The state of diversity and inclusion in the UK workplace

It feels like everyone’s talking about diversity and inclusion at the moment, and rightly so. Discussions about improving diversity and what steps we can take to make our workplaces safe and inclusive are vital. But it’s also essential that we don’t miss the first step.

Before we can really understand and address Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues within the UK, we need to accurately know where we are right now. How well is the UK actually doing in terms of diversity? Where are we doing well, and what lessons can we learn from that? Where are we struggling, and why are these proving so resistant to change?

In this post, we take an honest look at the current state of diversity and inclusion in the workplace within the UK.

Gender inequality

Issues of gender inequality and misogyny have been in the news almost daily for months now. The impact of the pandemic hasn’t been equally distributed between men and women in the workplace. And there are institutional, social, economic, and cultural factors that come into play.

Women have been substantially more likely to lose their jobs as a result of the pandemic. Research suggests that pandemic-related permanent job losses are 24% higher among women than men globally. We already knew that women are disproportionately represented in the service industries and low-paid work around the world. These roles have suffered the highest disruption as a result of the various lockdowns.

Many hoped that the rise in working from home due to the pandemic would enable more women to participate in the workforce. As we begin to return to the workplace, there are concerns that the opposite might be true. Women are already doing 15 hours more unpaid, domestic labour per week (including childcare) than men and may be penalised in their careers for needing to work from home.

With only 19% of workers describing their workplace as having gender equality, the state of gender diversity in UK workplaces can look bleak.

Representation of ethnic minorities

Discussions around race have also been a feature of the pandemic, with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Despite events on the national (and international) stage, the conversation doesn’t appear to occur in the workplace. 60% of respondents in a recent survey believed that their employer was uncomfortable discussing race.

The problems don’t end there. 12.5% of the UK population is from an ethnic minority background, but ethnic minority workers hold only 6% of top management positions

Plus, statistics show that women from ethnic minorities have lower employment rates than men across the board. This puts workers with intersectional identities at even greater risk of unequal treatment in the workplace. 

The government has concluded that institutional racism is no longer a significant problem in the UK, but the CIPD and other groups strongly disagree. And because ethnic minorities are younger than average (accounting for 20% of people aged 24 and under), the problem will likely worsen if these issues aren’t addressed soon. By 2051, one in five UK workers will probably be an ethnic minority. It’s our job to start making the workplace more inclusive to properly utilise and appreciate ethnic minority talent.

Neurodiversity inclusion

Current estimates suggest that over 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent, including people who are autistic and those with ADHD or dyslexia, among others.

The very nature of neurodiversity means that it isn’t possible to generalise about how the increase in remote or hybrid working affects neurodivergent people. It will affect everyone differently. We can hope that increasingly open and honest conversations about individual needs may lead to improvements in this area, but we don’t yet have data to know for sure.

We do know that neurodivergent talent is a largely untapped resource, and not by accident. A shocking 50% of leaders and managers say that they wouldn’t hire neurodivergent talent. This is despite the enormous benefits that neurodivergent talent can bring to the table simply by virtue of their different thinking patterns. Neurodivergent workers can be especially beneficial to tech and software companies who have roles requiring high levels of concentration or roles that require complex pattern recognition.

Ageism and early talent

Another form of diversity we need to explore is age diversity. Age discrimination can affect those at the start of their careers and those towards the end of their working lives.

The pandemic has hit both these groups hard. Early talent has struggled to make their first steps on the career ladder, and those over 50 face a hostile environment if they’ve been made redundant.

64% of older workers in the UK report being worried about age discrimination, and they’re not wrong. If made redundant, they are twice as likely to be long-term unemployed. For those looking to reskill, the news isn’t great either. 65% of employers won’t provide specialised training for those aged over 55.

It’s not just older workers who are struggling to get the training they need. Graduate recruitment (and the associated training and development schemes) has fallen dramatically due to the pandemic. Graduate recruitment in 2020 was over 12% lower than 2019 and fell in 13 out of the top 15 industries. These programs were already challenging and competitive. During the pandemic, they have become out of reach for many.

We are still waiting on data for 2021. As restrictions ease and the economy re-opens, we can hope to see some improvements compared to last year. How opportunities will compare to 2019, however, is anyone’s guess.

Where do we go from here?

The picture so far looks pretty bleak, and that’s just looking at each type of diversity in isolation. For individuals who fall into more than one category, things can seem very bad indeed. But things might not be all bad.

Although we need to be honest about where we are now and about the negative impact the pandemic has had on diversity and inclusion, there are some rays of hope.

Gen Z are entering the workforce, and they have little tolerance for employers who aren’t making genuine efforts to address DEI. In a recent survey, 69% of Gen Z respondents said they were more likely to apply for a job that clearly expressed their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Lip service isn’t enough for this PR-savvy generation.

Make the changes that matter

As competition for employees rises, especially if the Great Resignation is as substantial as anticipated, employers will find themselves struggling to find great talent if they aren’t bringing real change and creating healthy, inclusive, and representative workplaces.

At crooton we’re committed to inclusive recruitment. Whether it’s posting jobs on sites like restless.co.uk to help over 50s get into new work or offering fixed-price recruitment so you can offer opportunities to multiple candidates and create a more diverse team, we’re ready to make a difference. 

If you want to get ahead of the pack and make real improvements to diversity and inclusion in your workplace, we have loads of suggestions, advice, and research in our blog posts. As a first step, learn about the four pillars of diversity and inclusion in recruitment and read our top tips for talking to your team about diversity and inclusion. And get in touch with the crooton team for help putting together a diversity focused recruitment strategy to set you apart from the rest.