Redoubling of effort needed to find what works for diversity and equality

Recent reports have questioned the effectiveness of some diversity and equality initiatives, but that doesn’t mean all are discredited. It means we need to ramp up attempts to find what does work.

Inclusion, diversity and equality concept. Letters on wooden cubes over pink background.


It seems perhaps wrong in these terrible times to write about what happens to those privileged few who make it to the C suite of their company, with yesterday’s report showing that half of firms outside the FTSE 350 have no women in the C-Suite being just one example. And yet it is through opening up things at the top that we may get some movement at the bottom.

One of the key ways that we could reduce the gender pay gap and indeed any of the pay gaps, however, is through greater pay equality across the board. If there was less of a gap between those at the top and those at the bottom – even within the four percentiles that the gaps measure – then we would close the pay gap considerably. We know, for instance, that women are more likely to be found in the lower ranks of companies and that their number generally gets lower with every move upwards. Even if they get to the top, they are likely to be paid lower bonuses, in part because of the kind of roles they do.

Covid will make that gap worse and not just because women’s careers have been more affected by doing the majority of the childcare/homeschooling during the pandemic, but because pay is going up for top executives, as are bonuses. The High Pay Centre’s latest report shows that cuts to executive pay during the pandemic led to a fall in the median CEO/median employee pay ratio across the FTSE 350, but that more recent disclosures indicate that pay gaps will widen again in 2022. The TUC reported last week that ‘bumper’ bonuses are on the way back in financial services and are rising more than six times faster than average wages in the UK.

There has been some discussion about whether diversity and inclusion initiatives work of late – which those most opposed to greater equality have jumped on. One report, for instance, suggested that unconscious bias approaches do not work. Another last week said making the business case for diversity puts underrepresented applicants off and even making an argument for greater fairness may be less effective than making no justification at all. Yet when you burrow down into the research the picture is much more complex. It is not that all unconscious bias training is ineffective. It is that some is more effective than others. One-off sessions, for example, that are not followed up with changes to the general culture of an organisation, from the top down and the bottom up – through, for instance, embedding diversity into the rewards system and making it part of the core business purpose – can be a superficial response to a much deeper issue.

Making the business case is something HR people often have to do to get senior management buy-in. Of course, they should not have to justify what they do and it should be taken as business as normal, but how do we get to that point? And if we do, is there not a danger that things could backslide unless we constantly keep up the pressure and monitor what is happening? Progress when it comes to greater equality is not something that is static. It can go forwards and backwards, but to move forwards requires a constant focus. It is all too easy to think that, because some progress has been made, we can maybe focus on something else. That would be a mistake at any time, but at a time of economic crisis following a global pandemic it is definitely not the time to take our eye off the ball. The important thing is not to use these reports about ineffectiveness as an excuse to ditch all focus on diversity and inclusion, but to see them as an incentive to find what does work and to understand better what exacerbates inequality.

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