In January 2020, human resource (HR) departments were preparing for another year of pay gap reporting. This was set to be of key focus for organisations following the news that, in 2019, more than 150 of the UK’s largest businesses were still failing to meet boardroom D&I targets.
It also came to light that black, Asian and minority ethnic employees are 90% less likely than white employees to land a boardroom job at Britain’s top companies. Furthermore, the average age of a non-executive director in Britain’s top 150 public companies is over 60. And that information has called for drastic changes across every UK sector.
With a big mountain to climb, the coronavirus outbreak put a lot of pay gap reporting on pause overnight. The pivot to working from home ultimately changed how all businesses operate and required authentic attention to employee wellbeing and safety – taking time away from other significant issues and making others a priority. As we move into 2021, organisations will need to better support employees on an individual basis to completely be themselves at work, thereby experiencing positive wellbeing and, ultimately, producing better results.
According to Kelly Metcalf, Head of Diversity, Inclusion and Wellbeing at Fujitsu: “It’s no secret that more diverse companies perform better than their competitors. And, as businesses strive towards greater D&I in the “new normal”, there are new priorities that HR departments need to be getting right first time.
“Senior leadership teams should be asking themselves whether their current wellbeing and diversity and inclusion programmes positively impact all their staff – not just pockets of individuals. After all, these aren’t disparate topics but interconnected – greater D&I leads to improved mental health and wellbeing in the workforce. Instead of developing and implementing initiatives that benefit diverse groups alone, managers should be curating opportunities that benefit every employee.
“In a post-pandemic world where colleagues interact less, and challenges aren’t visible or easily communicated, everyone needs to feel included.”
D&I in 2021
In the face of drastic, widespread disruption, Kelly has outlined the top four changes she predicts for D&I in the coming year.
- Interconnection with inclusion and wellbeing
For years, many organisations put in place wellbeing initiatives, like yoga classes, meditation app subscriptions, team-bonding days, independent activities without considering how to integrate wellbeing into everything people experience at work. But, with employees isolated due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, businesses quickly learned that everyone’s personal circumstances were different, and a much more integrated approach to wellbeing and inclusion was needed.
In 2021 organisations need to move beyond putting different groups into boxes. It’s still essential to recognise diverse communities within a business, but we must also see people as individuals – much more than gender, sexuality, or race. Once businesses go beyond these themes, they recognise the whole person; making it individual-centric. This focus on each individual, ensuring they are comfortable to be completely themselves at work, is true inclusion. And we know that when people feel able to be themselves, this helps them sustain higher levels of wellbeing. Hence, inclusion and wellbeing go hand in hand.
- Wellbeing remains high on the business agenda
The CIPD revealed that organisations choosing to support the health and wellbeing of their workforce proactively could lead to much more positive results, most commonly by improving employee morale and engagement (44%), providing a healthier and more inclusive culture (35%) and lowering sickness absence (31%). COVID-19 proved that what boosts employee wellbeing for one, may not work at all for another.
People Managers play a key role in supporting employee wellbeing this year – having regular check-ins with people, engaging with people on a personal level and not checking up on them. Only through quality interaction between each person and their manager can organisations ensure every individual is treated fairly and offered the right support for their circumstances.
To boost wellbeing and reap the benefits, the momentum built in 2020 must continue. Businesses need to continue providing individual support, recognising line managers’ essential role in this and having more open and honest conversations about individual wellbeing at work. They need to sustain a culture where people talk about wellbeing, leaders share their stories, and all of this creates a ‘safe’ environment to encourage colleagues to come forward to seek support when they need it.
Sustaining a focus on all of these things when we get back into a more hybrid work environment will be critical. 2020 was the catalyst that put wellbeing on the business agenda. In 2021, however, organisations need to continue cultivating an environment where everyone can access individual support, advice and networking opportunities to help them grow and succeed at work. Doing so has a positive impact on employee wellbeing, and ensures people exhibit more inclusive behaviours towards others.
- Sustaining flexible working and a greater emphasis on work-life balance
COVID-19 has normalised flexible working and removed a huge amount of the previous stigma away from it. No longer is home working seen as an optional nice-to-have or impossible in many businesses, organisations and sectors. And it’s no longer a benefit for working mothers or those doing only certain types of job. Force of circumstance during 2020 means that, for many, they have realised for the first time that jobs can effectively be done remotely and people have quickly adapted. Now, businesses have a better understanding of the benefits and negatives of remote working; productivity has risen, work-life balance has improved, less travel has reduced environmental impacts and much more.
During the first five months or so, many employees maintained their productivity levels despite challenging remote working experiences. It was a chaotic time, but individuals were grateful to have support and flexibility from their employer. Now, as the vaccine is rolled out and we enter the next phase of COVID-19 restrictions, it’s important that we still acknowledge employees’ caring responsibilities and other needs and remain as flexible as possible in supporting these.
- Voluntary publication of the Ethnicity Pay Gap will significantly increase
The murder of George Floyd and global Black Lives Matter protests in the middle of 2020 caused many businesses to reflect on whether they were doing enough to drive racial equality. In the UK, employers have already been consulted about the potential introduction of Ethnicity Pay Gap reporting requirements. This consultation’s outcome is still to be decided, and lobbying continues for this to be introduced as a legal requirement.
However, regardless of the legal context, these events mustn’t become a moment in time. We continue the conversation and focus on driving racial equality – both at work and in society. This means, educating ourselves about the lived experiences of people of different ethnic backgrounds, educating managers and leadership teams, committing to clear actions and benchmarking ourselves using the Ethnicity Pay Gap.
Only 82 organisations published their Ethnicity Pay Gap in 2020 voluntarily (Source: Bird and Bird). We need to do more by keeping it in front of mind and demanding that all organisations publish the pay gap so that businesses can measure themselves publicly.