No matter which term your organisation uses, the premise is the same; employers are recognising the importance of building more inclusive, more diverse and fairer workplaces. Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic and its varying impact on different ethnic and social groups, and a focus on social injustice have led to an increased desire to tackle inequality.
As well as being ‘the right thing to do’, the corporate benefits of focusing on D&I are manifest; research has found that more diverse groups make better decisions; organisations with more diverse employees find it easier to hire and retain the talent they need and business performance can be improved – a McKinsey study found that companies with more than 30% women executives were more likely to outperform companies with fewer women executives, or none at all.
Creating an organisation with a sense of purpose, where employees feel that they belong and can be their authentic selves, can therefore deliver tangible advantages for your business.
Inclusion and diversity programmes can also help you to build an overall more resilient workforce; an organisation that is able to weather the unexpected and respond to whatever challenges it faces. Here we explore how your diversity and inclusion strategy can help in building resilience and wellbeing.
How has COVID-19 impacted DE&I?
It might be hard to draw any positives from the coronavirus pandemic – but if we are going to look at the upsides, progress in DE&I is definitely one of them.
The accepted wisdom is that a combination of the shock and worry of the pandemic, the almost overnight upending of our usual routines, and the isolation of remote working have combined to create a mental health crisis. And in many ways, this is true.
But when it comes to inclusion and diversity, there have been positives, as Aon’s head of diversity and inclusion, Katherine Conway, notes.
«In some ways, organisations that moved to remote working have created a more level playing field. In virtual meetings, everyone has the same sized box on the screen, and I love the simplicity of this. Whether you are senior leader, a junior colleague or the most recent joiner, an online meeting gives everyone an equal seat at the table and an equal voice. Compare this to a world where homeworkers – often women or those who are less able to attend the office – are an adjunct on the phone to a largely in-person meeting, and we start to see how the pandemic has had some upsides for inclusion.»
Katherine Conway, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Aon
Another unintentional DE&I positive for homeworking organisations is the potential for colleagues to see each other in a more three-dimensional way. What do we mean by this? During the pandemic, we have seen co-workers in the context of their homes – children, pets, partners and all – their whole selves, unfiltered, without the armour of office wear and in the midst of their often chaotic home-schooling, multi-tasking lives.
The openness and transparency this has encouraged, Conway hopes, will continue when we move back to a more office-based environment.
The flexibility homeworking brought about also has positives for many workers. Instead of being on a long commute at children’s bedtime, parents have been able to be hands-on.
And while we have to be alive to the dangers of an ‘always on’ culture, an acceptance that people may be working flexibly around the demands of home and family has eroded a 9-5 presenteeism culture that may have affected some organisations.
Employers’ and employees’ ability to adapt to the changes we have all seen over the last year or so in itself should be celebrated. As Conway says, we should give ourselves credit for “how much has everything changed, and we have just adapted and accepted that. We’ve all become more resilient”.
The drivers for diversity and inclusion
There are a number of stimuli for the increased focus on D&I:
Growing recognition that D&I drives better business performance
Businesses with above-average diversity scores have been shown to have higher average revenues due to innovation.
The need to diversify talent pools
Skills gaps are a real challenge for many industries, whether this is due to the transition of the sector, as seen in the evolving energy industry, or external factors, like Brexit, which has had a significant impact on the hospitality sector.
Research shows that more diverse organisations are seen as more attractive employers by millennials; taking D&I seriously can help with talent attraction and retention.
A desire to better reflect your customer base
While customers and clients tend to be drawn from across society, many employers do not reflect this.
Creating a business that mirrors the make-up of your customer base is not just good practice, but can give you a competitive edge; business consultants Accenture found that for 64% of US consumers, a company’s ethical values and authenticity influence purchasing decisions.
What can employers do to improve resilience and wellbeing via D&I?
Implementing health and wellbeing benefits that appeal to a wider range of people can help to create a more inclusive and diverse organisation.
To successfully support employees, organisations need to ensure they are alive to all their needs and circumstances. The definition of a family has changed, and so have employees’ needs around the benefits provided to those families. Aon recommends that organisations take a ‘wellbeing needs-based’ approach to DE&I.
Equally, tapping into DE&I issues can be used as a way to engage members with their benefits. It is often reported that Millennials, for instance, are particularly concerned about climate change and environmental issues. Ensuring your pension scheme focuses on sustainable, ethical investments can be a way to maximise employee engagement with the scheme, and make you a more attractive employer to the demographic you want to hire – as our short video explores.
What are the steps employers can take to improve employee resilience and health and wellbeing at work via DEI initiatives?
- Build leadership support. Embed your D&I programmes in the fabric of your organisation, and lead by example, with those from the very top of your business down acting as DEI allies.
- Create a needs-based benefit strategy. Ensure you offer the employee benefits your diverse workforce need and will appreciate. If your employee demographic needs to change due to external headwinds or changing corporate priorities, you may want to look at the benefits that will attract the people you need. Audit your current offering and see where you may need to tweak your benefits programmes.
- Build employee awareness and embrace two-way employee communication. Failing to communicate the benefits you provide effectively can create a communication gap. Spending money on any benefits or initiatives – whether D&I-focused or otherwise – is not cost-effective if employees do not realise they exist. Aon’s Rising Resilient report found, for instance, that while just 12% of employers offer no flexible work or skill development initiatives, 39% of employee believe their organisation offers no such programmes.
- Become aware of the future skills your workplace will need to remain competitive, relevant and resilient, and set objectives to recruit the people you need to deliver them. Recruit for diversity, to ensure your organisation has diversity of thought and is an authentically diverse and inclusive environment. Rewards – including employee benefits – can be a powerful lever for enabling change, as our Future of Pay Guidebook
- Make your commitments clear and visible, and be accountable for their success. Share your successes, and do not shy away from being candid about areas for improvement. Transparency and honesty are key to successful DEI.
Aon’s values and commitments
Yahoo Finance reported recently on Aon’s CEO Greg Case being named the number one executive in D&I membership organisation INvolve’s OUTstanding Top 50 LGBT+ Ally Executives in 2020.
Commenting on the win, Yahoo Finance noted that ‘Being an Ally is not just about evangelising the need for diversity and inclusion (D&I) — it requires action to see results’.
If delivering on DE&I means clear actions, hopefully our pointers above have given you some ideas about the actions you can take to advance your DEI strategy, and as a result, drive greater wellbeing and resilience.
You can read more on DE&I, Aon’s approach and our recommendations for employers in our whitepaper, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace. And if you would like a snapshot of your organisation’s current resilience – how prepared you are to respond to change and how likely you are to be agile in the face of the unexpected – you can complete Aon’s resilience self-assessment tool. It’s quick, easy and will give you an instant gauge of your resilience. Take the self-assessment tool here.