Leaders overestimate the DEI performance of their company

16 August 2022 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read
More news on

Business leaders tend to overestimating the performance of their company on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), writes Michelle Meakin, Business Services Director at agile management consultancy, Agility in Mind.

Diversity, equity and inclusion have been areas of focus and improvement for businesses of all sizes. Pledges to shareholders, employees and customers alike from companies have often included dramatic changes to organisational and operational behaviours. But how much progress has really been made by UK organisations?

Agility in Mind carried out research to examine this, looking at the disparity between the FTSE100’s mission statements and any decisive action over the last five years to improve DEI within their organisations.

Michelle Meakin, Business Services Director, Agility in Mind

The study found that despite almost all (99%) having an inclusive mission statement, nearly half (48%) have only one or fewer positive DEI initiatives.

Regulatory bodies such as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have now announced requirements for listed companies to report against targets for female and ethnic minority representations on boards and in executive management.

With good reason; the Agility in Mind study exposes that the FTSE100 companies which are performing worst in terms of DEI are also the ones with the lowest Glassdoor scores – of the 16 companies with a score of 3.5 or less, 13 offer no DEI initiatives. So, with such a strong business and moral case for change, where are the roadblocks to its enaction?

The barriers to improving DEI

Building a truly diverse and inclusive culture is laden with challenges, and what we are seeing is that most companies are struggling to enact the type of top-down organisational change that is required to be successful – and that the pace of real action even amongst public-facing companies is very slow.

To explore the disparity between intention and action in DEI further, Agility in Mind conducted a survey of 250 business leaders to find out their attitudes to and success with implementing changes and policies to become a more diverse and inclusive organisation.

The results suggest that one in three (30%) business leaders believe a lack of knowledge at managerial level regarding diversity initiatives’ importance holds them back from having the desired impact. Over a quarter (26%) believe a lack of awareness regarding how companywide change can be implemented is the key reason behind the mixed success of diversity policies.

Gender pulls ahead while neurodiversity lags behind

Certain areas of diversity are further advanced than others; areas such as gender and race are pulling ahead. However, where change is harder to track – such as with often invisible disabilities or neurodiversity – businesses are still lagging. But as the war for talent continues, organisations that are able to tackle this widespread issue are likely to see the most diverse – and productive – teams and reap the clear benefits of building an inclusive business.

Our research found that only 16% of business leaders describe their neurodiversity initiatives as ‘highly effective’, in contrast to 26% in both race and gender. Approximately 15% - 20% of the global population is thought to be neurodivergent – meaning they have conditions such as ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia or tourette syndrome. However, just 22% of autistic people are currently employed – the least likely to be in work of any neurodivergence.

This is where the agile approach to change management comes to the fore; incremental change, a strong vision of inclusion and how to get there, and an openness to adapting the route are key ingredients to meaningful and lasting progress.

A six-step framework for change

Agility in Mind put together a simple six-step framework which can help managers wherever they are on their journey to establishing a more diverse, equitable and inclusive organisation:

  1. Unique: Remember your organisation is unique, so merely copying others will not necessarily achieve the organisation you want to be.
    2. Inclusivity: Begin with inclusivity in mind, bringing a diverse set of views into a multidisciplinary team managing change.
    3. Characteristics: Set out the characteristics of the organisation you want and share a clear vision for the future.
    4. Incremental: Work incrementally, taking small steps that achieve real change, aligned always with the vision you have.
    5. Iterate: Iterate, ensuring you learn at each step, and share the lessons across the organisation.
    6. Visibility: Make change visible to all so everyone knows the progress you’re making.

It’s encouraging that business leaders appear to have an appetite for further change, with a third of those (33%) surveyed saying that more training for managers would help to improve the effectiveness of DEI policies. This rises to nearly two in five (38%) in larger organisations of over 500 employees.

We have seen progress over the last few years with organisations of all sizes embracing change management processes to become more diverse. Core to this shift is making sure that companies can build a culture of inclusion, making work accessible to everyone, which is able to scale as they grow.