It’s fair to say that come the end of 2021, most of us just wanted to pause, take a break from yet another challenging year, and do our very best to avoid catching Omicron.
That’s why we held off until now on asking our team, client partners and The Unmistakables Network to really think about the opportunities and challenges that equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) present over the coming 12 to 18 months.
In order to get the fullest picture possible, we took an inside out approach - pairing voices from inside our business with leaders outside our virtual walls. Alongside CEO, Asad Dhunna; MD, Simone Marquis; and Inclusive Campaigns Director, Simone Harvey, we spoke to client partners including Kiran Bance, Head of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at Macmillan; Evelyn Espinal, Global Vice President Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at Unilever; Priscilla Baffour, Head of Diversity & Inclusion at TikTok EMEA; and Greg Bunbury - an award-winning graphic designer, creative consultant, and ED&I consultant, who we also collaborate with regularly as part of The Unmistakables Network.
Here we identify a number of priorities that we believe, collectively, organisations and leaders should focus on this year and beyond, looking at how organisations should share ED&I in 2022 and how ED&I may shape organisations if they don’t.
#1 ‘EXPECT ZERO IMMUNITY TO ED&I’
It’s time to understand that opting out of inclusion is no longer an option.
While one of the greatest societal challenges of the last two years has been focused on building immunity against COVID-19, “no industry will be immune to facing matters of diversity, equity and inclusion in 2022,” according to The Unmistakables’ Simone Marquis. “Where some organisations made a choice to step forward in 2020 and 2021,” she adds, “I don’t believe many will get the opportunity to sit ED&I out in 2022.”
ED&I consultant Greg Bunbury believes that organisations can expect far more public scrutiny this year, and will need to be ready to address what progress they have (or have not) made: “With the pandemic still reshaping our very concept of work,” he says, “businesses will need to firm-up their position and policies on ED&I, beyond simply discussing it. In the face of remote working, high employee turnover rates in HR, increased considerations around mental health, and strong demand for corporate accountability, businesses will need a cohesive ED&I strategy more than ever. This policy will need to extend beyond internal processes and hiring, but into areas like suppliers and partner networks.”
#2 ‘LOOK BEYOND THE C-SUITE’
It’s time to create more lateral ED&I leadership.
Unilever’s Evelyn Espinal believes a key focus for 2022 has to be on driving leadership ED&I capability not just from the top-down, but also laterally across all leaders of people.
“ED&I leadership”, she points out, “is about diverse representation at all levels of leadership and across all people leaders. A culture is formed not in a C-suite,” she adds, “but in everyone’s day-to-day experience within an organisation.”
Evelyn believes that the focus can no longer be on “tackling the symptoms”, but on all people leaders shouldering the responsibilities of inclusion strategies together. “And that’s because these are the people who can make or break the strategy,” she states.
TikTok EMEA’s Priscilla Baffour agrees with this sentiment: “ED&I can no longer sit in a HR silo - it has to be embedded in everything we do from people and policies, to systems, practices and ways of working.”
Priscilla sees a near future where teams (such as ‘marcomms’ and ‘tech’) will have their own D&I arms, enabling them to accelerate inclusion across everything they do. “ED&I needs to be everyone’s responsibility,” she says, “all people managers need it baked into their roles.”
Simone Harvey is seeing this already: “In 2022 there needs to be a shift away from brands trying to signal diversity through marketing communications, to placing a greater focus on inclusion right throughout the marketing process. Brands and businesses will need to look beyond who’s shown on screen to who is ‘behind the camera’. This means creating more inclusive planning, broadening audience insights and designing for more nuanced cultural co-creation."
Having developed C-suite-led inclusion strategies with numerous client partners in 2021, Simone Marquis, is optimistic that board compositions will start to create impact right across their organisations: “If a key board-level focus of the last two years has been on bringing in new perspectives and pushing for innovative thinking,” she considers, “then 2022 has to be about using all of this to get the most out of everyone across organisations.”
Priscilla Baffour, on the other hand, believes that despite the focus on attracting more diverse C-suite talent over the last couple of years, this still hasn’t been cracked: “We still need better leadership representation when it comes to women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities.
Evelyn Espinal also believes that recruitment strategies need a balance of developing, buying and borrowing talent. The profile of effective leaders needs to include awareness for the totality of social issues our employees face. We need leaders that have the skills to lead diverse teams in inclusive ways. We not only want to hire more women and people of colour, we also want to hire leaders with commitment to achieving an equitable and inclusive culture.”
#3 ‘UNDERSTAND THAT WELLBEING IS CRITICAL TO SUCCESS’
It’s time to relieve the burden of ED&I and take a more holistic approach to inclusive wellbeing.
Arguably, getting more out of people can take its toll. Asad Dhunna, has witnessed this within the ED&I consultancy world and says, “There needs to be a continued focus on the wellbeing of the people who are actually doing the work to drive equality and equity, including having access to spaces to decompress.”
Macmillan’s Kiran Bance takes this point a step further, saying that everyone needs to understand the challenges raised within ED&I and that we all must take accountability for our own education: “Leaders within organisations,” she argues, “cannot expect the underrepresented to do all the thinking and tell them what to do. This may have been happening two years ago, but it just isn’t acceptable anymore.”
Priscilla Baffour supports this view having witnessed individuals from employee resource groups (ERGs) feeling exhausted from being repeatedly leaned on for insights about their own lived experiences (which can often resurface lived trauma).
Having joined TikTok EMEA during the pandemic, Priscilla went through her onboarding process through lockdown and realised then that remote working (and often being consumed by work as a result) was having a huge impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Priscilla highlighted how important it is for organisations to find creative ways to build a company culture online and bring remote teams together in inclusive and equitable ways.
Unilever’s Evelyn Espinal considered this as part of the Great Reset, which aims to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. “We need to really listen to people’s needs for better balance after all the change the pandemic has presented,” she says, “considering what people now need to be productive. “We need to rethink how jobs are scoped and what is required of people to be successful. Asking people to sacrifice their wellbeing won’t be tolerated.”
#4 ‘APPROACH WITH INTERSECTIONALITY’
It’s time to bring true inclusion and intersectionality into much sharper focus.
Research included in The Unmistakables’ 2021 Diversity & Confusion report showed that while the vast majority (88 per cent) of UK working professions agreed that the diversity and inclusion agenda is important, less than half (46 per cent) said they engage in it.
“Sometimes we see the penny drop for people who didn’t think they had a role in ED&I when we talk about socioeconomic status also being part of the inclusion conversation,” Asad Dhunna comments. “When we ask individuals to open up about their backgrounds, they sometimes talk about their class background and being the first in their family to go to university. Many who may once have felt excluded are starting to lean in,” he explains.
Macmillan’s Kiran Bance believes it’s now vital to build a dialogue that makes more people feel that the ED&I conversation is something they can join in on in order to create true and all-encompassing inclusion: “We need to bring in the people who previously felt the least excluded,” she suggests. “So far we’ve focused on single protected characteristics including race & ethnicity and disability, but we haven’t spoken enough yet about socioeconomic exclusion and how opportunities for people can decrease further from an intersectional [lower socioeconomic status + LGBT + Black or disabled, for example] point of view.”
The Unmistakables team has observed how organisations are increasingly grappling with where to begin or which area(s) of ED&I they should focus on next, after having seen race and ethnicity in sharp focus over the last two years.
Priscilla Baffour argues that the focus has to be on developing a more intersectional approach or risk creating “challenging competitiveness” amongst single-dimension ERGs. Both she and Greg Bunbury believe that intersectionality needs to be at the heart of all ED&I strategies in 2022 (the first new data-providing Census year in a decade).
#5 ‘GET THE DATA’
It’s time to focus on data, measurement and accountability.
Not knowing where to begin with ED&I often signals a lack of people data. Asad Dhunna believes that “organisations are becoming savvier about making decisions baked in data, which is why we’re seeing more calls for actionable audits that give an overview of where companies are today, and what practical steps to take next.”
As someone on the inside, Unilever’s Evelyn Espinal understands that societies and employees around the world now have greater expectations of companies when it comes to building new ED&I practices - and it’s all about listening to what these expectations are from right across an organisation: “A priority for this year is to get better insights from our workforce demographics,” she explains. “We need data on who our people are and what they need in order to address specific interventions based on those insights.”
An example she gives is related to company policies and benefits: “In providing benefits, a narrow definition of ‘family’ could have a big impact in how the company manages things like relocation and health care, for example. Companies need to understand their employees’ definition of ‘family’ to ensure they build inclusive programs that meet their workforce's needs.”
While many organisations currently lack the data they need to make decisions (and often don’t know how to get it), TikTok EMEA’s Priscilla Baffour also says that return on investment hasn’t yet been worked out: “The business case for inclusion has been spoken about at length,” she explains, “but there are still businesses out there that have struggled to attach it to business strategy and make it measurable. Now’s the time to work out how we’ll measure behavioural change.”
And it’s behavioural change that ED&I consultant Greg Bunbury is calling for too: “Creating an outcome-orientated approach is vital to this space,” he begins. “ED&I has to evolve beyond what is commonly dismissed as ‘identity politics’ - it has to shift beyond debate. We need to be more focused on creating measurable activity, as opposed to only workshops, talks and Black History Month events. We need to continually establish focused, realistic objectives that speak to both ethical and commercial outcomes.”
Look out for more insights and ideas from our team, client partners and collaborators from within The Unmistakables Network soon, as we continue to explore, debate and discuss the ED&I trends affecting organisations over the coming months. Next time we will explore topics including hybrid working, inclusion learning, and cancel culture.