Our DEI committee is key in helping us to provide an inclusive environment for everyone, whether they’re staff, partners, clients or candidates.

We’re always learning and evolving internally to reflect what’s happening externally, so our mid-year committee meeting focused on the current major trends we’re seeing in DEI and their effects on our business and the people we work with. We gathered the thoughts of Sarah House-Barklie, Olivia Dodd, Kelly Fordham, Derek Mackenzie, and Melanie Robinson, challenged them on what’s important in DEI right now, and captured their key advice for organisations who are committed to being more inclusive.

Inclusive benefits are the foundation of people policy

The way we think about benefits has changed. Today, a benefit needs to be tied into an individual employee’s lifestyle and way of working. It needs to appeal to them as a human being; otherwise, it’s just another companywide policy that isn’t relevant. So how can employers use inclusive benefits to attract and retain talent?

“Properly assess your employee base’s needs and how they’re likely to evolve,” said Sarah House-Barklie, our People and Culture Director.

“Think about what you have in place now and what you can put in place that’s more relevant and supportive to them. It’s a win-win. For the business, it’s money well-spent, and for your employees, it’s a great benefit. Just as importantly, they know they’ve been truly listened to.”

Sarah House-Barklie, our People and Culture Director

Benefits will evolve with employees

Keeping up to date with your employees’ evolving needs, and catering to them, is no easy task – especially in a global organisation. How do you develop a global benefits framework and strategy when different countries have different local regulations?

“Engage with benefit providers and understand local legal nuances,” said Sarah. “You may need to engage groups such as works councils or unions. Keep the strategy agile; don’t just launch something and think ‘that’s it.’ Continually review and evolve. Ensure your strategy looks to the people you’re looking to attract too. As that changes, so should your offering. Ensure you also have a way of evaluating and changing the benefit if needed and don’t stick with one due to poorly negotiated T&Cs.”

What inclusive benefits should you look to bring in? “Anything, as long as it has value for both employees and the business. I’d look at what life events people are coming across and then ensure we offer benefits that support those.

An example for us would be Bippit, a complete financial wellbeing platform that our people have found really helpful. I also wouldn’t rule out a benefit just because it appealed to only 20% of the organisation. If it’s good value and seen as something that’s needed, then you should consider it.

Of course, there will be a cost, but it’s important to recognise that it will be more beneficial to the business longer term.”

Hiring, retention and promotion will be key to career equity

Hiring’s only the first part of the battle.

The move towards hybrid working means hiring is no longer restricted to geography, which should present organisations with more diverse talent pools. Yet as Olivia Dodd, Associate Director for Client Success, explained, “That’s not necessarily the reality. People’s priorities are changing. Before it was all about salary, now it’s about flexible working. On-target earnings can be really exciting, but if they’re split between 60% salary and 40% bonus, this might not help people who need a mortgage or are pregnant. In a cost of living crisis, some people are living paycheque to paycheque.”

People’s priorities are changing. Before it was all about salary, now it’s about flexible working. On-target earnings can be really exciting, but if they’re split between 60% salary and 40% bonus, this might not help people who need a mortgage or are pregnant. In a cost of living crisis, some people are living paycheque to paycheque.”

Olivia Dodd, Associate Director for Client Success

Retention is a generational juggling act.

What a person wants from a job varies considerably between generations and is more of a factor as Gen Z join the workplace. “We now have different generations in the business expecting different things,” said Olivia. “The older generation are keen to be in the office, getting back to what they recognise as normality. Younger generations really appreciate hybrid working and can be quite flexible. At the same time, parents often value the ability to work from home, and some younger staff want a proper space to work instead of their bedroom, so they’re happy to go into the office. That’s where all these nuances start becoming difficult. There’s no one size fits all anymore.”

Organisations have the tricky task of factoring in all these nuances to maintain an inclusive culture where everyone can succeed – but an inclusive culture means different things to different individuals. So what’s the answer? “Provide an environment where people have a voice, are respected, and feel like they can bring their true selves to work,” said Olivia. “If you enable them to do those three things, in whichever circumstances you achieve that – whether it’s five days in the office, wearing a suit every day, being at home – you will have happy people. And if you have happy people, that’s when culture comes with it.”

It’s important to allow team cultures to develop independently in order to create an interactive and authentic environment. “Every team has a subculture, so they interact wonderfully together. But you will always have people who also seek to interact with other groups. Allow teams to have their subculture while facilitating interaction without it being forced fun. You will never get it right for everyone, but if you provide the opportunity to be inclusive, you’re already winning.”

Providing a level playing field

Once they’ve brought in a more diverse workforce, how can organisations provide opportunities for everyone to achieve promotion? “Diversity is only the beginning,” said Derek Mackenzie, Executive Director, The IN Group. “If the entire workforce doesn’t feel included, then engagement will be limited and ultimately, so will success and promotion opportunities. To encourage inclusion, think about how you make your environment welcoming for all, recognise and discuss differences without judgement and provide a platform for employees to be themselves at work. An employee who’s engaged and can be authentic has a far greater chance of success, as they’ll be investing their energy in the objectives of their role, as opposed to the stresses and distractions of being different in an unwelcoming culture.”

A diverse talent pool will have different ways of performing their jobs, but they might be equally successful in driving the company’s mission or increasing revenue. How does Derek think organisations can change their measure of success to give all their people the chance to thrive? “In a sales company, it’s hard to extricate the ultimate measure of success from done deals alone. However, the part a person plays in that deal, or the route they take to make it happen, could differ greatly.”

He continued: “In recruitment, an organisation should recognise the diverse approaches that a more diverse workforce brings. An ‘old school’ recruiter, for example, would be synonymous with ‘banging the phone,’ whereas a more diverse environment could celebrate someone who puts together amazing marketing emails, or give delivery people greater status and a platform, achieving a broader sales personality for the business.”

Could an organisation expect different things from different employees, depending on their individual skills and ways of working? “In our industry, the components that go towards deal-making could be recognised as merit-worthy in isolation and, in that way, broaden expectations and definitions of success. That said, there should be no mistaking that all things lead to making placements, and this is the lifeblood of a recruitment business.”

As well as considering sales performance, The IN Group awards places on its high achievers’ lunches and vacations based on adherence to our values, and directors have the freedom to nominate top performers based on non-sales criteria.

Pay equity will be a key part of career equity

Legislators, regulators, employees, and external talent are placing increasing pressure on organisations worldwide to ensure fair and equal opportunities. How important is a strong focus on pay equity in achieving equal representation in top management positions?

“A number of firms are still on a journey to achieve a more balanced board in terms of underrepresented groups,” said Kelly Fordham, Director of Financial Services. “However, pay equity will support the longer-term goal of ensuring balance at board level. Pay equity is there to try to address occupational segregation and opportunity gaps. But true pay equity can’t be achieved until we provide opportunities to people from underrepresented groups to take on senior roles and empower them to do so.”

Remuneration will pay

It’s easy to fall behind market pay once talent is through the door. How can organisations achieve pay equity longer term? “The challenge around pay equity is not just about propelling underrepresented groups into management positions but also about retaining them at the top,” said Kelly. “That means a change of infrastructure. Pay inequalities will often return as firms are dynamic, hiring new people and reshaping constantly. It’s about recognising the practices in place that cause the initial imbalance. This includes looking into the ways in which you source, how you develop people, how you promote; none of which cost money, but they are about HR foundation practices.”

What strategies has Kelly found most effective at Investigo? “Those that both showcase our commitment towards pay equity and measure and review pay equity regularly. This approach, with a multiyear DEI strategy, is essential. To achieve true pay equity, you need an intentional, ongoing commitment to equal opportunity and fair compensation. Data needs to be effectively captured and monitored, reviewed and published to hold the business to account whilst ensuring the DEI strategy helps attract, and of course, include underrepresented groups.”

We’ll continue to feel the inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic

The pandemic has had a massive effect on all of us, but sectors like retail, hospitality, and food services, which tend to have a higher population of women, have been among the worst hit. School closures and lack of childcare support have also had a bigger impact on women, as the statistically largest source of caregiving to children. This is making an already challenging situation almost impossible.

“Balancing life decisions and career opportunities has always been very challenging for many women, but it was made worse during the pandemic,” said Melanie Robinson, Principal Consultant, Investigo. “Organisations who have adopted more favourable working practices, such as hybrid working, and let women and men share childcare responsibilities with part-time working or job shares, have been able to retain staff.”

Once again, the key for organisations is to listen to their people and understand what they really want. “People are looking for different things now. Hybrid working is now a given, and if companies don’t adopt it, potential hires will look elsewhere. It’s important to feel included and have your wellbeing considered. Benefits that aren’t necessarily financial, like the flexibility to pick up your kids from school, are more important because they support diverse working groups like parents, co-parents and extended child carers.”

The pandemic has really changed the way we view work and our place within a company. At the same time that it has widened gender inequality, Melanie strongly believes it’s given us the chance to make things better. “People want more accountability for their own lives rather than being trapped in this pre-pandemic grind or Groundhog Day.

There are so many more options allowing women to feel more included in the workplace, such as greater internal mobility. There’s the opportunity to have that equality in the household because of the pandemic.”

But there’s still work to do to make the workplace more inclusive to women in the business. “Family planning should be high on the agenda. Encourage people to talk openly about it. Policies making it easy for couples to split childcare, such as shared parental leave, would be a game-changer in any organisation. Statutory pay is still geared towards women staying at home, and this needs to change.”

Our key takeaways

The key trends in DEI over the next year will revolve around getting to know your people, understanding which inclusive benefits will appeal to them individually, and then evolving as they do. Pay equity will help employers ensure balance at board level, but they can only achieve this through an ongoing commitment to equal opportunity and fair compensation, backed up by data that allows them to spot and fix any disparities.

At the same time, companies are starting to realise that talent acquisition isn’t enough. It’s about retaining your people long-term and giving them a level playing field to showcase their abilities and achieve progression. This is what forges a path to career equity. It needs to be allied to a long-term DEI strategy that attracts and includes underrepresented groups.

While the pandemic has presented us with challenges that still remain, it’s also given us the means and the understanding to meet those challenges. People want to work for an organisation that cares about their wellbeing and gives them the flexibility to weave their work into their lifestyle. It’s by listening to our people and understanding what’s important to them that we can be truly inclusive today and build for tomorrow.

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