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Diversity and exclusion: underrepresented groups feel the most excluded from the work of ED&I

Updated: May 13

Recent news from the US indicates that the equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) leaders, who were hired in waves to help companies achieve an ethnically balanced workforce after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, are being disproportionately phased out. According to a study by Revelio Labs, a New York-based company that uses data to analyse workforce dynamics and trends, the attrition rate for ED&I roles was 33 per cent at the end of 2022, compared to 21 per cent for non-DEI roles.

The article from NBC News also shared survey results showing that Black employees represent only 3.8 per cent of chief diversity officers overall, with White people making up 76.1 per cent of the roles, those of Hispanic or Latino ethnicity 7.8 per cent, and those of Asian ethnicity 7.7 per cent.

Here in the UK, life background is often the convening point for numerous ED&I efforts within organisations. Yet despite efforts to create characteristic-led networks, set up in support of different underrepresented communities, we’re seeing evidence of diversity and exclusion within many UK organisations. In fact, when it comes to engagement around ED&I conversations in the workplace, the communities that feel most excluded mirror those who over-index in believing that opportunities in life are broadly determined by who they are. That’s according to data from our new Diversity & Confusion 2023 report, which is available to download now.

As part of our research, we asked people in employment across the UK whether they believed everyone has equal opportunities or whether our backgrounds create disparities. Our findings show a nation that is equally split: 45 per cent of the working population believe ‘everyone has equal opportunities to get where they want in life regardless of background’, while 45 per cent say, ‘your chances in life are broadly determined by your background’.

The report shows that those more questioning of meritocracy are more likely to feel excluded from conversations around ED&I in their workplace. In our conversations with client partners, we’re seeing that this is either because the broad banner of ‘equity, diversity and inclusion’ isn’t addressing the deep-seated issues that exist within organisations and industries (such as sexism, racism or homophobia), or because voices that need to speak truth to power aren’t being heard. Often, it’s a combination of the two.

Just as many of the surge of 2020 ED&I hires in the US have already been revoked, ERGs that are set up and convened around specific backgrounds and characteristics in the UK workplace are not given sufficient investment time to drive change. For those outside of the groups, there is frequently a sense that they themselves are excluded from ED&I. And together, these two factors combine to create a vicious cycle of inequity. Time and time again, we see ‘sides’ that appear as the EDI equivalents of like-poles of two magnets. Each impulsively pushing the other away in often unconscious acts of exclusion.

“The idea that ED&I professionals are unable to catalyse inclusion because the work is met with exclusion inside many workplaces is disheartening. The equation is often unbalanced. On one side, ED&I professionals contribute with experience, competency, effort, and advocacy. On the other, the agenda is often met with complex stakeholder environments that need to be ‘managed’, occasional cynicism, and, disappointingly, a lack of investment and pace. All of this suggests a need to pause to look at what is and isn’t working.

“Often the perceived ‘answer’ for ED&I is seen as training, but this is only ever one part of a broader set of changes that need to be made. Focusing on changing just one thing tends to yield weak results and generates ongoing frustration and, at times, apathy. A more holistic review and plan is required to create impactful change.” – Simone Marquis, Managing Director, The Unmistakables

In our new Diversity & Confusion 2023 report, we dig deeper into the data to better understand this ‘diversity and exclusion’ trend. You can download the report here.


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