Looking back, it would be easy to characterise 2018 as the year of gender equality: in the UK, the centenary of women’s suffrage and the first gender pay gap reporting meant that the role and contribution of women featured heavily in the media.
Significant as this is, the amount of time and effort that went into reflecting on how women and men are valued differently by society and at work could easily have drowned out more nuanced discussions about other aspects of diversity. Thanks to the growing awareness and focus on the importance of D&I, issues such as social mobility and cognitive diversity still managed to find a mainstream audience and were reported on openly.
In December, the UK Social Mobility Commission published a report called Public attitudes to social mobility in the UK. It revealed a worrying level of pessimism among young people who think they have little chance of moving up in society. This followed the publication of research findings that the highest-rated universities in Britain are the worst in the country for social diversity. Oxford, Cambridge and St Andrews were pulled out as some of the worst performers.
On a more positive note, cognitive diversity attracted the attention of The Actuary magazine in the US, which published an article called Diversity on a Deeper Level in which its author explored team effectiveness, concluding: ‘Harnessing the power of cognitive diversity requires a focus on inclusion and an investment in empowerment … with the potential for extraordinary outcomes.’
Back in the UK and shifting the focus to ethnicity, the annual Race At Work (October 2018) highlighted some bleak issues. It noted one in four BAME employees reporting that they had witnessed or experienced racist harassment or bullying from managers in the last two years.
A common issue in all efforts to report on D&I (for better or worse) is the collection and storage of personal data. In the UK, 2018 was also the year in which new General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) came into force. From May 25, new legislation was introduced to give individuals more transparency and control over how companies store and process their personal information. This naturally raised questions about whether employers can gather and analyse information on employees’ racial or ethnic origin, religious or philosophical beliefs, health or sexual orientation. According to the specialist resource XPertHR, The Data Protection Act 2018 allows this special category data to be processed for the purpose of monitoring equality of opportunity or treatment between different groups.
Data was also the focus of insightful analysis published by Business in the Community (BITC) countering the criticism from some corners that Gender Pay Gap Reporting won’t change anything. Amidst the almost constant comment that followed the publication of each new company report, BITC observed:
‘The gender pay gap forces organisations to gather their gender data (for most organisations it’s the first time) and publish it. This creates more transparency and gives us as a society, greater insight but also greater power: organisations can no longer hide behind marketing-style statements like “Women are important to our business” – we can now see the data that may or may not back up these claims.’
It also highlighted some uncomfortable truths behind the facts which it characterised as the Real Reasons for the Gender Pay Gap, including unconscious bias and stereotyping. These factors are not limited to the gender agenda, of course, and they provide useful cues for training to create better D&I outcomes more broadly.
Deloitte’s Diversity and Inclusion Revolution report (January 2018) identified inclusive leadership as the key to building a more diverse workplace. It identified eight powerful truths of inclusivity and diversity and how these have had an impact on business. It found that inclusive leaders induced a 70% increase in employees’ feelings of fairness and a 17% increase in overall team performance.
Staying with business outcomes, McKinsey brought its advice on D&I up to date in January with a new report called Delivering through Diversity. Its 2015 research has been refreshed to show that the ‘statistically significant correlation between a more diverse leadership team and financial outperformance demonstrated three years ago continues to hold true on an updated, enlarged, and global data set.’ It also came out strongly on the side of inclusive leadership, stating: ‘Leadership roles matter. Companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation.’