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Call for government-endorsed framework to push D&I

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 25 Apr 2024

Organisations struggling to create more inclusive workplaces, despite the huge sums of money being devoted to workplace diversity and inclusion.

An independent panel charged with helping employers drive fairness in the workplace is calling on the government to endorse a new framework that makes it easier for organisations to understand which diversity and inclusion (D&I) practices are most effective and offer the best value for money. 

A report by the Inclusion and Work Panel – established in 2023 as part of the government’s Inclusion Britain action plan – also recommends that the government develop a digital tool to allow leaders and managers to assess which strategies are most likely to be successful.

The move comes following concerns that organisations don’t know what does and doesn’t work when it comes to achieving more inclusive workplaces, despite a high level of funding being spent on workplace D&I.

According to Harvard Kennedy School Professor Iris Bohnet, US companies spend roughly $8bn a year on diversity training, and McKinsey analysis found that Fortune 1000 companies collectively pledged around $141bn to driving racial equity in the 17 months to October 2022. Meanwhile, the UK employs almost twice as many D&I workers (per 10,000 employees) as any other country, according to data from LinkedIn.

“The evidence points to confusion,” the report says. “Employers are expected to understand disadvantage and equality in great depth, and keep up to date with the most current positions. Leaders in all sectors can and should be empowered to better understand their own workforce data, and how specific practice can help productivity, retention, fairness and belonging.”

The Framework endorsed by the Panel offers a clear and concise way to help organisations conceptualise what successful D&I practice entails. It puts forward five criteria for organisations to consider when designing, implementing, and evaluating good D&I policies and practices. It also highlights the conditions most likely to result in long-term success of the initiatives. 

Criteria 1: Gathering evidence systematically and comprehensively

The collection of robust data and insights is rare, the report warns. Gathering evidence on D&I metrics allows organisations to identify context-specific problems within their own organisation, rather than assuming that society-wide inequalities are present. It also allows employers to target interventions proportionately to address problems.  

Criteria 2: Putting evidence into practice

Many organisations’ D&I approaches are driven by pre-existing notions, assumptions, and pressures rather than empirical evidence. According the the CIPD, only 25% of organisations consult data before new inclusion and diversity activity is planned. 

Criteria 3: Reviewing interventions and processes regularly

A lack of evaluation of D&I policies and procedures within organisations is prevalent. Evidence-led practice allows organisations to assess whether their D&I interventions are having the desired effect, and to adapt or reverse them if they are shown to be ineffective or counterproductive. 

Criteria 4: Widening diversity of thought and experience

Much D&I activity has focused on gender and race representation, expanding to disability, sexuality, socio-economic and neurodiversity more recently. Improvements in representation and belonging are evident in the UK, and are welcome developments. 

Criteria 5: Clear performance standards, high-quality vocational training, and excellent management 

Recruiting and retaining employees with the skills the organisation needs should not be in conflict with activity to improve diversity and belonging. Transparent progression and high-quality vocational training are likely to be better suited to improving diversity and belonging in an organisation than standalone awareness initiatives or identity networks. 

In a letter to the Minister for Women and Equalities, Panel Chair Pamela Dow said: “There is clearly an appetite and need for an authoritative means to assess the quality and value for money of workplace practice. This should be something that can be used for both large organisations and small, in all sectors.”

The Panel also recommends that the government’s Equality Hub looks to the Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit and builds a similar ‘self-improving’ model for assessing interventions in pursuit of inclusion. 

“The precision and specificity of such a tool will equip leaders and managers in all workplaces to assure themselves that they are investing their limited resources in ways that achieve their ultimate goals. We believe the same model has the most potential for lasting change in the workplace. In time, this work might evolve into a set of practices which could be codified into independent accreditation.” 

The Panel said it is pushing back on plans to develop a new, voluntary ‘inclusion-confident scheme’ to improve D&I practice and progression in the workplace, despite that being part of its original remit when it was set up in June 2023.

“We do not recommend introducing a new scheme at this stage. Many [existing schemes] already cover the concept of inclusivity in some way. Introducing another accreditation or compliance scheme risks duplication and perverse incentives, and before those the challenge of communicating any awareness at all. Second, the very broad and subjective definitions of ‘inclusion’ make a precise and useful scheme near impossible.”

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