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Why prioritise equality, diversity and inclusion when we have 'more pressing issues’ to discuss?

This is the million-dollar question for most CEOs, board members and managers when talk of EDI lands on their agenda.

In a time of recession, cost of living crisis and the great resignation, why should we expect organisations to make space to talk about issues like bullying and harassment, biased recruitment processes and mono cultural senior leadership teams?

This question, and a lack of a comprehensive response from decision makers is one of the main barriers to progress when it comes to advancing equity, as it views the focus on EDI as an expenditure rather than an investment in social, reputational humanitarian, and financial terms.

The investment I speak of is one of the soundest ones your organisation can make this decade.

Ask yourself

  • Do you want to recruit more talented individuals to your organisation? Tick?

  • Do you want to keep them? Tick?

  • Do you want to be known for being socially responsible, inclusive and sustainable? Tick?

  • Do you want to expand your customer reach and be more innovative? Tick?

These are just a few of the many benefits, both social, and financial that come with being more aware of what equality, diversity and inclusion means in relation to your workforce and your organisations performance.

But why prioritise this now, can't it wait?

Leaders must look for solutions that are future-proof, and quickly.

Recent statistics from the Institute for Employment Studies (IES) demonstrate that there has been a significant reduction of people in the labour force (approx. one million) than before the Covid pandemic.

Interestingly, this is due to older people and people with long term health conditions leaving their jobs, and a lack of EU workers post Brexit (The Guardian, 2022).

In addition, recent headlines about the NHS state that there is recruitment drive to attract staff from countries such as India and Nepal. International bodies complain that some of the countries the UK is recruiting from are facing their own health worker shortages, and that investment should be made to retain the UK existing workforce (The Nursing Times, 2022).

Companies globally need the best talent to pull through the difficult years ahead, and to reach new audiences.

The time is now (and has always been, and always will be) to realise the benefits of intentionally reaching and attracting people of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, socio-economic status, genders, sexual orientations and abilities that exist in the UK, and are currently facing barriers within a workforce that desperately needs them.

  • In 2020 the population of the UK was over 67 million, with 33.94 million females and 33.15 million males

  • 87% of people in the UK are White, and 13% belong to a Black, Asian, Mixed or Other ethnic group (2011 Census data).

  • 19% of working age adults are disabled (Scope)

Although the statistics tell us that the UK has a rich diversity of working age people available to us, we also see conversely that:

  • In 2020, the female employment rate was 72.2% compared to the male employment rate of 78.8%. (ONS, 2022)

  • In 2022, the UK unemployment rate was 3.1% for people from a White ethnic background compared to 7.1% for people from minority ethnic backgrounds. (ONS, 2022)

  • Around half of disabled people aged 16 to 64 years (53.5%) in the UK were in employment compared with around 8 in 10 (81.6%) for non-disabled people (ONS, 2022)

Prioritising EDI provides leaders and managers with the opportunity to reach into and retain new local and national talent pools, and to serve different customer groups that have been traditionally excluded or misunderstood.

By opening our doors widely and making our workplaces an environment where people want to stay, free of discrimination and structural barriers, we can focus on the most important thing on our agendas today, our people.

A quote to finish with

And if all else fails, in that board meeting, where EDI is being looked at as a cost rather than an investment, always remember that…

“If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers, it’s that simple” (Richard Branson)

Or as I like to adapt it

“If you look after staff from different backgrounds, they will stay and thrive, it's that simple” (Ayo Barley)

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