Why publishing data helps to promote action on D & I

Why mental health initiatives, diversity and inclusion and flexible working are not optional extras and need to be part of business as normal.

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


A survey this week by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the PLSA and Railpen makes interesting reading. Although it found that more than 90% of FTSE 100 companies said they invested in diversity and inclusion, when you drill down to the detail many don’t publish data related to it. While they have to publish the bald figures on gender pay, most don’t publish figures relating to ethnicity, disability, sexuality and age: only 22% provide a breakdown of their workforce by ethnicity, 10% by age, 5% by sexuality and 4% by disability.

On the basis that what gets measured gets done, this doesn’t look particularly good. There has been a lot of discussion about the ethnicity pay gap of late, with concerns expressed that comparing figures in the absence of some kind of framework about the definition of what is being measured might make that information meaningless and potentially damaging. Maybe they have the data, but don’t want to make it public for fear it could be bad for their image. It can be hard to be one of the few to voluntarily publish figures which show there is a lot of work to do, but that has to be balanced against the benefits of being a leader in this area.

Or maybe they don’t have the data – even though knowing the make-up of your workforce is surely the first step to finding out if you have a problem and need to do more. It’s hard to tell. That was the whole point of the gender pay audits – to have some data, however crude – on which to measure your progress which could be supplemented by more detailed analysis and an action plan.

The audits put the spotlight on women and Black Lives Matter has put pressure on employers to do something beyond issuing a statement to show they are taking diversity seriously. Many acknowledge they have a problem. Yet things like age are very much on the periphery and disability seems to be on the periphery of the periphery, although there is growing interest in neurodiversity.

But surely there’s no point investing in diversity and inclusion if you are not looking to see if whatever you are doing is effective. The CIPD and co are calling for some kind of baseline framework for workforce reporting so that there can be greater consistency and transparency. This matters because in the absence of data things can slide backwards fairly easily or simply get stuck and there is no guarantee that progress moves in a linear way. You can never take your eye off the ball.

Flexible working

Another survey this week shows how difficult it is to change attitudes and culture. The survey for workplace management firm GoodShape found that 34% of UK managers and HR professionals believe that remote working initiatives introduced during the pandemic will be rolled back as the threat of Covid recedes. This is despite 66% supporting work-from-home policies and fears about labour shortages. Respondents also said they expect initiatives addressing poor mental health among staff to be rolled back, even though that was the leading cause of work absenteeism in the UK in 2021.

One could add that mental health is likely to be a challenge for many years to come, given that often mental health problems develop further down the road from any initial crisis and given the lack of funding for any proper support for those who are really struggling. Anyone who has tried to get themselves or their children on a waiting list for support in the last months will know how long the wait is. During that wait people’s problems tend to get worse.

Any employer who is winding down their mental health initiatives should cast a glance at the figures for young people’s mental health – their future workforce. A short-term approach won’t work. It is about changing intrinsically the way we work and support the workforce. Those messages need to be made time and time again. Mental health initiatives, diversity and inclusion and flexible working are not optional extras. They need to be part of business as normal.

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