Companies are still struggling to manage diversity beyond gender

A review of some of the UK's largest companies reveals that many are focusing more on workforce diversity, but many areas need more attention

There is still a long way to go. Some of the UK’s biggest companies are increasing their focus on workforce diversity and inclusion. But many have barely begun to embed real change in areas such as sexual orientation, race and disability, the new annual McKenzie-Delis Review finds.

First launched in 2020, this year’s review, conducted in partnership with IPSOS and supported through strategic partner KPMG, sheds light on the complex challenges facing employers post-pandemic. Encouragingly, the business case for D&I is recognised as being stronger than ever, with companies starting to actively track their progress to demonstrate if and how they are embedding change.  

This latest study ranked the ten facets of workplace diversity and inclusion (D&I) beyond gender and ethnicity for monitoring. McKenzie-Delis’review is helping companies assess sexual orientation, disability, age, religion, nationality, socioeconomic status, mental health and wellbeing, and parenthood

“The McKenzie-Delis Review takes a much-needed holistic approach to inclusion, diversity and equity, placing a spotlight on the many facets of diversity, not just gender or ethnicity,” says Bina Mehta, Co-chair of the McKenzie-Delis Review and Chair of KPMG in the UK. 

Mental health 

Let’s begin with the good news. This year, mental health and wellbeing topped the list, with the survey revealing that four out of five companies had an appropriate strategy in place and that 93% wanted to help their employees access quality care. 

Other issues are more alarming. However, among the lowest-ranked facets for UK employers was sexual orientation, rated tenth and even considered by some companies to still be a “taboo topic”. 

The report found that a quarter of firms currently have LGBTQ+ representation on their leadership team, with less than 40% having approved an LGBTQ+ strategy in the past 12 months. A total of 37% of firms did not know if they had a member of the LGBTQ+ community in their senior leadership team.

Disability issues are also lagging. The key findings also included how one in three firms were actively looking to promote or hire staff with disabilities. It highlighted businesses’ “lack of understanding and appreciation of the unique skillset and experiences people with disabilities bring to the organisation”.

On race, companies are performing badly. The report found that companies had generally performed poorly relative to other facets. Leadership teams and boards are still predominantly White, with two-fifths having no ethnic minority representation whatsoever. Where there is ethnic minority diversity at the top, just 14% of senior leaders and 21% of board members are from an ethnic minority background. 

Leila McKenzie-Delis, CEO of D&I accelerator DIAL Global and Founder of the McKenzie-Delis Foundation, a charity committed to driving research and insight into workplace equality, said it’s clear that there is still a long way to go. 

She invites companies to embrace the subject in its entirety. “Some companies are already doing good things and are committed to measuring their progress. But others haven’t done enough or even scratched the surface, particularly those businesses that still do not measure all the facets of D&I”. 

Ben Page, Co-chair of the McKenzie-Delis Review and CEO at IPSOS, said that the results of the McKenzie-Delis Review show that even those businesses thinking about diversity have blind spots. “The fact that legally mandated aspects of diversity like gender and disability get much more attention than areas like age and social background is a reminder that even the most progressive businesses need to keep flexing what they do and being creative.”

Ongoing challenge 

Mehta said data is key: “The collection of quality workforce data may reveal uncomfortable truths, but it’s the critical first step towards turning the dial on diversity. It’s only by embracing the uniqueness which comes from experience and background that open and inclusive cultures can truly become a reality.”

The report concluded that D&I is clearly on the agenda, but it is important that work continues and expands. Despite the best intentions of CEOs, there is no evidence that current diversity initiatives will change the face of leadership. “It’s an ongoing challenge, but one we are determined to tackle”, says Leila McKenzie-Delis. 

To help them, they made various recommendations to businesses under each of the ten facets of best practices and how to strengthen diversity in the workforce. Among them were reviewing talent pipelines, helping businesses end racism in the workplace, providing year-round support for the LGBTQ+ community, and creating a disability employee resource group championed by a senior executive. The full report can be viewed here.  

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