Call for a rethink on diversity and inclusion

A new report calls for a rethink of diversity, equity and inclusion work to include everyone and drive more radical change.

Man and woman having a meeting at work


Diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives can be too simplistic and may inadvertently fuel division, says a new report which calls for them to be reimagined and broadened.

The Boston Consulting Group‘s report, It’s time to reimagine diversity, equity and inclusion, says that up until now diversity, equity and inclusion [DEI] outcomes have been “modest at best”.  The Group cites figures showing 56% of men in the UK feel diversity may not always be important in their jobs compared to 47% of women and says:

  • While 100% of S&P 500 companies have at least one woman on their board, 90% of Fortune 500 CEOs remain cisgender, straight white men
  • While 75% of global companies have diversity programmes, 75% of targeted employees do not feel personal benefit.

To reimagine DEI the report says employers must redefine why it benefits them, reset who is the focus of DEI efforts and reinvent how to develop well-rounded solutions based on the “underlying emotional needs” of individual employees and what is most likely to drive positive outcomes.

By redefining the benefits, the report says that while it is still critically important to address underrepresentation of certain groups at all levels of the workforce and develop a supportive culture, the DEI framework needs to be broadened to focus on “unlocking the value of human capital in order to gain long-term competitive advantage”.

It states: “To do this, companies need to ensure that as many people as possible contribute, collaborate, and ultimately thrive in the workplace.” That means DEI should be framed as a talent attraction and retention tool that helps employers to stay ahead of the game. By “inadvertently excluding the majority”, it says, “DEI efforts can fuel divisiveness”.

The report says that in order to make much greater progress on representation, “we need to be both bolder and more expansive in our thinking”. “For decades, we have defined diversity in opposition to a single archetype: usually a white (particularly in the US and Europe), cisgender, straight, middle-aged male,” it states. “That limited view has led us astray. We cannot continue to define diversity in oppositional terms. Doing so has reinforced adversarial relationships between the “majority” and the “minority”.”

Mindset shift

The report calls for a critical mindset shift to show that DEI includes – and benefits – everyone. Traditionally, says the report, DEI has focused on race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. But it states that “diversity comes in many forms” and the barriers holding back employees in one organisation may differ from those in another. It cites, for instance, caring responsibilities and age.

It says: “A broad range of identities can affect how people perform at work, but often these are invisible or do not naturally fit inside the core set of diversity categories that employers focus on. Therefore, very little is done to address these differences. Leaders simply can’t expect a system built for the more homogeneous workforce of yesterday to continue to be successful for today’s more diverse generation.”

The report says employers need to understand what motivates individuals and what obstructs them so they can devise creative solutions that allow people to give of their best at work. They also need to be aware that these barriers may change over the course of employees’ working life cycle and  understand “the intersection of identity, context and an employee’s journey over a career”.

That means developing a ‘holistic understanding’ of people’s needs, particularly their emotional needs and apply data-driven, statistical engines to find clusters of demographic, contextual and attitudinal factors that best predict different sets of needs and are most important in enabling people to thrive at work.

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