As a global employee engagement consultancy, we have been observing closely as employee sentiments, expectations and wellbeing have transformed beyond recognition within the past three years. It’s hardly surprising that the back-to-back events of the pandemic, economic turbulence and political tensions have widely disrupted mental health and significantly reduced capacity to engage with work.
Pandemic spelled disaster for diversity
Since 2020, after years of incremental progress to a fairer working world, we’ve seen inequality rocket. Minoritized groups, who were underrepresented within many sectors pre-pandemic, had the highest rates of being made redundant from 2020 onwards. People from non-white ethnic groups were deeply impacted when it came to job losses. The unemployment rate was 7.1%, up from 6.2% pre-pandemic. 51% of the people who faced redundancy have a disability or a long-term health condition and women made up the majority of those who faced job losses during this time too. Understandably, with financial losses and barriers comes increased mental health strain, lower quality of health and more obstacles to get back into work, especially for these groups.
Companies aren’t keeping pace with their people
The expectation of companies, HR departments and their DE&I policies is to keep pace with the needs of their people. With the likes of the great resignation and the floods of professionals leaving sectors due to the lack of equity and inclusion, it’s clear they’re not. It’s no longer just about creating space, but accepting diversity in a deeper way.
Wellbeing solutions that are inclusive, we know people are feeling the current hardships very differently.
Policies and culture that flex to their lifestyles. Many people who lost their roles struggled to manage their own health conditions, families and so forth and still be able to professionally progress.
Transparency around business decisions and from leaders to understand their commitment to ensuring they are not continually forced to become the most disadvantaged.
Clear action plans on how organisations plan to address the inequalities that exist for different communities when it comes to pay, progression and recognition.
We must ask ourselves the question: if what employees need from DEI has changed, why do organisations insist on approaching and repeating current-day issues like we’re still in 2020?
Tackling the gap through understanding
To advise our clients and lead the conversation on DEI with accuracy and insight, we’ve been hosting focus groups to understand the mindset of today’s leading organisations and specialist personnel. Let’s reflect on the two global DEI focus groups we ran in 2021 vs 2023 to see how organisations felt about bringing DEI to life.
In 2021, people said that the most effective way to create a DEI strategy that benefits employees is by listening to employees at all levels of the organisation. This means that leaders need to actively listen, ask challenging questions and make sure they prioritise listening throughout the year.
However, in 2023, participants expressed that their leaders still don’t fully grasp DEI and organisational problems, and they don’t know what to do with the DEI data they collected. Reflecting on why it feels like organisations are stuck in 2020 when it comes to DEI, it appears that one of the barriers is failing to cultivate insights that reveal what their organisations need, why people are behaving the way they are, and how to support employees through change. Employee surveys around DEI do not equate to businesses deeply understanding the root of issues, nor does it mean a leader will be empowered to drive change. Insights must be smart and go beyond demographic data.
Inaction breeds insecurity
Organisations struggle to deeply understand business issues. Our focus group found that DEI is crucial for employee wellbeing and engagement. A lack of safety and belonging impacts longevity. Organisations must move beyond theoretical discussions and adapt to provide effective solutions. Support is needed to challenge norms and dismantle barriers for diverse teams to thrive. It’s no longer about diagnosing but addressing obstacles to meaningful change.
Which leads us to the final observation that both our international focus groups had in 2021 and in 2023. DEI influences how innovative organisations can be when it comes to problem solving. Likewise, it moulds the quality of their culture and how they interact with different communities both internally and externally. In 2023, there was increased sentiment of DEI not being leveraged properly, it was being treated as a separate entity instead of a tool to enrich organisations and decrease various business risks. And that is the biggest barrier.
DEI will fundamentally shape the employee experience
Companies view DEI as a box to tick for compliance, rather than a clever approach to run their business. This leads to a lack of understanding of their unique business problems, and confusion about how to apply and tackle DEI in their particular settings. DEI aims to produce adaptable outcomes, firms and leaders who can anticipate future changes and maintain themselves.
Companies taking action today have the advantage.
The back-to-back series of unprecedented events has shown now more than ever people need leaders who truly understand their obstacles and are confident enough to take action and be transparent if the approach isn’t working.
Organisations need the right framework, insights and tools to test approaches in a way that benefits their people. This kind of holistic approach will also make it easier to measure the impact in a detailed way.
It appears when we compare the sentiments of 2021 vs 2023, the issue has never been about intention but a lack of confidence and knowing how to execute action that employees get to experience. What has kept organisations stuck in 2020, is the lack of actual honest insights, tools they feel confident to use to drive change and security to test new ways of working.
In 2023, we want to eradicate these barriers. Download our 2023 DEI Report and get an exclusive look at our DEI solution to get you out of this rut: https://info.forty1.com/the-dei-report-2023-uk
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