Diversity and Inclusion Research: 2020 Priorities

Research paper

What are businesses 2020 priorities?

2019 was a turbulent year for diversity and inclusion (D&I). We saw resistance against messages of inclusion, with politicians distorting the clear message of equality, research exposing the reality of pay gaps and protests against LGBT inclusive teaching in schools. All put the hard-fought achievements made in the name of equal rights at risk.

Thankfully, the D&I agenda is stronger and more visible than ever before – the perfect time, we thought, to conduct market research about the priorities for diversity and inclusion in 2020.

Read on for a summary.

If you require an accessible version of the report, please contact office@theewgroup.com.

EW Group’s 2020 Priorities report

At the tail end of 2019, we reached out to EW Group clients, contacts and the wider diversity and inclusion community to gain an authentic insight into organisations’ engagement with equality.

Our respondents consisted of CEOs, senior leaders, heads and managers of diversity and inclusion, and HR leads and managers. Each offered a window into their organisation’s D&I progress and future plans.

We asked participants fourteen pertinent questions about diversity and inclusion to understand its position within organisations, constraints and limitations, levels of leadership buy-in, Brexit’s potential effects on inclusion, and most importantly, organisations’ priorities for 2020.

To gain an accurate insight into the organisational priorities around D&I in the coming year, we asked the following questions to respondents:

  1. On a scale of 1-10, how engaged do you think your organisation is in the EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) agenda and its business benefits?
  2. And your senior leaders?
  3. Do you collect diversity data on your staff on the following characteristics?
  4. Which of the following has your organisation already rolled out to staff, managers or senior leaders?
  5. Which of these areas are high-priority for your business over the next year?
  6. In terms of next steps for your EDI development, please rank the following in terms of importance.
  7. Which of the following characteristics is your organisation most focusing on over the next year?
  8. How concerned are you about the need for businesses to reinforce the positives of inclusive practice in the run-up to Brexit?
  9. Which of these L&D areas will you be following/applying in 2020?
  10. In terms of digital technology, how advanced do you see your L&D provision becoming in 2020?
  11. What is the strongest constraint when it comes to realising your L&D aims for EDI?
  12. Where does EDI sit in your organisation now?
  13. Where do you see EDI sitting in your organisation in the future?
  14. How important is it for your organisation to gain an accreditation for D&I in the next 12 months?

2019 was a rocky year for equality, so we weren’t too sure what to expect. What we discovered was not entirely predictable. Here’s what we uncovered.

Diversity and inclusion engagement is on the rise

We began by asking participants how engaged their organisation is with diversity and inclusion. While it outlines the need for work in the coming years, the average score of 5.8/10 (compared with 5.2 in 2017) shows that organisations are becoming more engaged with this issue.

Similarly, senior leaders are becoming more engaged with equality and diversity: rising from 5.0/10 in 2017 to 6.1 at the close of the decade.

These increases might seem small, but they demonstrate that diversity and inclusion is becoming a more important topic in many organisations.

Inclusive cultures are a top priority

Diversity and inclusion is a topic often interlinked with inclusive workplace cultures. You can’t truly have diversity without inclusion, nor can you have an entirely inclusive culture without a robust D&I strategy. So, we asked respondents about their next equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) development priorities for 2020.

We started off by asking respondents to rank the following aspects in terms of priority:

  • Building inclusive cultures
  • Business strategy or policy review
  • Culture change
  • Diversity data analysis and audit
  • EDI road-mapping and action planning
  • Inclusive leadership (see our guide for more information)
  • Mental health and wellbeing
  • Recruitment and selection
  • Unconscious bias.

Out of the nine options, ‘Building inclusive cultures’ ranked the top development priority. Inclusive leadership scored second, with culture change, and mental health and wellbeing coming third and fourth. Unconscious bias came in ninth place, indicating that most respondents have already rolled out this training to establish a better understanding of managing personal prejudices.

Inclusive workplace cultures can be impacted by anything from micro-behaviours, to unconscious bias, or even due to a lack of inclusive steering at senior level. It cannot be built overnight or in confinement.

It is, instead, the amalgamation and result of a business successfully tackling issues such as unconscious bias and improving how it deals with aspects like mental health, as well as taking a proactive approach to strategising and supporting its broader diversity and inclusion goals.

If building an inclusive culture is on your list of priorities this year, consider the different ways you can go about achieving this.

  • Diversity audits can identify pressure points that affect your organisation’s D&I performance.
  • Training your leaders, managers and all staff in Inclusive Cultures or Diversity and Inclusion will start the narrative and improve understanding around difference and inclusion, and will make it clear about the steps your employees can take to make a difference to those around them.

The factors constraining diversity and inclusion

Although research, including that by McKinsey, highlights that the benefits of investing in diversity and inclusion significantly outweigh its costs, some leaders can be sceptical. It’s probably inevitable that you’ll face some type of obstacle during your D&I journey – but the important thing is to work to overcome them.

We asked respondents about their strongest constraint in terms of diversity and inclusion progression. Time/capacity came in first place, with half of respondents attributing this to the challenges of progressing D&I at their workplace. Budget came in second, with almost a third of participants saying this is the most constraining element at their organisation for equality.

Budget as a constraint has more than tripled compared with our 2017 findings, when only 9.1% of respondents rated this the strongest constraint. With areas such as Mental Health Awareness and Menopause Matters growing in interest, are all organisations going to match the need for training with increased financial support?

Mental health and wellbeing is a key focus

With help from national campaigners and high-profile patrons, mental health and wellbeing awareness is at an all-time high. More businesses are understanding the importance of tackling mental health problems and this is reflected in the results.

When asked to rank protected characteristics in terms of order of focus for 2020, mental health ranked second only to disability.

But while more organisations are rightfully dedicating efforts, budgets and resources to increase mental health support, how do you actually go about combatting such a socially entrenched issue?

There are several ways to manage mental health at work. It’s probably part of your wider focus of building an inclusive workplace culture, where colleagues are encouraged to share problems they face. This can be achieved in several ways that work together to truly combat the mental health stigma.

  • Implement policies that are found to improve the wellbeing of your staff, such as having mental health first aiders or flexible working arrangements.
  • Deliver mental health awareness training to your line managers, where they will learn how to identify common symptoms of mental health problems and how to respond when an employee discloses a condition.
  • Take an organisational stance on mental health – such as, hosting an event on World Mental Health Day – that will create a forum for colleagues to discuss and understand these widespread problems.

Becoming accredited in diversity and inclusion

This year’s survey was the first time we had asked respondents about their interest in gaining an external accreditation for their D&I progress. Accreditations, like EW Group’s new Diversity Development Standard, enables organisations to gain recognition for their work around EDI, as well as creating an action plan for iterative improvement.

When respondents were asked about how important it is for them to gain an accreditation in D&I in 2020, almost a quarter (23.2%) of them scored this as “very important”, with many more showing a growing interest in external assessment and recognition.

A lot has changed since 2017. Our 2020 Priorities research has identified a clear shift in the interests, positioning and priorities of diversity and inclusion within UK organisations.

The full 2020 Priorities report includes the results and analysis of all fourteen questions, including Brexit, current and future positioning of EDI, types of training, diversity data, and more.

If you require an accessible version of the report, please contact office@theewgroup.com 

Related Reading

Disability: some examples of good practice for making reasonable adjustments at work
How to build a diverse and inclusive culture
What is Cultural Adaptability and why do you need it?
Tackle workplace gender inequality with executive coaching
Unconscious bias training doesn’t work – the evidence says it does
Diversity audits benefits and where to start
What is your workplace diversity challenge

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