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Diversity and Inclusion in the workplace

New research reveals that the diversity and inclusion efforts employed by organisations can have the adverse effect of alienating employees when employers fail to consider the needs and perspectives of all staff.

The collaborative study, conducted by researchers at Durham University Business School, the University of Birmingham Business School and Leeds University Business School explored the engagement and satisfaction levels of staff working across the UK for a major British high-street retailer, regarding diversity and inclusion initiatives.

About the research

Researchers adopted a multi-method approach to their study.  Firstly, they analysed existing research on diversity to identify where gaps in evidence might occur and used these findings to shape their case study.

Interviews were then conducted with the company’s staff, across all levels and positions, over a three-year period. Finally, the researchers shadowed senior members of the company, observing their work and interactions.

Research Findings

The researchers identified five key drivers for inclusion:

  • Visible commitment from the top to an inclusive culture
  • Responsiveness to individual concerns
  • Going beyond protected characteristics
  • Interventions designed to include those traditionally excluded
  • The support of diverse networks

Having such drivers in place led to employees considering their work a “second home” and colleagues a “second family”. It also lead to the company, in general, having a greater commitment to the local communities where stores were located, with researchers observing employees becoming passionate about supporting local charities and feeling a sense of duty by offering employment opportunities.

However, the researchers noted that, in efforts to provide support for all, the organisation often unintentionally excluded members of their workforce from certain projects or support networks, which caused doubt amongst those employees about the worth of such schemes.

Further Barriers and Adverse Effects

Identifying further barriers to inclusion were also highlighted:

  • A perceived lack of accountability for maintaining and developing an inclusive culture
  • Difficulty accessing certain groups
  • Company culture and the need to “fit in”
  • A lack of inclusive role models
  • Organisational priorities competing with high-pressure workloads

There was also evidence of inclusion initiatives having an adverse effect on those they were designed to support. Testimony from employees working with a disability revealed frustration that employers did not seem to give them the same opportunities as their able-bodied colleagues, often passing over them for additional projects or responsibilities, for worry it might cause the employee too much stress or difficulty. Though employer intentions were kind, as a result, disabled staff felt their professional progression was hindered.

Impact of the findings

These findings should be of particular importance to HR managers and senior-level leaders who might not be aware of the limitations or potential downsides of the inclusion activities they choose to adopt.

Organisations should undertake all inclusion efforts with input from the majority of workers, in order to gain a holistic view of the company, understand where such measures might work best and build greater engagement.

“Our work supports the idea that the best inclusive cultures are those which can effectively manage the tension between belongingness and uniqueness and are adapted regularly with input and commitment from every level.”  Professor Jackie Ford, Durham University Business School

Further Information