Employers too focused on diversity and have forgotten inclusion, says CIPD report

Concentrating on employee experience and line manager capability will help HR see beyond diversity metrics

Employers should be spending less time focusing on diversity metrics and more on promoting genuine inclusion, according to a new report from the CIPD, which says businesses must tackle barriers such as poor progression and bias to introduce real change. 

The report, Building inclusive workplaces, released today to coincide with the start of National Inclusion Week, said employers were often too worried about creating a workforce that looked diverse, and needed to focus more on how employees with diverse backgrounds were supported and included once they were in the business.

It pointed out that inclusion was “conceptually distinct” from diversity, defining it as how an employee experiences their workplace, as opposed to the differences represented within an organisation.

Mel Green, research adviser at the CIPD, said that where previously the focus had been on boosting diversity, organisations needed to think about employee experience at work. “It’s important to note that there's not one quick win that organisations can do,” she said, highlighting the importance of line managers in creating inclusivity.

She added: “D&I is not about helping a diverse range of people to fit in per se. It’s about making sure there are no barriers, and organisations are not designed in an exclusionary way. It’s about taking a systemic approach to what practices are in place, what policies are in place and what kind of organisational culture you have.”

Green recommended organisations identify specific barriers to inclusion and think about how they can use their D&I strategy to target them. “There are a number of areas that professionals need to think about in terms of building inclusion. Thinking about employees in their role is really important but line managers have one of the biggest impacts on people,” said Green.

“Line managing inclusively is really important and it might involve building capability in that area, providing training and guidance for managers to enact policies and be inclusive in their ways of working, or looking at policies and practices.”

Inclusion has become increasingly important to businesses that have come under pressure from staff, customers and stakeholders to demonstrate they are genuinely committed to the concept. Recent research has suggested that leaders are still reluctant to hire women of childbearing age and disabled people, while concerns over the ethnicity pay gap will see legislation introduced shortly.

Teresa Boughey, founder and chief executive of Jungle HR, said inclusion gave employees a sense of belonging, and suggested HR professionals speak to their workforce to understand what inclusivity meant to them. 

Boughey said: “People should be valued for the differences they bring, not pushed to conform to be accepted. Of course, businesses need to be open to diversity and change, but without placing the focus upon inclusion and making those people feel like they truly belong and fully integrating inclusion policies across their business strategy and future-proofing, they will never be able to say they are truly diverse.

“To really look at whether a business is succeeding in D&I, we need to look at whether their employees truly feel like they belong and are a part of something bigger,” she added.