DE&I is firmly on the agenda – but how do you make it a reality?

The barriers to work for some under-represented groups such as women and young people have only increased during the pandemic, but with the forecast growth in jobs and scarcity of talent available to do them, now is the time to level the playing field and tap into the skills and potential of these groups.

Digital transformation is driving jobs growth, and this trend is expected to continue as we emerge from the pandemic. But some roles will also continue to decline. The World Economic Forum cites a K-shaped recovery, with growth in areas like cyber security, robotics, data analytics, healthcare, and a decline in more administrative and data entry tasks as these can largely be automated.

Those companies that are digitising are creating the most jobs, and many are accelerating their plans as a result of the pandemic.

Which is good news. Except that alongside this growth, access to opportunities is not fairly and equally distributed. There are those with the relevant skills who are in the fortunate position of having choices, but those without are not getting the same access to work and are often held back from achieving what they are capable of. The ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’, as described in ManpowerGroup’s 2021 Skills Revolution Reboot Report.

On top of this, sadly, it is the under-privileged groups already at a disadvantage that have been the hardest hit through the pandemic, therefore widening the divide.

Excluding key workers, most people in the bottom tenth of the earnings distribution were in sectors that were forced to close throughout the lockdown. Young people and those of Pakistani, Bangladeshi or black ethnicity were also disproportionality affected.

Disadvantaged children were around one and a half years behind in their learning compared to other pupils prior to the pandemic, and this gap has widened during each lockdown. Women have also been put at more of a disadvantage, either because of their role as the primary carer of their children, or because of the nature of the sectors they work in. And for those with a disability or neurodiverse condition, whilst there have been some upsides to the pandemic like being able to work at home in a familiar environment, overall they have faced barriers to work for too long. As an example, it is estimated that only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment, yet they have valuable skills to offer.

We need to level the playing field and remove the barriers that have held too many people back for too many years. Meaningful work plays such a key role in people’s lives, giving us purpose, economic means, fulfilment, self-esteem. We all have an equal right to this, whatever our background and characteristics. It is also how, as a country, we will achieve the prosperity and growth opportunities needed to recover as we exit the pandemic.

According to the CBI May 2021 Report, now is the time to ‘Seize the Moment’. Their 2030 Vision is that the UK “will be a country where our diversity and inclusiveness will be known as our global calling card – a place of work where anyone can bring their best and authentic self, irrespective of background, age, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity or disability. We will enable people to realise their full potential at work, thereby strengthening the UK’s competitive advantage in the world of 2030”.

The benefits to diversity and inclusion at work are clear and well documented. Increased creativity, better understanding of customers, improved decision-making, increased financial performance. There is no doubt that diversity benefits businesses, individuals and society.

The good news is that many companies recognise this, and much is being written and said about it. There is a clear will and desire to drive a focus on diversity and inclusion. The question is how? How do you move from will and desire to action?

This is something I’ve been thinking and talking about a lot in recent months. I am clear there are no easy answers or silver bullets – it is a big, complex, multifaceted area – and in my experience it is more a case of trying things, testing, learning and evolving to find out what makes a difference and what doesn’t.

Three questions I have asked myself as I look to shape our approach:

1. Which diverse groups are we looking to attract for which roles?

It is easy to get into a mindset of wanting to change the world in one go, but to drive real impact it needs to be targeted. And it needs to connect the talent supply to what the organisation actually needs. What is the business strategy looking ahead, what skills will be needed, where in the business do you need to improve diversity, which roles do you want to target for which diverse groups?

For example, with the surge in demand for niche IT roles, many of our clients are struggling to find the talent they need. As part of our work to address this talent shortage, we are partnering with autism charities, given that people on the autistic spectrum often have strengths in these areas.

To address the rising youth unemployment challenge, we are taking on a cohort of around 40 young people on the government Kickstart scheme. Working with a number of our managers across the country, we’ve identified entry-level tasks that will give the young people some good work experience and help us as an organisation. The wrap-around support will be key in setting them up for success, and we are designing a central programme of activities to support them. Our hope is to transition as many Kickstarters as possible on to an apprenticeship and/or permanent employment.

2. What support do these diverse groups need to engage and retain them?

This is such a critical question, because if left unanswered the danger is you build your diversity mix but you are unable to retain these people, since they don’t receive the support they need or feel like they ‘belong’ in your organisation. Not good for their experience of work and not good for your brand.  You can end up in a worse place than you started.

Things to consider here include: how inclusive are your working practices and what changes may be required, do you need to make any reasonable adjustments, what training can you put in place (for the individual but also for their teams/leadership), what peer networks can you connect the individual to, what role models and mentoring opportunities exist or can be established in the organisation?

3. What does our overall company EVP and culture say about us from a DE&I standpoint?

A truly diverse and inclusive culture permeates through every aspect of how a company operates – the way people behave, the habits they form, the stories that are shared, how leaders lead and how they are rewarded, the formal and informal networks that exist, the end-to-end working practices and policies.

We have 3 pillars to our DE&I Strategy: 1) Inclusive leadership, 2) Equal Working Practices, 3) Our People’s Voice. Each pillar is sponsored by our senior leadership and championed by our DE&I Network, which is made up of ambassadors and supporters across the organisation. This team drives a range of activities designed to deliver action against each pillar.

Like many, this is a multi-year journey for us and in reality we will never stop working on it. We are also working with our clients to help them build their diversity pipeline, using a methodology to attract and hire the diversity groups they want to target.

If you are considering how to shape your own DE&I approach, you may find these 3 questions useful in framing your thinking.

As we progress through this journey, both internally at ManpowerGroup and with our clients, I will share more and dive deeper on key topics, in the hope that others can benefit but also that they will share too, so we can collectively learn how to drive a positive change in this area.