Half of employees think better inclusion is only possible with leadership change, research finds

Experts suggest firms can improve diversity through commitment from leaders and improved recruitment processes

Half of employees feel there needs to be a change in their organisation’s leadership before they see real progress in inclusion and diversity outcomes, research has found.

A survey of 1,500 employees, conducted by Savanta, found that when asked, 54 per cent of respondents believed it was true that inclusion and diversity progress was only possible with leadership change.

This increased to 59 per cent among workers aged 18-34; 57 per cent among Asian employees; and 63 per cent among black employees.

The survey also found that, while half (48 per cent) of respondents believed it was everyone’s responsibility to educate employees on inclusion and diversity, more than a fifth (22 per cent) felt this was HR’s responsibility.

Similarly, 20 per cent of employees said it was the role of business leadership to inform and educate the workplace.

Commenting on the findings, ​​Paul Holcroft, managing director at Croner, said that the data shows a “lack of faith in leaders” and their ability to implement inclusion and diversity progress within their firms.

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“Business leaders can see this as a push to change,” he suggested. “Studies have shown that top-down commitment to values is the best way to see them spread throughout the company: it is time for leaders to step up and do this.”

Sandra Kerr CBE, race director at Business in the Community (BITC), said that it was a “sad fact that not all companies are equal”, and that employees wanted to see changes in both leadership and policy to improve the situation.

Part of the problem, Kerr added, was in part down to businesses’ recruitment practices

“Companies should re-evaluate their recruitment processes and make sure they use inclusive language to attract a diverse pool of talent, as well as eliminate any potential bias by including interviewers from different backgrounds,” she said. 

Employers should also look at the entry requirements for their roles and aim to attract candidates with the best experience rather than looking at other factors such as education or background, according to Kerr. 

The Savanta research also polled employees on what measures they wanted to see businesses take to improve the inclusion and diversity of their firms.

The most popular action, cited by 54 per cent of respondents, was for employers to introduce a requirement of all leadership to be active participants in company inclusion and diversity initiatives. 

Other measures supported by employees included investment in management and leadership training and career development programmes for minority employees (53 per cent); expansion of recruitment pools beyond schools, universities and other traditional sources (52 per cent); and an improvement in recruitment processes including the introduction of blind CVs and diverse recruitment panels (51 per cent). 

More than half (52 per cent) also said they want extensive bias training for HR employees and all levels of management, and half of respondents said they want an inclusion and diversity audit for company policies and culture (50 per cent) and to have a committee made up of black and other ethnic minority employees to help shape policy and monitor progress (50 per cent).