Half of Brits don't believe equal opportunity at work will ever be achieved, poll finds

Experts advise that firms need to provide more training for managers as well as review the recruitment and career progression process

Half of people don’t believe that equality will be reached in the workplace, according to research, but experts say firms need to offer more training and review their people management processes. 

A recent survey by Hays, which polled 3,100 professionals and employers, found that 51 per cent of professionals don’t believe people from all backgrounds would ever have equal opportunity to succeed within their organisation.

Only three in ten (30 per cent) believed there would be equal opportunity in five years or beyond, while just 19 per cent said this would happen in the next five years.

Despite efforts by employers to raise awareness of equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I) in the workplace, two-fifths (43 per cent) of workers didn’t believe those with differing ethnic backgrounds had equal opportunity to succeed within their organisation. 

A third (34 per cent) of respondents said that women didn’t have equal opportunity within their organisation, while three in ten (32 per cent) said the same about those over the age of 50 and 24 per cent for those who have a disability.

When looking at job opportunities, the report also revealed that three-fifths (61 per cent) of workers said their chances of being selected for a job had been limited because of a protected characteristic, an increase from 50 per cent last year.

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Similarly, nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of professionals said there had been occasions where they felt their chances for career progression had been limited because of a protected characteristic.

When looking at what factors lowered peoples’ chances of securing a job, more than half (56 per cent) of respondents felt their age decreased their chances, 42 per cent said their ethnicity or nationality was a factor, and a third (33 per cent) felt their gender reduced their chances.

Yvonne Smyth, group head of equity, diversity and inclusion at Hays, described the findings as “disheartening”, and called on firms to “step up their action”. 

“Introducing training for managers and employees alike was highly rated in our research to provide an understanding of bias as a start in breaking down barriers that may come into play in the workplace and in the recruitment process,” she advised.

The report found that nearly half (48 per cent) of professionals said they wanted to see their organisation implement more training for managers to improve ED&I, while two in five (42 per cent) would like to see more training for all staff members.

The report also found that more than a third (38 per cent) of workers would like to see employers review their recruitment policies.

Smyth added that employers needed to open up communication across their teams for “open and frank discussions” about diversity and inclusion, noting that staff “need to be aware of what action the company is taking and how they could get involved”.

Mel Green, research adviser at the CIPD, called for employers to “take a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, whether direct or indirect, and commit to create change”.

“In particular, HR teams must review their organisation’s people management approach from end-to-end through multiple inclusion lenses to address blockers and biases in hiring,” she advised, adding that managers need to look at performance management, career progression and rewards.

Zahra Mohamoud, race campaign manager at Business in the Community, added that businesses needed “allies, sponsors and diversity champions” if they were to see equal opportunities for all employees.

Allies in particular were needed to monitor hiring practices to ensure they are fair and equal, while an executive-level sponsor for race was necessary to ensure all candidates had a fair chance of succeeding at the board level.

“We all need a leg up sometimes, but without allies and sponsors paving the way, some talented employees may never get that chance,” Mohamoud said.