SMEs failing their staff on diversity & inclusion support

27 September 2021 3 min. read

Fewer than half of small and mid-sized enterprises have a plan to take action in response to discrimination. A new report has found that the majority of managers meanwhile admit their company significant work to do to improve its diversity and inclusion.

Improving diversity and inclusion (D&I) in the workplace can improve the long-term results of an organisation, while also benefitting the world beyond the office. Addressing issues including pay gaps and social attitudes in the recruitment process, formerly marginalised demographics – such as the LGBT+ and BAME communities and women – could better engage with their work – providing a potential boost to financial performance of as much as 30%.

While many large-scale employers have already become vocal supporters of such changes, however, the small and mid-sized enterprise (SME) sector is being left behind. A new survey by GetApp, polling 1,000 directors and managers with UK SMEs, has found that only 46% of firms have a policy in place for responding to workplace discrimination.

Does your company do any of the following in regards to being an inclusive workplace

At a time when talent is in short supply, and employers must do all that they can to prove to prospective workers they can support their needs, this could be costing SMEs dearly.

Sonia Navarrete, Content Analyst at GetApp UK, commented, “The results of the survey also show that SMEs still have a lot of work to do in order to reap the many benefits that come from hiring a diverse multicultural and equal workforce.”

The study found that while firms were hosting diverse workforces, many were doing too little to sustain that. A majority of 77% of managers and directors stated there was diversity in their workplace, compared to 18% admitting it was not diverse enough. However, 51% also admitted that their company still had significant work to do to improve diversity and inclusion.

At present, the most common form of D&I measure at SMEs was found to be “listening” to the needs and concerns of staff. With no formal processes to back this up, though, firms may well fail to live up to these needs or concerns, with no template for acting upon them. Reinforcing that idea, the study also revealed that 27% of those surveyed had themselves experienced discrimination in the workplace, and of that, 52% of the complaints were not taken seriously. 

What changes would you like to see within your company

Meanwhile, most formal D&I action involved staff training – treating it as an individual responsibility, instead of an institutional aspect of the company – while practical steps for the businesses themselves were often on the backburner. While 42% offered diversity training, 41% aimed to weed out biases in recruitment, 15% had attempted to adopt gender-neutral phrasing, and only 9% offered nursing facilities for working mothers.

At the same time, while SMEs acknowledged that they had work to do for D&I, many still asserted that the responsibility was with staff, while favouring less formalised modes of inclusivity. When asked what changes they would make to improve their D&I efforts, the largest number of 34% said they would like to “listen” more to needs and concerns of staff, while only 21% would introduce formal policies to support D&I.

Meanwhile, 33% stated they would like to further educate employees on diversity via training. At the same time, fewer than one-quarter of respondents said they would look into how hiring bias impeded diversity in their firm – suggesting they did not see D&I as the same kind of issue for managers as it was for ordinary staff. However, with 19% believing there is a gender pay gap in their company, and 32% claiming their company is not transparent when they give out pay rises, the research again suggests that SMEs must take a more structural view of their approaches to D&I, if they are not to risk losing the current war for talent.