Reading the news or scrolling through social media, it is hard to escape the public discussion around diversity. Movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo have raised awareness of the injustices that Black people and women face, for example, and have been supported by high-profile organisations like the English Premier League and the US congress. These movements, and others advocating for LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, refugees, and neurodivergent people, among others, have forced us to reconsider whether our society treats everyone fairly.
The workplace is one arena where diversity discussions have very real consequences —in hiring decisions, pay, and how employees are treated. So to explore these issues further, we surveyed exactly 1,000 managers and directors from small businesses with 250 employees or less. We wanted to know more about their attitudes to diversity, what actions their companies are taking, and whether they could do more. We will also explore how software —such as communications, recruitment, and policy management tools— can help managers ensure diversity and inclusion on an ongoing basis.
You can scroll to the bottom of this article for a full methodology.
What is workplace diversity and inclusion?
According to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), which works with companies and employees to improve workplace relations:
“Diversity is the range of people in your workforce. For example, this might mean people with different ages, religions, ethnicities, people with disabilities, and both men and women. It also means valuing those differences.”
Of the SME decision-makers we surveyed, 82% say that diversity matters to them. 52% say that it matters “a lot”, while 30% say “a bit”. Similarly, 70% think that it is important to work for a company that supports social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter and LGBTQ+. 40% say it’s “very important” while 30% say it’s “moderately important”.
More younger respondents find support of these social movements “very important” than older respondents: 57% of 18-24-year-olds agreed with the statement compared with only 29% of those aged 55-64, for example.
Employers are taking diversity and inclusion seriously
More than three-quarters (77%) of the people we surveyed say there is diversity in their workplace. 77% also think their company does enough to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace: 41% say their company does a lot, while 37% say it does a little but could do more.
The most common action that companies take is to talk and listen to employees about their needs, concerns and opinions (54%). 46% have a policy to take action in response to acts of discrimination. 42% educate employees on diversity through training.
27% of the managers responding to our survey have experienced workplace discrimination. And 48% of the people we surveyed have filed a complaint at work that was taken seriously.
What constitutes workplace discrimination?
In the workplace, as well as in many other situations, it is against the law to discriminate against someone because of:
– Marital status
– Being pregnant or on maternity leave
– Race (including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin)
– Religion or beliefs
– Gender reassignment
– Sexual orientation
This discrimination might take the form of unfair treatment, harassment, or victimisation based on having made previous complaints. In the workplace, discrimination might occur during decisions around recruitment, training, pay, promotions, dismissal, or redundancy.
Employers have a responsibility to prevent discrimination in their workplaces, and that includes discrimination carried out by their employees. Failure to do this may result in victims taking their case to an employment tribunal. You can find out more about preventing workplace discrimination on GOV.uk.
Managers say they should listen to employees
Diversity and inclusion are ongoing projects. While companies may have taken steps to make their workplaces more reflective of society as a whole, they will no doubt have some way left to go.
Just over half of respondents (51%) say their company still has work to do to improve diversity and inclusion. When asked what their company could do, employee engagement features prominently:
- More than one-third (34%) say their company should talk and listen to employees about their needs, concerns, and opinions.
- 33% want to educate employees on diversity through training.
- 27% want to hold more inclusive company meetings.
- 27% say their company should celebrate employee differences.
Breaking down pay gaps
One area where discrimination can manifest itself is in pay gaps. The national difference between women’s and men’s pay has become a prominent topic in recent years, and since 2017, companies with more than 250 employees must report their pay gap data each year.
19% of the managers we surveyed believe there is a gender pay gap in their company versus 70% who do not. But a Financial Times report from September 2020 says that 89% of all women in the UK work for companies that pay female staff less than men. Furthermore, more than three in four companies pay male staff more than female staff.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the average gender pay gap in 2020 is 7.4% for full-time employees and 15.5% for all workers overall. For those under 40 in full-time work, the gap is close to zero.
Software to help with workplace diversity
- Internal communications software makes it possible to maintain an efficient dialogue between employers and employees. This can prove useful in raising issues when employees do not feel comfortable doing so in person, for example.
- One area where companies might show unconscious bias is in their hiring process. Recruitment software can help them overcome those biases through mechanisms such as removing information —such as gender, race, age, etc.— from job applications that might lead a recruiter or manager to discriminate against a candidate
- Talent management software lets employers accurately monitor employee performance and compensate them fairly. Aligning pay rises to performance data can help employers demonstrate that they are not discriminating against an employee based on any other characteristics.
- Employee engagement software helps managers communicate company culture to their workforce and helps employees invest in that culture. Tools include employee surveys, gamification, rewards systems, and team sentiment analytics. Managers can gather information about how employees feel about diversity in the organisation and then use that same software to communicate changes to the workforce and reinforce them in practice.
- It can be hard for organisations to keep track of the various workplace policies they have. But policy management software provides the tools to write, approve, and maintain internal and external policies and can help maintain compliance by making policies accessible to all employees.
To collect the data for this report, we conducted an online survey in August and September 2021. Of the total respondents, we were able to identify 1,000 UK respondents that fit within our criteria:
- UK resident
- Over 18 years of age
- Full-time or part-time employed
- In a management/executive position (manager or owner)
- Work in an SMB (with 2-250 employers)