The Big ED&I Questions in 2023, Answered
As consultants embedding equity, diversity and inclusion into organisations, we’ve been listening closely to the queries and concerns voiced by our client partners.
Earlier this year, our Diversity & Confusion report uncovered how people in the workforce think and feel about ED&I – revealing the perceptions, misconceptions and barriers currently preventing widespread inclusion. The social, political and economic context of 2023 brings with it its own challenges. Today, ED&I has to deliver its mission against the backdrop of a cost of living crisis, ongoing culture wars, as well as anxiety about ‘diversity fatigue’.
With this comes new considerations and reflections about the route to meaningful change in our constantly evolving environment. In this article, our in-house experts dive into the pressing questions that have surfaced in our conversations with ED&I, HR, marketing and business leaders.
1. Is ED&I creating division rather than inclusion?
After the murder of George Floyd, there was a belief that marginalised people were being given a voice to surface the challenges faced every day at work. Workplaces put out declarations of change and companies learnt that they had to care about equity, diversity and inclusion (ED&I) – or at least appear to.
Three years later, many of us find ourselves exhausted. As seen in our Diversity & Confusion report, those from underrepresented groups are feeling disillusioned by a lack of progress and excluding themselves from ED&I conversations. On the other hand, those from majority groups seem to have adopted a sense of learned helplessness. While accepting that ED&I is considered important, some people may not always agree with it and keep these opinions to themselves due to fear of consequences for ‘saying the wrong thing’.
Different groups feeling silenced and sidelined for different reasons is far from the inclusion ED&I is striving towards. It’s time to look beyond representation and focus on everyday experiences. We need to get to a place where our nuances are appreciated and not seen as a way to separate people, as there is far more that aligns us such as our shared goals, ambitions and values. The delusion that we’re now more confident in talking about ED&I broadly, but still not confident in talking about personal identities shows where there is work to be done. Understanding inclusion, what it is made up of and how we can all play a role is essential to move forward.
Selina Kotecha, Principal Consultant - Inclusive Cultures
2. How can learning programmes create transformative change?
When a transformation in ED&I is required, organisations often know that long-term, structural and system change is needed to get there. However, this can feel challenging and lack integration with other cultural change initiatives and so learning programmes or training initiatives can be adopted as easier and quicker go-to mechanics.
Learning undoubtedly has its role to play, however, when relied on as the solution, frustratingly the ROI just isn’t there. At best, learners will feel they had a positive personal growth experience. At worst, there are individuals who view ED&I learning as akin to compliance. In both cases, the organisational and ‘felt’ change lags behind.
For ED&I learning to have a profound impact and to move beyond the passive, three conditions need to be true: i) the culture needs to be put under the microscope accompanied by focused action planning to create ED&I change, ii) the organisation must challenge itself to change representation and to hold functions and leaders accountable for that change iii) an expectation must sit with the learners to take action, to continue self-education and to take accountability for transformation.
Simone Marquis, Managing Director
3. How do you approach ED&I from a global perspective?
Taking a global approach to ED&I requires an agreed ED&I vision and ambition, which allows everyone across the business to be clear about what you want to achieve. But there’s the additional challenge of thinking about the impact of your global ambitions for your local markets.
Depending on the market, you may have to think carefully about the ED&I priorities and any subsequent initiatives. Get to know your markets by collecting the relevant data and insight to paint the most accurate picture of the market-specific EDI challenges. Gathering this insight will help you to understand the local experience of ED&I, provide a more detailed understanding of the legislative context (e.g. what is legal/illegal in terms of behaviours and reporting), as well as any local or societal norms that need to be considered before rolling out specific initiatives. Aligning globally, but ensuring it resonates locally is the best way to maximise ED&I impact.
Dr Nena Foster, Culture & Inclusion Director
4. What do Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) need to thrive today?
ERGs are often viewed within the stark binary of ‘activist’ vs. ‘advocate’. The former is perceived to stand for the needs of workers and against corporate interests, and often carries credibility with colleagues, but perhaps less so with leadership. The latter is seen to support the business and maintain a status quo, carrying credibility with senior leadership, but less so with those they seek to represent.
However, ERGs that thrive need to carry credibility across the organisation. ERG leaders must be seen as trustworthy for their members to raise concerns and must reliably push for change. At the same time, ERG leaders must have the know-how to effectively navigate internal cultures – which usually means demonstrating that their ERG is strategically aligned with organisational purpose.
How do ERGs gain this credibility? ERGs are almost always formed because their members have been underserved by existing business structures. If businesses want ERGs to continuously develop and support organisational aims, such as advising on internal policies and processes or representing them at careers fairs, they must give them the resources, time, training, and support to thrive as agents of sustainable and transformative change.
Amani Saeed & Rosie Ngugi, Inclusion Consultants
5. How can ED&I approach class and socioeconomics?
The UK has a complex relationship with class and classism. Mix this with the current economic climate including a cost-of-living crisis, and it is little surprise that better understanding the impact of and experiences of those from socio-economic contexts has become increasingly of interest within the context of ED&I.
Today, this is measured through a long-standing socio-economic classification model produced by the UK Office for National Statistics that applies an algorithm developed by members of the MRS Census and Geodemographics Group to assign every UK household a social economic class (NS-SEC). This relies on a variety of inputs including qualifications, income bands, tenure, and a list of defined and recognised professions of the ‘Chief Income Earner’ (CIE).
Whilst conceptually clear, and widely accepted (including internationally) to measure and predict health, educational and many other social outcomes, it often excludes the wider cultural contexts of minoritised communities – from generational nuances to cultural norms. Thus limitations in the application of the current model if/when segmenting multi-generational households with potentially multi-carer responsibilities and professional experiences.
Challenging what works for the majority, particularly when it comes to social class and context, therefore has to be challenged at all stages of research to truly be intersectional and inclusive of minoritised experiences.
Cathia Randrianarivo, Principal Consultant - Inclusive Research
6. Can a brand ever be truly inclusive?
In brand strategy school there are a few popular refrains about what it takes to be a strong brand: play to a tension, stand for something, and put your customer first, always. But what does this mean when you approach it through the lens of equity, diversity and inclusion? Is it possible for a brand to be truly inclusive in a ‘cancel culture‘ world?
Inclusive brand strategy isn’t about trying to appeal to, or even appease, everyone. We know that never works - you just end up becoming a second-rate no one and who wants that? It’s knowing why you exist, living your values consistently inside and out and ensuring you evolve in step with culture to stay relevant to your customers.
Being inclusive is not excluding or overlooking people who align with your purpose and values. It’s opening out your world and opportunity to meaningfully connect with people whilst being confident in the knowledge that you never can, nor want to, be for everyone.
Ruth Hoyal, Insights & Strategy Director
7. Should businesses prioritise purpose or profit?
Was this year the year that marketing campaigns prioritised commerciality and cost of living over purpose? Not quite. The debate rages on about how award-winning creative work tends to focus on purpose, and how purpose on the whole is somewhat detached from the reality of paying the mortgage, overcoming inflation, and navigating cost pressures.
It’s shortsighted to assume that purpose and profit are detached and mutually exclusive. Through our inside out inclusion framework, we’re seeing that more people are seeking fulfilling work that does align to their individual purpose, and that the businesses that can articulate this, and offer an employee brand proposition now have the opportunity to clearly articulate this externally.
Where purpose falls down is in the process and in the execution. The big mishaps this year such as Bud Light highlight when and where marketers jump on a bandwagon or a trend without the full due diligence about a) what the brand stands for and b) whether they have a right to play within a certain community.
Purpose alone does not always drive commerciality (and we could argue for hours about the need for more conscious capitalism), but purpose combined with inclusivity and authenticity does. You just have to look to the way Nike are heavily promoting women who wear hijabs, or the way that Virgin Atlantic is using inclusion as a point of difference across their work.
To argue it’s one or t’other would be short-sighted, and in many ways depressing.
Asad Dhunna, CEO & Founder
8. Where is the line between cultural appropriation and appreciation?
The cultural appropriation and appreciation in marketing campaigns have become increasingly blurred especially given the cultural climate of the UK. Marketers are in search of the next TikTok trend or viral moment to shake up the internet.
Understandably, creative agencies need to create content that pushes the boundaries and sparks conversations but in 2023, we need to acknowledge that new lines have been drawn and new discussions are to be had.
While diversity in representation is a positive step, marketers can easily fall into a tick-boxing exercise which leads to culturally offensive content as cultural queues are often misplaced and misrepresentation. True cultural appreciation requires more than surface-level inclusion. Marketers must engage with the communities they seek to represent and this means seeking their input and insights before incorporating elements of their culture. This approach ensures authenticity and respect, preventing cringe-worthy missteps and wider public scrutiny.
Chynna Rhooms, Associate
Looking to discuss these questions in relation to your organisation? Get in touch to see how we can help.