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Published On: Thu, Feb 11th, 2021

Diversity in the workplace: What’s the state of play in 2021?

With every passing year, more and more companies pledge to improve their efforts when it comes to workplace diversity, in terms of both hiring policies and active involvement in company affairs. Particularly after the worldwide reckoning of 2020, business leaders are addressing both their past mistakes and the global drive for change and accountability within enterprises of all sizes. However, there has also been understandable criticism of just how much C-suite staff are learning from this process, with accusations of “performative wokeness” being especially common after the racial uprising in June 2020.

So what does this mean for how things stand in 2021? Here, we’ll explore how business culture is trying to address diversity and inclusivity in this hugely transitional period, what has gone right, and what could be done better?

pixabay: Ralph, user Capri23auto

Diversity in leadership roles

According to Egon Zehnder’s bi-annual Global Board Diversity report, companies are improving their efforts at hiring diverse candidates for board positions, particularly when it comes to gender. However, there is still a huge gap to be bridged. The report notes that only 41% of FTSE companies have a racially diverse C-suite, and only 15 companies have a chairperson of colour. This has, however, been a marked increase since the start of that year, when the previous year’s report showed a consistent lack of progress on this front.

However, as Forbes points out, diversifying staff at the top of a company will have a positive impact going further down the chain of command — not just in terms of new hires, but changing the attitudes of existing staff. “Is it not time,” writer Carmen Morris asks, “that leadership employs a system via which they can be treated equitably and supported for the value that they bring?”

Different backgrounds lead to a better working environment

One of the key benefits of workplace diversity at all levels is the range of ideas it can bring about — a fact which has been demonstrated in a range of studies. A recent McKinsey report noted that diverse teams can actually help to bring in up to 30% more revenue. Likewise, the World Economic Forum has noted that “Employees with diverse backgrounds bring to bear their own perspectives, ideas and experiences, helping to create organizations that are resilient and effective, and which outperform organisations that do not invest in diversity.”

Conversely, according to Kantar, just under 50% of businesses continue to put inclusion on the backburner among their priorities, and the resulting workplace atmosphere can put a great deal of stress on staff’s emotional health. Kantar’s study has also pointed out that 55% of staff “don’t feel emotionally supported by their employers,” which will make it very difficult for them to approach management with any issues they have which relate to discrimination. However, workplaces with a more diverse team will not only reduce the likelihood of these sorts of incidents taking place, but encourage staff to reach out to other team members if something does occur.

Training will be in higher demand than ever

As noted above, changing the outlook of current C-suite employees is just as vital to improving corporate diversity efforts as hiring new staff, particularly in roles related to inclusion itself, and a Financial Times article from the start of 2021 reflected how the landscape shifted over the previous year. “During the first half of 2020,” it stated, “diversity and inclusion-related job openings in the US slumped. One month after [George] Floyd’s killing, on May 25, the number of positions listed had surged 55 per cent from their low point; by the end of November, the increase was 245 per cent, with nearly 1,500 openings, far above pre-coronavirus levels.”

Having individuals in-house working to raise awareness of the efforts which need to be taken to improve inclusivity is more useful than sourcing external consultants. This is because, over time, these individuals can build a rapport with the wider team and grow to understand the best ways to approach training and development on a one-to-one or team-by-team basis. And as more companies make more hires to meet these ends, there’s every chance that the outlook by this time next year will be even brighter.

Author: Syna Smith

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