Businesses should maintain focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2023

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

By Alexandra Evreinoff, Managing Director, INvolve

The last few years have seen huge changes in the way that we navigate the world. From remote and hybrid working models, to a focus on anti-racism and dismantling inequitable systems, the events of the last two years have set out a roadmap that requires us to mobilise and reorganise what we’d come to know as normal. 2022, had been an extension of that, with many businesses recognising the need for change and fulfilling ambitious goals to create more diverse, equitable and inclusive workplaces. However, when looking at the uncertain economic times still ahead, it is more important than ever that we continue to move forward rather than taking a step backward, as there is still significant progress to be made. Remaining focused on DEI and ensuring that it gets both the attention and investment required for change is critical, both to solidify a business’ success and to ensure that our organisations can function as the positive, influential pillars within society that they are.

A key reason for the need to maintain focus on DEI initiatives in 2023, is because many employees expect it. Our work at INvolve over the last few years signals that employees are, rightfully, expecting their workplaces to be strong when it comes to building inclusive and equitable workplaces. From ensuring that talent development programmes are leading to tangible results to retaining diverse senior leadership teams as well as the importance of businesses vocalising their support for diverse groups, organisations that are focused on and are maintaining the momentum for change are more likely to benefit from increased talent engagement and retention.

Given that Gen Z and Millennials now make up over half of the world’s population, failing to attract and retain them would be a costly mistake as they are the groups who are most vocal about the need for fair and equitable workplaces. For example, 25% of Gen Z candidates would decline a job offer if the recruiter failed to use their preferred pronouns, thus suggesting how important it remains to stay focused on DEI this year. After the challenging two years we have experienced, employee wellbeing sits higher on the agenda for most workers, with research by Gallup demonstrating a clear correlation between well-being and performance – higher employee well-being is associated with higher productivity and firm performance.

Offering greater flexibility and welfare programmes are key steps towards improving the well-being of employees, though organisations mustn’t pivot away from the importance of offering development opportunities, forums, and trainings. Without making concerted efforts to implement inclusive and equitable targets and actions, employers run the risk of excluding entire talent pools. Prospective employees want to be assured that their career development will be taken seriously and will turn to competitors who offer more inclusive working environments if the support they desire isn’t accessible.

Maintaining the momentum for change does require investment and work, however the inequities that have been unearthed over the last few years, and have existed for far longer, can’t be ignored. Organisations shouldn’t see themselves as separate to wider societal issues, whether looking at the current rise in transphobia, the Black Lives Matter movement or the ongoing effects of the pandemic, they must instead recognise their role in driving change both internally and externally.

In fact, we’ve seen the effects of de-prioritising DEI over the lockdown period and those organisations that did maintain their focus and ensured that DEI remained at the heart of their business strategy fared better overall to those who didn’t. For instance, we know that diverse employees and women were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and many of the affects are still being felt. Therefore, as we begin 2023, businesses must refocus on and set ambitious goals for driving equity and ensuring that diverse talent are able to access opportunities and support that wouldn’t have been accessible to them historically.

Equitable practices can take the form of talent development programmes that are designed specifically for diverse talent and that can help preparing them for the next stage in their careers. A key element for such programmes is to avoid putting the onus on diverse talent to develop, or to expect that these individuals need to conform and become a version of the ‘traditional’ leader that we’ve seen flourish in our societies. Line managers and senior leaders need to be brought in the conversation early on, as they play a key role in developing people’s strengths and championing them when they are not in the room.

Therefore, we have seen such a huge success with our program RISE, which we have been rolling out successfully with a great variety of organisations around the world.  While the 2023 landscape may be a challenge, equitable practices are underpinned by progress and are worth the investment and focus both from a business and individual employees’ standpoint.

In the past two years, it has become evident that managers need the support and guidance to successfully navigate stakeholder engagement, as they often find themselves in a difficult position with high expectations from leadership and accountability for their team’s well-being. This is why in 2023 at INvolve we are supporting a variety of firms with our Inclusive Management Programs, focused on bringing all managers to a similar level of understanding around how to foster equity, inclusion psychological safety and belonging – and the role they play in creating an inclusive environment that encourages all talent to thrive.

To foster safe and inclusive working environments for prospective and current employees, businesses must implement strategies to ensure standards are upheld, with longevity in mind. This can include ongoing training programmes and workshops, such as those which allow trainees to overcome personal biases, and talent development programs which provide targeted support to diverse employees, to name just a few.

Organisations can seek help from external diversity and inclusion consultancies to ensure they are setting and meeting ambitious DEI targets and offering inclusive workplaces for all. For example, INvolve offers specialised benchmarking services to guarantee companies are aware of their current progress in terms of DEI performance, and how they make sure they are attracting and retaining diverse talent through effective DEI initiatives.

What’s most important is that all employees feel safe, and included, at work. We shouldn’t see standards slip in 2023, when times are likely to be tough for a large proportion of the population in the UK and across Europe.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024