Arrival Education
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Arrival Education

Still a long way to go

As we look ahead to the rest of 2022, we give you an update on the current state of play for the D&I agenda in UK business, based on our conversations and reflections with business leaders and our Arrival Network of diverse talent.

In brief, Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) progress within UK business is mixed.

Let’s start with some of the positives. There’s never been more interest from UK corporates, and D&I has never been further up leaders’ to do lists. This has been driven by a range of internal and external factors — but centrally a growing awareness, interest and understanding of the issue from business leaders during lockdown, accelerated by the impact of Black Lives Matter/George Floyd.

There’s now more leadership confidence in the D&I vernacular. Companies are talking about white allies, intersectionality, micro aggression etc. The rise and rise of ESG investing is driving downward interest in the ‘S’ in the ESG agenda, with shareholders demanding businesses do the right thing as the potential reputational risk of diversity pay gap reporting lies on the horizon.

However, a significant driver is the expectation of millennials, who will represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025 — many of whom are already stepping into leadership roles. Millennials expect open, diverse and inclusive leaders and workplaces as standard. They see stuck, old-fashioned “control and command” cultures as increasingly irrelevant and verging on obsolete: they certainly don’t want to work for them.

As a result, within the UK business sector there is a scramble for employable diverse talent, promotion of strong diverse individuals and elevation of the agenda. This is having great influence on the budgets of D&I professionals. It’s fair to say this movement is structural and will only build.

Now for some of the more challenging points.

  • The impact of Covid hasn’t been felt equally. As usual, it’s those that have the least who are hit the hardest, namely the socially disadvantaged.
  • BLM D&I posturing seemed to some to be white, middle-class hand ringing and guilt rather than about a move towards progress. Many of those online D&I BLM/GF commitment posts haven’t exactly materialised.
  • Our latest diverse talent report says our network isn’t really seeing or feeling much noticeable change within organisations. After all their time sharing their lived experiences, reverse mentoring and listening sessions they haven’t seen much change yet.
  • D&I professionals still have limited budgets and even less influence over their leaders.

Why aren’t things moving further and faster?

This may be due to the fact that some business leaders remain non believers: disinterested or stuck. And although no right-minded leader would stick their head above the parapet and articulate this, some still don’t believe in the commercial advantages of the Diversity Dividend. They simply don’t believe there is a significant enough high-quality diverse talent pipeline to justify the investment or effort. However, we believe it’s more likely to be the following reason: many well-intentioned leaders, although bought into the power of the opportunity, don’t know how to lead or drive the D&I agenda, so the momentum slows down again.

There’s still anxiety when it comes to leading on the D&I agenda.

Additionally, there’s still significant anxiety when it comes to leading on the agenda. Leaders seem to lack the confidence to address it publicly so they avoid it. They know they need to take control but they’re anxious about potentially career-ending faux pas and mistakes.

All leaders are aware of the risks of not being diverse and inclusive, but frustratingly continue engaging in the same sort of D&I activities — listening groups, unconscious bias training, reverse mentoring, commissioning yet more diversity reports, statements — while expecting different results. This is making their diverse colleagues frustrated due to the lack of ownership and targets, pace of change and improved outcomes.

So what now?

The temptation will be for some leaders to sit on their hands. It feels too risky to get it wrong or be exposed as inadequate or falling behind so they may be tempted to wait it out in the hope the heat on the agenda goes away. But they are missing the point.

Leaders are missing the point if they think they can sit on their hands

In today’s rapidly changing world, they’re losing out on the smartest, most innovative and entrepreneurial talent full stop. Leaders unable to change and meet the future are unlikely to appear relevant for too much longer.

Arrival works with dozens of the UK’s best known businesses and their leadership teams every year via our groundbreaking work. We also work with and support hundreds of exceptional, ambitious socially and ethnically diverse talent every year.

If you’re interested in a conversation about supporting leaders own and drive and agenda at pace or are interested in our talent solutions please email us at contact@arrivaleducation.com.

Additionally, we are always looking for exceptional people to join our fast growth, high impact, development and talent business. If you are interested in finding out more please email us at info@arrivaleducation.com.

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