DE&I matters more to UK businesses now than three years ago

Clarity, communication, commitment and strategic alignment are key to success

DE&I holds more importance for companies now than it did three years ago, says a report by executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles.

The study shows that the executive leadership team’s appreciation for the importance of DE&I in the workplace has increased significantly year on year since first tracked.

Day-to-day, this means that practices that were considered ‘leading edge’ three years ago – such as clearly defined DE&I programmes and links to business strategies and outcomes – were only followed by 20% of companies at the time. 

Now, they are followed by almost 60% of companies and are deemed a ‘must-have’ for organisations, following stakeholder demand from customers, employees, and the wider business ecosystem. 

DE&I progress

The report, which takes a fresh look at the sentiment first captured in the Heidrick & Struggles 2019 DE&I report, firmly suggests that the past three years have significantly accelerated trends already in motion.

The data suggests an increased rate of change in the perception of DE&I amongst executive leaders. Globally, the report found that progressing towards DE&I goals is becoming increasingly viewed and managed in the same way as corporate and financial performance. A mix of clarity, communication, leadership commitment, and strategic and systemic alignment—a comprehensive, long-term approach—is what it takes to succeed with DE&I. 

Across the globe, generally, the same characteristics are included in a company’s approach to DE&I. Over 60% of UK respondents stated that gender and nationality are the most important characteristics of their approach to DE&I, with LGBTQ status coming in third at 55%. In comparison, race or ethnicity is the most important characteristic of the approach of companies globally, followed closely by gender, nationality, and disability. 

Actions, behaviours and standards

Since 2019, employees’ actions, behaviours, and standards have also become a core determinant of the success of progress in DE&I. Organisations have indicated that, as they seek to create inclusive workplaces, their companies embrace two principles of culture shaping known to be important: role modelling by leaders, and alignment of processes and systems with the core principles of company culture.

The UK is more optimistic about its outlook toward the future of DE&I compared to countries such as Germany and France. Of UK executives, 99% believe their company will be inclusive three years from now.

Global movement

Priya Dixit Vyas, Partner in Heidrick & Struggles’ London office and Member of Heidrick Consulting Culture Shaping and Diversity & Inclusion practices, commented: “Across the globe, it is encouraging to see the much-needed recognition for the undeniable impact that diversity, equity, and inclusion have on business success.

“Successful companies lead with an intentional, well-articulated, and deep-rooted commitment to a culture that drives a systemic, holistic, whole-company focus on inclusion. Ultimately, success in shaping a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture is dependent on intent and accountability – and this starts at the top of every organisation. 

“Across the UK, it’s also worth noting that the outlook is more positive towards DE&I than it is globally. While this may be true for some organisations, there is a long way to go before we announce success, and we need greater intention, along with action. 10% of executives still believe that their company will not be inclusive even in three years, which proves that despite the positive progress, there still needs to be a significant focus on DE&I going forward to continue this momentum.”

The study is based on a survey of 420 executives from eight countries; Australia, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom, and the United States. 

Rate This: