Will your I&D policy make employees quit?

People Management asks the experts if value-driven employees will really leave over poor inclusion policies, and what HR can do to mitigate the risk

Credit: Nadia Bormotova/iStockphoto/Getty Images

In today’s workforce, employees are increasingly driven by values, ethics and morals. Spurred on since the step-change in business culture during the pandemic, and the urgency of sustainability, people are keenly tuned in to what businesses are doing internally to make a difference. 

A recent report from ADP found that I&D was becoming increasingly important to employees, and that if employers had an unfair gender pay gap or no diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) policy, then more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of workers would consider getting a job elsewhere. 

Meanwhile, a separate study by Amba found that nearly two-thirds (58 per cent) of employees would consider leaving their job in the next 12 months because their employer doesn’t share the same values as them. Additionally, more than two-thirds were actively looking for an employer who shared their beliefs. 

Sandra Kerr CBE, race director at Business in the Community, said that this phenomena around I&D policies is potentially real, as they are no longer a “nice to have, they are a necessity”, and employees are not “being shy” in making that known to employers. 

But will your employees really up and leave? What does this mean for employers and what can HR do to mitigate the risk? 

Employees that really care 

Your workforce is becoming increasingly driven and aware of I&D issues, said Jonathan Taylor, managing psychologist and head of research at Pearn Kandola, who attributed this to more social and organisational commentary on inclusive intentions. 

“The pandemic has prompted many employees to question who they work for and why – mostly this has centred around work-life balance, but many people are also questioning the purpose of their organisation and how well it aligns with their own,” said Taylor. 

“Organisational justice is a valuable framework for I&D. Essentially it is the extent to which people feel that the organisation is fair to its staff,” he said, adding that there is also evidence that witnessing unfairness such as “colleagues being made redundant in an unfair way even if we retain our job, can lead to disengagement”. 

Taylor added that it is socially desirable to be seen as working for a diverse, inclusive and equitable organisation, so it would be “interesting to see how many people would actually turn down a job offer, or leave their role to take a stand”.  

Katie Allen, DEI specialist and executive coach, said that increased caring is definitely seen among the “younger workforce” who will likely have values centred around “authenticity, connection and freedom”. She warned that employees could “quite possibly” quit in the current climate, but said it won't be an I&D policy that makes workers vote with their feet.

“It will be a poor culture,” said Allen. “I’ve seen excellent I&D policies in companies where the culture has been toxic, so the policy is meaningless. Likewise, I have seen very loose documentation elsewhere, but the commitment to their values and doing the right thing for their people has been unwavering.”

“People might be uncertain during the coming months, but when the choice is between misery and poor mental health, and taking a chance on a new organisation – given that it's talent with the power right now – people will be willing to take the leap.” 

Meanwhile, Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and co-founder of The Work Consultancy, said that while people are more aware of the importance of I&D more generally, she questions whether anyone would actually leave. “What people say they might do in a survey and what they do in reality might not align,” explained Dale. 

 “As we enter a significant cost of living crisis and rising inflation, will employees really put issues like the gender pay gap of their organisation at the forefront of their say/go decisions?” she questioned, adding that many organisations also have significant gender pay gaps, but “is this really translating into employees leaving or deselecting organisations as potential employers?”. 

Could this put businesses off voluntarily reporting I&D metrics? 

Robert Baker, chief executive at Potentia Talent Consulting, said while there is an economic crisis and the temptation could be for employers to do nothing on I&D for the meantime, he would strongly urge against it. 

“If you haven’t made progress you could be put off reporting it [I&D], but there’s so much more visibility now, so if you’re not engaging with it then you could find some issues in attracting and retaining talent,” he warned, adding that “those who don’t embrace it will have a tough time in due course because there’s less places to hide and people will be expecting to see more about this”. 

But, Allen said she can understand why an employer's first thought may be on the negative impact of reporting less than desirable stats on I&D, however, she reminded that the only place any employer can begin is at their own starting point. 

“Whether they choose to report on this or not is largely irrelevant to their own workforce, as they will already know how good or bad the situation is by looking around them. There's a difference between discovering your company is unfair or has no policy, to being proactively told the plan for rectifying it,” she said.

“The best strategies are also co-created with employees, allowing them to take ownership in a real and authentic way. If you aren’t doing a good job and you want to do better, say that, and ask your people to help get you there.”

How can employers shift the dial? 

Helen McGuire, co-founder and CEO at Diversely, said that shifting the dial doesn’t start with policy, but with hiring practices as they will “support those efforts” in multiple ways. 

“Ensuring your outreach is as bias-free and as inclusive as possible will widen your net to more diverse populations and under-represented groups,” said McGuire. “That includes wording your job description in a way that would be appealing to [many groups] and ensuring your considering transferable skills when hiring. 

“The better the sense of belonging and value within an organisation the less likely an employee will want to go and work somewhere else.” She added that belonging is the “final strand” but is the most tangible way to demonstrate the effectiveness of your efforts, as it “shows up” in how diverse your senior leadership teams are. 

“This helps candidates from an under-represented group understand that there is a genuine path to success in the organisation, not just tokenistic rainbow logos or lofty percentage quotas,” added McGuire. 

Taylor said that I&D needs to be woven into the organisational values and behaviour and not be seen as an “extra”, but as something important. 

“Visible efforts need to be made to promote an inclusive culture – with that as a focus, staff (and prospective staff) will see cues that the organisation is serious about what it is saying,” said Taylor, adding that there are a lot of misconceptions about what increasing representation involves, as “changes need to be equitable, data driven and communicated widely so everyone feels involved”.

But, Dale said that on the whole, shifting the dial is “hard” as most actions to improve I&D are easy, but real change takes “time and considerable effort”. 

“Organisations can only tell the story of what they are trying to achieve, why it matters to their organisation and the steps that they are taking to improve from where they are now, as well as the progress that they have made,” said Dale, adding that “if this really does matter to employee as much as the surveys indicate, then a honest appraisal coupled with genuine action will hopefully provide the necessary assurances that these are matters which the organisation takes seriously”.