adopting the behaviours and cultural norms of the dominant workplace culture. That’s not the point of EDI initiatives, of course, but it means the numbers improve, which is the real metric that leaders want to see.

But this fake inclusion is revealed as a sham by the experiences of neurodiverse individuals, where bringing their ‘whole self’ to work is penalised.

And I think that’s because we spend so much time thinking about the what of EDI, we’ve completely neglected to think about the how. EDI so often forms a bolt-on to an existing process or operation in the workplace system. Recruitment: now with added EDI considerations. Progression: the same, but allegedly different. Innovation: but not too much.

With all these things, we’re ensuring we don’t break the system. By just changing things a little bit, we achieve progress, whilst not disrupting the balance.

But, actually, the balance does need to be disrupted. When EDI is seen as an ‘add on’, it’s easy to also be seen as a potential ‘take off’. Something we’re seeing across the world.

Instead, we should be looking at EDI as an environmental factor. Are we building environments in our workplaces where inclusion is truly practiced, or just seen as part of the recruitment process? This doesn’t just apply for neurodiversity – outcomes across many underrepresented characteristics are lower because EDI in recruitment and the other areas HR controls brings diversity into an organisation, but the working environment and organisational culture rewards and forces employees into conformity.

To truly promote neurodiversity and reduce conflict in the workplace, organisations must go beyond just recruitment and look at the whole system. As I shared at the beginning, focusing on improving a single part can lead to lower performance across the whole.

Five ways to improve outcomes for neurodiverse employees

1. Educating the workforce: Provide comprehensive training to all employees, especially leaders and managers, on neurodiversity and the benefits of an inclusive workplace. This will help dispel myths, build empathy, and equip them with the skills to manage and support neurodiverse team members effectively.

2. Adapting the work environment: Assess and modify the physical workspace, communication methods, and processes to accommodate the needs of neurodiverse individuals. This could involve providing quiet spaces, offering alternative communication channels, and allowing flexible work arrangements.

3. Encouraging open dialogue: Create safe spaces where neurodiverse employees feel comfortable sharing their experiences, challenges, and suggestions for improvement. This open dialogue can help identify areas for growth and foster a culture of understanding and acceptance.

4. Reviewing policies and practices: Scrutinise existing policies and practices, such as performance criteria, to ensure they are fair and inclusive for neurodiverse individuals. Involving neurodiverse employees in this process will help you gain valuable insights and perspectives.

5. Celebrating neurodiversity: Actively promote and celebrate neurodiversity as a source of strength and competitive advantage for the organisation. Highlighting the accomplishments and contributions of neurodiverse employees will help position neurodiversity as a key aspect of the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Gender Pay Gap – Time to Act

Despite years of effort, the UK’s gender pay gap remains stubbornly wide.

Surprisingly, and despite the introduction of legislation, including the requirement for gender pay gap reporting, environmental factors have delivered the most significant changes; as seen below, both the financial crisis in 2008 and the coronavirus pandemic in 2019 produced sharper improvements to pay equality than 20 years of policy.

Figure 1: The gender pay gap has been declining slowly over time, falling by approximately a quarter over the last decade among full-time employees and all employees

Indeed, anecdotal evidence suggests legal and policy interventions do nothing but enact the law of unintended consequences without delivering change. For example, the oft-repeated story of major London firm’s tactic of addressing potential bad news in the run up to 2017’s introduction of Gender Pay Gap Reporting by outsourcing the low-paid cleaning and secretarial roles (that were dominated by women) ensured wonderful pay-gap figures for their organisations, whilst changing absolutely nothing at the national level (as seen by the chart above).  In fact, moving those low paid employees to insecure agency contracts presumably did far more damage to the social fabric than the pay gap did.

The same applies to other interventions, such as Women on Boards. Whilst the intent was to encourage the promotion of more women into senior roles, the outcome was simply that a few women took on a large number of non-executive positions. Alas, this was all too predictable; the Norwegians (who introduced quotas for women on boards in 2003) even have a name for the phenomena – Golden Skirts.

Time to look in the mirror!

That the first instinct of many was to massage bad figures shouldn’t be surprising, but focusing on the blunt instrument of reporting meant that became the objective, rather than delivering change. And not investigating how pay gaps affect our organisations is a missed opportunity. Because the pay gap represents a failure to optimise our organisations and have the right people in the right roles. It’s a numerical value of missing or underused talent.

Failure to recruit women in senior roles or more men in junior roles coupled with bias in the recruitment process and the inability to provide progression for individuals are all big issues.  But fundamentally the pay gap is a parenthood penalty. The parent who loses more year’s workplace experience due to childcare responsibilities will never catch up with someone who doesn’t lose that time. The parent with primary childcare responsibilities is more likely to take part-time, low responsibility job roles. And that parent is overwhelmingly likely to be a woman.

It is only by accepting this unpalatable truth that we can seek to deliver change. There are dozens of unconnected decisions and policies that are contributing to the motherhood penalty in your organisation. Enhanced pay for maternity but not shared parental leave. Lack of job sharing in senior positions. Support for new mothers returning to the workplace that ends about three months after maternity leave is up.

I feel a lot of blame rests on Protected Characteristics. They’ve become the be-all and end-all of diversity and inclusion to the exclusion of all else. We’ve become blinkered to the ‘big nine’ and forgotten about the breadth of the human experience.  Particularly damaging is the Pregnancy and Maternity protection, which absolves employers of the need to do anything at all once the period of maternity leave ends.

And if you don’t believe me, look at your diversity monitoring forms. I’d wager you have no way to report what proportion of your employees have responsibility for young children, or are working part-time purely for that reason, or are reliant on ad-hoc, undocumented permissions from their line manager to manage childcare.

Time for change

As someone who believed pay gap reporting would have a greater impact than it has, I hold my hands up. It will be social and environmental factors that make the most difference to how fast the gender pay gap closes, not more legislation.

That causes me a great deal of concern about ethnicity pay gap reporting, something supposedly high on the impending Labour government’s priorities. Will the next government learn from the non-impact of gender pay gap reporting, or simply seize headline figures as a pointy stick to poke the opposition during that week’s media grid?

For me, there are two key areas that HR teams can work on to create real change in your organisations. The first is training. A good bias and inclusion training programme doesn’t limit itself to the legal minimum requirements but encourages the learner to explore the context of their decision making in the round. By setting out a list of things that one can’t discriminate against, you inadvertently give the learner a somewhat larger list of things which one is allowed to. My belief is that childcare responsibilities definitely fall into that second list where this happens.

The second area is auditing and data. If, as I supposed earlier, you don’t have data on your employee’s parenthood responsibilities, you’re missing a huge part of the employee puzzle. This information affects succession planning, internal job applications, retention and leaving rates.

I’ll finish this piece with several unrelated but definitely interconnected facts. The UK has been unable to improve productivity for years. The UK is increasingly facing skills shortages, and the recent anomaly of buying skills into organisations rather than focusing on training existing employees is coming to an end. Young women are predominantly better educated than men and actually see a pay gap in their favour up until their early thirties. And finally, the average age of women at the birth of their first child is 30.9 years old.

Making the workplace work for mothers of young children is the key to unlocking the gender pay gap. But it’s also the key to unlocking the productivity of UK PLC and filling the skills gaps plaguing our workforces. We simply can’t afford to keep pushing women to the side just because they have young children.



Diversity & Inclusion

Revitalising Staff Networks: Five Strategies for HR Leaders

This year I’m challenging readers to recognise their greatest asset – the employees who go above and beyond to make their organisations better places to work. I’m referring, of course, to staff networks.

Whether you call them Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), Employee Forums, or Workplace Alliances, staff networks are one of the most effective tools your organisation has for:

  • generating ideas and getting feedback
  • providing safe spaces for people
  • developing visible role models
  • delivering and implementing EDI agenda items
  • recognising and celebrating diversity
  • helping to create an inclusive culture where people feel they belong

But they’re not without risk. Risk that, if not managed, can result in damage to your work and the organisation.

Two of those risks are opposite ends of the spectrum. Firstly, it’s possible for employee networks to dominate informal power dynamics, cutting out official chains of authority and proper procedures and structures. Indeed, whilst this can be an advantage, cutting through needless bureaucracy to achieve goals and change quickly, it can also represent a threat to processes that exist for very good reasons.

Secondly, and in contrast, and as is more commonly the case, employee networks can be seen by senior leaders as simply collections of staff members that can be used as on-demand sounding boards.  This eliminates any of the advantages of staff networks listed earlier.

In fact, the most successful groups sit between these two extremes. They are given agency to set and work on their own agendas, but within a framework that ensures accountability and alignment with other business priorities.

But how does one reach this sweet spot? If your employee networks seem a little lacklustre, or you just want to revitalise your group’s members and add some spark to your ERGs, read on.

Professionalise group management

Involvement with networks is very similar to non-profit volunteering. Members are taking on additional unpaid roles to help improve the organisation. However, whilst most organisations are thrilled that members are doing ‘free’ work, forward-thinking employers recognise that the best way to retain and grow the value of staff networks is to see administrative staff network positions as key drivers of growth, retention, and ideas.

These organisations recognise that the best way to maximise the value of networks is to professionalise their structures, ensuring that those driving the agenda forward are compensated and supported fairly.

Paying fairly for roles (including guaranteed time allowed during working hours) and responsibility is often an excellent way to identify and upskill emerging talent, whilst also discouraging senior figures from taking leadership roles in the network; these individuals are better utilised as ambassadors and advisors, as a leadership role in a network could inhibit their ability to make challenges or discourage junior employees from raising their voices. It also helps create boundaries between ‘network work’ and the day job.

Recruitment and selection for group roles can be a tricky subject. Groups and their members will be understandably resistant to ‘corporate’ imposing their own candidates in these roles. But organisations aren’t democracies, and HR has a responsibility to ensure paid roles are being filled by the right candidates.

There is, of course, an easy way to solve this problem that I have seen used effectively in organisations with outstanding networks. That is for group members to nominate and vote for candidates to form the shortlist, with HR interviewing and appointing the best candidates.

As HR professionals, we wouldn’t create any other role without identifying training and development needs. However, precisely because we aren’t professionalising them, these sort of voluntary or extra-curricular workplace roles often slip through the net. Running a successful employee network requires a skill set likely to be unique in the organisation, and only by supporting and upskilling role holders will you be able to get the most out of your networks.

Give networks agency

People thrive with boundaries – hence why firms offering unlimited annual leave usually see employees take less than they would if given an allowance. The same applies for staff networks. Without clear limits, networks are more likely to err on the side of caution, avoiding the risk of pushing too far.

Agreeing scope and limits with the network’s executive gives them a boundary and a target. The answer to ‘can we do this?’ changes from ‘we’ll check’ to a straight yes or no. It empowers network reps to crack on with activity within the remit of its powers without having to request authorisation. Giving networks agency in this way is a fantastic way to turn a network from a talking house to an ideas factory. It also gives members the opportunity to take on projects and tasks that help them upskill and build experience that may not be otherwise available – especially for members of under-represented groups.

Assign budget

We don’t expect any other business unit to create outcomes from thin air, and we shouldn’t expect networks to deliver the world for free, or worse, go through some sort of internal tendering process every time they need to spend money.

As with giving networks agency, this allows members to develop and evidence skills they’d not be able to in their normal role, as well as giving networks freedom to deliver projects and initiatives in their own way.

Inter-network collaboration

Teamwork makes the dream work, and when multiple networks collaborate to deliver an initiative, the results can be unprecedented. Often networks can be working on similar projects, and the risk of silo behaviour can be high. Prevent this by having a single point of contact for all networks within the HR team, who can identify opportunities for link-up. Another great way to energise collaboration between networks is to create ambassador roles for employees who are members of more than one network, who can take responsibility for sharing information and ideas.

External engagement

By taking on responsibility in a staff network, members have already identified themselves as being passionate advocates and ambassadors for the organisation. Rather than sit back and complain, or quietly quit, they’ve volunteered to help it change.

These employees are exactly who you should be recruiting for engagement activities. They can tell a unique story about your organisation as well as promoting their network’s successes.

A well-managed staff network is a real multiplier in an organisation – offering opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, sharing, and networking. For under-represented groups they can often give a rare chance of projects and visibility that organisational barriers may otherwise prevent.

So please, take these ideas back into your own organisations and discover what your employees can deliver when given proper support and agency.


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Diversity & Inclusion

Tackling the gender pay gap with data

The gender pay gap remains a significant issue in most UK workplaces, and the most recent statistics indicate that women still earn 14.9% less than men. In 2017, the UK government introduced gender pay gap reporting legislation, which requires all companies with over 250 employees to report their gender pay gap data. But reporting alone isn’t enough. The HR world has a critical role to play in using this data to identify and address pay disparities.

Data collection and analysis

The first step in using data to address our gender pay gaps is to collect and analyse the relevant information. This includes gathering data on employee salaries, job titles, work levels/grades, and other contextual information such as experience and education level.

This information can then be analysed to identify any disparities in pay between male and female employees. We can also use these insights to identify any barriers that may be preventing women from joining or advancing within the organisation, such as a lack of representation and role models in senior positions or unequal access to training and development opportunities.

Developing strategies

Once the data has been analysed, we can begin to develop strategies to address any disparities or barriers that have been identified. The gender pay gap reporting legislation gives organisations the option to publish an action plan alongside their pay gap data, outlining the steps they will take to close their pay gap. I’d encourage you to do this, as it demonstrates organisational commitment and keeps leaders focused!

One effective strategy is to conduct a pay analysis, which involves comparing the salaries of male and female employees who hold similar positions within the organisation. There is often confusion between equal pay and the gender pay gap, with some employers mistakenly assuming they have addressed the issue by paying men and women the same for the same work.

Despite this, differences due to scales or banding can become embedded into an employee’s pay over multiple years. If disparities are identified, adjustments can be made to ensure that all employees are being paid fairly for their work.

Another strategy is to implement policies that support women in the workplace, such as proactively offering flexible working arrangements or providing training and development opportunities to help women advance within the organisation. By creating a more supportive environment for women, companies can both help to close their gender pay gap and ensure all employees have the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Communicating Results

Under the gender pay gap reporting legislation, companies are required to publish their pay gap data on their website and the government’s gender pay gap reporting portal. It is also important to communicate the results of any data analysis and strategies implemented to address the gender pay gap to all employees. This includes sharing information on any changes to pay structures or policies that have been made, as well as providing regular updates on progress toward closing the pay gap.

By communicating openly and transparently with employees, companies can build trust and create a more inclusive workplace culture.

Blaming COVID

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the UK workforce and the gender pay gap. With many companies facing financial challenges and a shift to remote work, progress in closing the pay gap has slowed down or even stagnated. However, this shouldn’t be seen as an excuse to ignore the issue. Instead, HR professionals should use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate their strategies and ensure that they are doing everything possible to close the gap.

Improving Quality and Quantity

One of the key challenges in using data to tackle the gender pay gap is ensuring that the data is accurate and relevant. HR professionals must ensure that they are collecting high-quality data on a regular basis, including data on bonuses, overtime, and other benefits that may contribute to pay disparities. We should also look to combine our payroll data with data from employee surveys and focus groups to gain a better understanding of the experiences of female employees and identify any additional barriers to closing the pay gap.

Using Data from Multiple Sources

In addition to internal workforce data, HR professionals can use data from external sources to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the gender pay gap. For example, they can review industry-wide salary surveys and government statistics on pay disparities to identify trends and compare their own pay gap data to industry benchmarks. By using data strategically from multiple sources, HR professionals can develop more informed strategies to address pay disparities and improve overall equity in the workplace.

Inclusive Recruitment

Tackling the pay gap starts in recruitment. But reducing opportunities for bias to creep into hiring processes is only one part of the puzzle. One often neglected piece is to ensure you’re advertising inclusively in the first place. This is much harder to do, as things like inclusive language may conflict with approved style guides, and increasing the number of locations to advertise increases the cost of the recruitment process. This is often to the detriment of diversity in the mid-level roles which feed into management pipelines, as the roles themselves aren’t seen to justify the extra expense.

Measuring your recruitment properly and at scale can help identify inequalities that may not seem obvious at the individual level. By recording at each stage of the process (applications, shortlisting, appointments, offers made and accepted) statistical anomalies become clearer and barriers become more visible.

We like to concentrate on getting more people into the pipeline, but often forget about the women who exit it. Exit interviews are often a formality but but done right can provide valuable insights into what’s going wrong with your retention strategy.

Socioeconomic Factors

While the gender pay gap is often attributed to differences in salaries between men and women in the same roles, there are several other socioeconomic factors that can contribute to pay disparities. For example, the choice to have children and the cost of childcare can limit women’s career progression and earning potential. HR professionals must take a holistic approach to addressing pay disparities, including addressing these socio-economic factors and promoting policies that support women’s career advancement and work-life balance.

We also need to recognise that many mothers make the choice to prioritise their children and deprioritise their careers beyond maternity and even beyond early years. This can include avoiding extra responsibility, choosing roles solely on the criteria of working patterns (often in a different industry or business area than before) or eschewing development opportunities.


Tackling the gender pay gap requires a commitment from HR leaders to use data and analytics to identify and address disparities in pay. The gender pay gap reporting legislation provides a framework for companies to collect and report their pay gap data and develop action plans to close the gap. HR professionals must collect high-quality workforce data, use data strategically from multiple sources, and develop effective strategies to address pay disparities. They must also consider socio-economic factors that contribute to pay disparities and ensure that their policies support women’s career advancement and work-life balance.

By taking such a comprehensive approach to closing the pay gap, we can create more inclusive workplaces that support the success of all employees, regardless of gender. Coupled with collecting and analysing data, developing effective strategies, and communicating openly with employees, data-led HR can make a real difference to employee’s lives that extends far beyond organisational level pay gaps.



Diversity & Inclusion

Navigating the D&I Landscape – May 2022

D&I has never been more on the minds of our organisation’s senior leaders. Far from the old days of having to urge action, we’ve moved to a stage where many leaders are not only embracing D&I action, but also getting heavily involved through mentoring, listening to ERGs and employees, and sharing their own stories.

Nonetheless, whilst the desire to take action is there, that doesn’t mean our leaders have the expertise and skills to actually deliver D&I progress. That’s where you come in. This month we’ll explore how you can identify organisational D&I priorities, equip leaders for success and go above and beyond your peers.

The minimum

Whilst we may consider legal compliance the starting point, it’s often the case that legacy or informal policies, procedures or paperwork may not be up to scratch. Examples may include boilerplate text that gets added to job descriptions or policies as a matter of course, or line managers whose methods are tolerated as the results are good and their current team is happy.

Scratching the surface of any organisation often uncovers well-established behaviours. Part of the D&I journey is to identify and break old un-inclusive practices and procedures to obtain the benefits of an inclusive working environment. And this isn’t an activity that only takes place at the beginning of the journey; it’s a challenge to tackle throughout.

It’s at this early stage that we can establish the organisation’s current situation and challenges. Performing a D&I audit allows us to set a baseline and a starting position as well as identifying initial priorities.

From here we can develop a plan and a set of objectives. It’s also at this stage we can begin to manage the expectations of senior leaders. We find most, if not all, leaders start their own D&I journey considering D&I to be like a project, with a defined start date, a team working on delivery, and a predicted end date.

“In twelve months, we’ll be highly inclusive and a role model for our sector.”

That’s not an unusual sentiment and needs to be challenged early on. By not doing so we find ourselves having difficult conversations at a much later date – closer to the perceived ‘project end date’ and with less enthusiasm for taking action.

First Steps

Undertaking an audit of any kind may seem like an overwhelming prospect, something most people prefer to avoid, because who knows what it might uncover?

Our approach focuses on establishing a starting point for your agenda, a fresh start, an opportunity to gain traction.

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Above

Going above the legal minimum is an indication to your workforce that the organisation is serious about taking action. It’s at this point you begin to take definitive steps towards the short-term objectives you set after your audit.

The actions you take at this initial stage should be completely defined by these measurable objectives. The reasons for this are twofold; hitting clearly set objectives indicates that the organisation is progressing along its plan, maintaining the momentum and interest of leaders. The second reason is to maintain focus on the issues that challenge your organisation. Whilst your contemporaries may be happily rolling out unconscious bias training around their workforce whilst shouting ‘look how much we’re doing’, your organisation may be better off building ERGs and acting on the concerns of underrepresented employee groups.

The actions you take at this early stage establish the tone and importance of D&I in your organisation. ‘Firework’ initiatives that quickly fizzle out after a lot of early noise and activity are a common way of ensuring the employee belief that D&I will go away if you ignore it.

The aim of organisational D&I is to ensure that every employee considers the D&I implications of every decision they take and action they make. It’s to create a culture where every member of an organisation takes ownership of the organisation’s success and its objectives.

The biggest challenge to D&I initiatives isn’t objections but apathy. It’s not a vocal minority that will kill your efforts, it’s the silent majority who ignore them. That’s why we like to see active engagement and advocacy of D&I initiatives from senior leaders, not just at the beginning, but continuously.

Beyond

Maintaining a level of D&I engagement across your organisation above the legal minimum for any length of time is a challenge in itself. It requires constant reinforcement and reinvention, agilely changing programmes which aren’t working before they reach a stage of failure.

Going even further isn’t something that can be achieved by a D&I team, the HR function or even the senior leadership. It represents a level of buy-in to the importance of D&I that only a handful of organisations are even close to achieving.

It relies on a demonstration of how diversity and inclusion has impacted on organisational success; hard numbers showing the effect on customers or service users, profits or budgets, employee happiness and opportunities.

This takes time. One exceptional month, quarter or year is an anomaly; successive ones become a pattern. Improvement becomes self-sustaining as employees feel free to challenge and innovate. Leaders become enablers, rather than controllers.

Taking action

So what can you do?

One

Go back to the beginning. No matter what stage you’re at on your organisational journey, it’s always worth periodically checking policies, paperwork and procedures. This isn’t just about bad habits slipping in and becoming embedded, although shortcuts will always try to undo your hard work. Language is constantly changing, especially in the D&I space, and what was correct can quickly become inappropriate.

Two

Take another look at your objectives. Check that they are SMART and aligned to actual numbers. Make sure you have a clearly defined idea of what D&I success looks like, then share it. Share it with the board, but also on notice boards. D&I isn’t suited to being opaque – making your plans and ideas as transparent as possible not only reduces the opportunity for objections but also encourages people from across the organisation to contribute their own ideas and become involved.

Three

Identify self-sustaining activity. If it’s constantly being driven by D&I practitioners or HR, then your ideas aren’t landing properly. This is where empowering employee resource groups comes into its own; for a small budgetary outlay you end up with a group of usually underrepresented employees who feel empowered, deliver huge amounts of activity, and are embedded in functions and teams in all parts of the organisation.

Next Steps

Our experienced D&I consultants can help you implement a D&I strategy that’s tailored for you, your workforce and the people you need to attract.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Can the Pay Gap be closed? – March 2022

Let’s begin with a quick history lesson. After the success of the Davies Review into women on boards – a coalition government initiative pushing for 25% of the boards of FTSE 100 companies to be made up of women – the Hampton-Alexander Review was launched with the target of women holding 33% of board positions in FTSE 350 companies.

As I pointed out during the Davies Review, these targets were largely accomplished using a small pool of female non-executive directors sitting on multiple boards, rather than appointing women to senior executive director roles. In Norway, where 40% women on boards is enshrined in law, they call this phenomenon the Golden Skirts.

My point is that whenever a government tries to create change, the finest minds in the affected organisations will find a loophole that maintains the status quo. So, when the government announced they would be introducing gender pay gap reporting, I was completely unsurprised to see several large organisations outsource reception and cleaning contractors. The low paid, almost entirely female workers in those roles would have dramatically skewed their results. So, they were removed from the balance sheet.

As we know, the root causes of the gender pay gap are primarily social and cultural factors rather than ‘big bad bosses’. Childcare and caring responsibilities fall overwhelmingly on women, forcing them to make a choice between career or family that men rarely must make. The nature of pregnancy and post-partum recovery means that the vast majority of women neither can nor wish to return straight to work after giving birth.

I’ve also argued before that, unless racists are diligent enough to identify which part of the Indian subcontinent someone is from before discriminating against them, a purely bias-based explanation for the race pay gap doesn’t make sense. The difference in outcomes between Indian workers and Pakistani and Bangladeshi workers is too significant. The same applies to a lesser extent between Black African workers and Black Caribbean workers.

So once again, we must consider that culture and individual choice contribute to the race pay gap. In a multicultural society, should we be pushing monocultural values on work and the pursuit of money? If anything, the demand for hybrid and homeworking suggests that the dominant pre-pandemic working culture is being rejected by increasing numbers from all backgrounds.

DELIVERING ON DATA

In my view this means there will always be race and gender pay gaps. The alternative is to overrule women’s choices to spend time with and nurture their children by forcing them back to work. Or to forcibly replace family and community values with individualism.

But acknowledging that there likely will always be some level of pay gap doesn’t mean accepting the status quo. We wouldn’t accept the existence of external factors as an excuse for not taking action on internal factors in any other area of our organisations.

It’s our responsibility as HR professionals to identify discrepancies and anomalies in our workforces. The amount of information at our disposal means new skills are crucial for HR – we’re now data analysts, modellers and scientists. Make no mistake, the HR professional of 2030 will be just as proficient with SQL and Python as they are with appraisals and redundancy.

The data we already hold on our workforces is more than sufficient to identify specific issues on pay gaps, down to department and even team level. But of course, without the will to make change, change won’t happen. As I mentioned earlier, change is resisted. Loopholes will be found to avoid making widespread change.

FIRST STEPS

Help employees explore the issues that contribute to pay gaps with our Gender Pay Gap Fact Sheet.

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PROBLEM SOLVED?

A US study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology looked at 1,500 companies across 20 years, and found female senior managers under a female CEO earnt 16% less than female senior managers under a male CEO. The authors concluded that the presence of a female CEO resulted in gender diversity being marked as ‘done’, and the incentive to retain and promote other women into senior roles is removed.

This tick box approach to diversity is of concern in relation to pay gaps. We’ve seen that if a loophole can be found, it’ll be taken. Public reporting incentivises organisations to remove the issue (by outsourcing low paid roles) rather than doing the desired action of equalising the gender split at all pay grades. Why worry about recruiting and developing women for top executive positions when you can simply add a ‘Golden Skirt’ to your board.

We have to think in the medium to long term. If it takes 15 to 20 years for someone to reach a senior position then we’re currently seeing the outcomes of initiatives launched in the early noughties.

Large organisations will already have sufficient data to assess their actions over this time frame. Smaller ones may not. What we can’t do is fall back into the trap of launching an initiative and replacing it after two or three years, when clearly it’s only impacting a tiny proportion of an employee’s lifecycle.

And this links in with the short-termism of the modern career in general. With many employees moving employer to progress to higher roles rather than internal promotions, it raises the question of who is responsible at all? With individualism driving career moves, should the question of development also rest with the individual? What incentive does an employer have to promote groups with pay gaps, if they’re simply providing a springboard to their next role?  Only diversity as a public relations exercise, which is the same incentive that leads to organisations with a female CEO ticking the box of gender diversity and marking it complete.

TAKING ACTION

So what can you do?

ONE

Resolve what we control. Whilst many pay gap factors are out of our hands, there’s still plenty we can do. De-biasing processes might not be headline grabbing, but it has a long-term effect.

TWO

Targets not quotas. But more specifically, targets that have buy-in from senior leaders. If you force an organisation to do something, it’ll find a way to meet the letter of the law without actually achieving the intent or spirit. Targets represent an ambition rather than an obligation. Targets driven by senior leaders, who have a disproportionate influence on organisational culture, are far more likely to achieve their intended goals.

THREE

Get to grips with data. Advanced data skills are like gold dust in the HR world, but are normalised in other business areas. The ability to spot trends and patterns in your datasets allows you to target and focus your policies and initiatives, removes guesswork and allows you to quantify your impact. HR has long been seen as lacking the business nous of other departments, but proper use of data will quickly change this image.

NEXT STEPS

Use our International Women’s Day Fact Sheet to share some important facts about how misogyny and sexism still exist today.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Adjusted Attitudes – December 2021

It’s 25 years since the UK introduced reasonable adjustments in the workplace. Part of 1995’s Disability Discrimination Act, these measures made employers responsible for making changes in their workplaces to remove the effect of an employee or candidate’s disability. Reasonable adjustment requirements were beefed up further by 2010’s Equality Act, and now employers and line managers are acutely aware of their responsibilities to people with disabilities.

The Covid pandemic has changed people’s perceptions around health. Suddenly large numbers of people who had never bothered themselves with health or disability issues at work found themselves ‘at risk’ and ‘vulnerable’, whether because of age or health issues they’d never seen as serious.

The number of people affected, as well as the health and safety rules introduced for everyone during the pandemic, has meant a big change in attitudes to reasonable adjustments.

We’re now in a world where everyone is concerned by health. Not only that, but it’s been completely normalised for individuals to take actions to protect other people. One effect of this is the normalisation and appreciation of workplace adjustments. Employers have adjusted working practices across their employee populations, regardless of whether the employee has a recognised disability.

CHANGING RELATIONSHIPS

I think this, alongside the rise of agile working, is indicative of the changing employer/employee relationship post-covid and post-Brexit. As I discussed last month, employee expectations are changing, and retention is much easier than recruiting. Good talent isn’t easily replaceable and making small changes can have a big impact on employee happiness.

My initial comparator would be with flexible working. When legislation was expanded in 2014 from parents and carers to all employees, employers who’d never considered home working and agile working began to go above and beyond the law, as it proved an important factor in recruiting and retaining staff. Of course, these are also the employers who were able to continue operating without huge problems when workplaces were closed in early 2020.

So I believe opening up workplace adjustments to all employees will become increasingly commonplace. I’ve already seen new starter budgets, where new employees are given a small budget to create the workspace they can work best in. This budget can be spent on things like specialist furniture, such as chairs or standing desks, or tech adjustments like noise cancelling headphones. Being available to all employees means reasonable adjustments aren’t seen as ‘special treatment’, but as a policy that any employee can access to produce their best work.

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Use our Disability Fact Sheet to start conversations and encourage deeper thinking about disability and accessibility issues in the workplace.

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A NEW NARRATIVE

This also helps shine a different lens on disability and accessibility. It normalises the idea of different needs, whether they’re because of a recognised disability, short-term health issues or just personal preference.

This helps change the narrative around disability from what people can’t do, to how can we help them do it. It means we can improve attitudes and ensure line managers know they’ll be supported if they hire a disabled employee, not left to sort issues themselves.

My favourite outcome of the pandemic is the end of presenteeism. It never should’ve been encouraged for people to come to work whilst clearly contagiously ill. It’s unpleasant for everyone, and downright dangerous for the vulnerable or immunocompromised.

Now that technical solutions exist for so many roles to be done from home, the main reason for presenteeism is line managers. It’s up to us in HR to make it clear as we head into winter that working from home with a cold is preferable to infecting the entire workplace. Tackling machismo ‘man-up’ attitudes to illness is a long term challenge, but one that should be part of your thinking around both disability and your wellbeing strategy.

WHERE TO BEGIN

There are a few things you can start thinking about today

ONE

Are you up to date with best practice? Is your organisation already actioning initiatives like adjustment passports (which allow adjustments to move with the worker around the organisation).

Employers are doing some great work around disability and accessibility, often with very low cost and high impact. You can identify success from award brochures or simply by putting out an appeal for help on LinkedIn. Most people are more than happy to share how they’re making work better for under-represented groups.

TWO

Change the language. This isn’t about political correctness and banning words, it’s about not highlighting difference. Making a workplace adjustment is something everyone does – changing the height of a chair is a workplace adjustment. In that context it becomes more about ensuring everyone is comfortable at work.

I hate the term reasonable adjustment. It suggests that some adjustments are declined because the request is unreasonable, instead of the real reason, which is often that the employee isn’t worth the financial cost of the adjustment.

THREE

Learn from Covid. You’ve just been through (hopefully) the biggest exercise in adjusting employee’s working arrangements you’ll ever have to do. What went well, and where did existing processes and procedures create problems?

Not only will this help make your workplace adjustments better, but also help with risk management. What happened with Covid is a good indicator of the government’s response to a future pandemic. And pandemics aren’t the only thing that may cause an organisational shutdown or limits to movement – the experience you’ve gained from Covid would be relevant to a cyber shutdown, climate event or other country-wide business disruption.

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Diversity & Inclusion

Has Anything Really Changed? – October 2021

October is the UK’s Black History Month. Which makes it the ideal time to look back on the impact of almost 18 months of Black Lives Matter being in the public eye.

Race is one of the key areas where the work of HR crosses into social issues. And last year we had a real opportunity to make a long-lasting impact, when racial differences and disparities finally received the attention they deserved from the public, business and the government.

Since then we’ve seen the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities deliver their report. It included a call to finally retire the BAME acronym, which has been used interchangeably with ‘not White British’.

It’s a big step forward which recognises a truth that’s been obvious for years – unequal outcomes aren’t just due to not being white. The BAME acronym has meant both the Indian and Chinese ethnic groups have been labelled disadvantaged, whilst outperforming all other ethnic groups on almost every metric.

And awkward facts keep coming up the further one digs through the labels. Take the disparity of outcomes between Black African and Black Caribbean Brits. Over two thirds of Black African young people go to university, but fewer than half of Black Caribbean young people.

Which means your award-winning graduate programme for young Black grads is probably reinforcing an inequality. Like I said – awkward.

And even the Black African ethnic group is a lazy inference. Black Africans of Somali heritage have little in common with Black Africans of Nigerian heritage.

UNDERSTANDING THE NUMBERS

We know monitoring is important. We know that outside of the urban cities racial diversity almost disappears, or at least changes drastically. That means basing your organisation in Leicester or six miles outside the city boundary in Loughborough has a huge impact on local workforce diversity; there are 4x proportionally more Black people in Leicester than Loughborough.

That means when setting workforce diversity targets your definitions are important. If your aim is to be representative of the local area, does that mean the immediate area, the council area or the entire region?

We saw an immediate response to last summer’s protests from senior leaders. However, it’s actions, rather than words, which let us see who simply put their name on a drafted press release, and who actually meant it.

Last month’s email discussed culture change, and the difference between official and unofficial workplace cultures. Black Lives Matter is a fantastic example of how immovable unofficial culture can be.

Take last year’s report from tech firm EyeCue, who found that the skin tones featured in social media posts from beauty brands got much darker last summer as Black Lives Matter protests peaked, but then trended lighter again into the autumn.

Change was resisted, as it always is. As HR leaders we all know the change curve, and should recognise it applies here just as it does anywhere else.

POWER ≠ CONTROL

Whilst our position as employers gives us influence over social issues, it doesn’t give us control over them. Our initiatives contribute to change. But don’t change things by themselves. And as with all things, individuals go through the change curve at different rates.

We should also remember that whilst every part of your organisation can set themselves diversity targets, they’ll all have very different impacts and timescales.

The marketing department could quite easily switch a large amount of their spend to influencers of colour next quarter. It can pull ads from mainstream publications and increase spending with diverse publications. And it can do this without a single person of colour in its ranks.

HR’s work is much longer term. It’s typically measured in terms of workforce demographics, progression and retention. It looks at trends, not individual actions. Our actions show results over years, not months or quarters. Indeed, if we were to achieve dramatic demographic change in months, we’d have almost certainly broken the law.

We have a number of proven tools to steer change. Blind CVs. Unconscious bias awareness training. Listening to feedback from your employee populations, not just collecting it.

WHERE TO BEGIN

So what can we do in HR that delivers racial equality in both the workplace and society?

ONE

Convert objectors. Most of those objecting to your initiatives aren’t against racial equality, but they are against things like ‘woke nonsense’, ‘overpaid non-jobs’ and ‘wishy-washy workshops’.

You may have persuaded the board to embrace your initiative, but the failure of most diversity schemes is because they’re not communicated properly to those it’s aimed at!

If you have a large and diverse workforce, a one-size-fits-all training programme will miss most of its targets.

TWO

Reach out to the communities you work in, listen and understand. As we’ve already discussed, there’s no one homogenous ‘Black Community’. Black communities in Manchester will have a very different make-up and face very different challenges to Black communities in London.

If you actually want to make a difference, rather than simply ticking off a box for your annual review, your actions need to be tailored and bespoke to every location you operate from.

The great thing about this approach is that whilst there’s a lot of upfront work, you’ll create a playbook of trusted interventions that you can reuse.

THREE

Stop looking at census figures. You wouldn’t make decisions based on ten year old data in any other part of HR, so why are you doing it here? Initial census figures from 2021 are due next March, and will no doubt result in frantic updates to internal representation targets.

So beware of trumpeting results against census figures this year. Instead, begin preparing for next year’s figures, and where you can begin to look at local figures for the areas you work in. Also consider that racial demographics aren’t uniform through age groups, and the working population is considerably more ethnically diverse than the population as a whole.

FINAL THOUGHTS

As HR leaders, we know sustainable change comes incrementally, not overnight. We make a small change, embed it, then build upon it – with an eye to the end goal.

Sir Keir Starmer was criticised for referring to Black Lives Matter as a moment, rather than a movement. But in reality it’s both. We should all hope the movement doesn’t need to take to the streets again, as that will probably come as the result of another Black person’s death. In that respect the Black Lives Matter protests we saw was a moment.

But we should also ensure that moment was a trigger. One we all use to do better. Has anything really changed? I don’t think we should expect end-results yet. But you should have begun taking actions.

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