With the outbreak of Coronavirus, there was a fear that diversity and inclusion policies would be swept aside as businesses across the UK moved into survival-mode. But were these fears justified?
Everyone’s talking about diversity. Conversations that have been previously brushed aside are now happening on every platform imaginable; media, social media, in the park, between brands and their consumers, and between companies and their employees. These conversations are not new, they’re just finally being heard.
At Attest, we’ve worked with the Tech Talent Charter (TTC) for just over two years. TTC is a non-profit organisation leading a movement to address inequality in the UK tech sector, driving inclusion and diversity in a practical and uniquely measurable way. By reporting on diversity in UK tech, learning from the successes of their signatories and sharing best practices, TTC aims to help the underrepresented in tech.
With the outbreak of coronavirus, there was a fear that diversity and inclusion policies would be swept aside as businesses across the UK moved into survival-mode. But were these fears justified? TTC wanted to know from business leaders themselves whether diversity plans and policies were affected by the pandemic, and gauge perception of their importance in the “new normal”.
In May, Attest worked with TTC to launch a survey to 500 UK business leaders, from a wide variety of sectors – like finance, food and beverage, healthcare, and retail – and including representation from every region of the UK. Below we dive into the results of this research, explore opinions on diversity both before and after the pandemic broke out. Our analysis includes takeaways for any business looking to adapt to the changing world around us.
Diversity at work
Within the anonymous Attest survey, business leaders were able to give their honest opinion of diversity in their workplace. There was no definition or restrictions applied to the concept of diversity, the respondents were able to interpret “diversity” and “inclusion” in whichever way made sense to them.
The majority of respondents (68.2%) answered that improving diversity and inclusion at their business was either important or extremely important. In fact, only 5.6% said it is not at all important at their workplace, with the rest falling in the middle.
To shine more light on the importance of diversity, respondents were asked for their top reason why diversity and inclusion is important to their business. Opinion was divided almost equally across the top three responses, each receiving at least 26% of the vote.
The pandemic effect
No one can confidently say what the workplace will look like in the coming weeks and months. And as such, many businesses have shifted their priorities to deal with unexpected and critical issues. But what impact, if any, has the coronavirus had on the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Despite fundamentally rocking the way many of us work, thankfully for the majority of businesses (60.2%) the pandemic hasn’t affected the focus on diversity and inclusion. This, unfortunately, isn’t the case for all businesses.
14.4% of business leaders admitted that diversity and inclusion will be superseded by other priorities in the wake of the pandemic. Debbie Forster, CEO of the Tech Talent Charter, responds, “The UK needs diverse tech talent now like never before, across every sector of business. A focus on inclusion and diversity must not be seen as a distraction from a post-coronavirus recovery, but as an essential tool for building a smarter, more innovative and progressive workforce, which will be vital for both the long-term success of individual businesses and the UK economy as a whole.”
But for a more substantial number of businesses (25.4%), the coronavirus pandemic has made us think on a human-to-human level, and will have a positive impact on the diversity of these businesses going forward. Female business leaders are more focused on the importance of diversity than their male counterparts, with 27.5% of females surveyed claiming D&I initiatives will be slightly or much more important in the post-pandemic world (compared to 23.7% of males), and only 10% saying it would be less of a focus (compared to 17.8% of males).
A starker difference in opinions is clear when we cut the data by the age of respondents, with 32.4% of those aged under 40 seeing the importance of D&I for the business to grow in the wake of coronavirus, compared to just 20% of those aged 40 and above who agree.
However you cut the data, though, there is a clear message of hope from this research; that a significant minority of business leaders see diversity as a solution to rebuilding successful businesses after lockdown. For the businesses that remain unsure of the right diversity and inclusion strategies to implement at this point in time, Debbie suggests five next steps:
- Integrate flexible and remote working options: The coronavirus outbreak has shown many companies that flexible and remote working IS possible and is hugely motivating.
- Consider offering meaningful part-time work. Two million UK women are currently inactive because of caring commitments. Previously published research suggests that 76% of women on work breaks would like to return to work, but 54% say time requirements are too high.
- Change the culture and narrative: The appetite for inclusivity must come from the top but needs to be reflected across the organisation. Great cultures mean you don’t just recruit top talent; you also retain your best staff.
- Support returners: It’s time-consuming and expensive to find new talent. By supporting those who have been out of the workforce for extended periods to reintegrate, you can get maximum reward for less investment.
- Consider retraining/career conversion schemes. Look in unexpected places, internally and externally, for new talent considering those with wider skills who are keen to retrain into tech. Previously published research found that 45% of women surveyed from across the UK said they were interested in retraining for tech jobs.
If you’d like to explore more of the tools the Tech Talent Charter have created to assist their signatories in focussing on diversity and inclusion, and to sign up as a signatory yourself, explore the Tech Talent Charter website.
And if you’d like to conduct your own research into how your business could respond to changing consumer sentiments in our post-COVID world, get in touch with Attest today.