May’s Employment Law Digest: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: what it is, why it’s important and how to embrace it
30th May, 2023
According to a 2020 report from UK-based tech for good developer, Culture Shift, 46% of Britain's workforce think that EDI should be more of a priority in the workplace, and think that their employer could do more when it comes to diversity.
Over the last 5 years business leaders have taken a more proactive approach to embracing the concepts of EDI which has been great for both staff and businesses alike. The CIPD Inclusion at Work 2022 report warns that momentum in embracing EDI needs to continue, if EDI is to become embedded in our culture.
In this article we remind ourselves what EDI is, why it is important, and how we can help organisations nurture a truly equal, diverse and inclusive workplace where people from all walks of life can feel safe and thrive.
What is EDI
Equality: At its core, equality means fairness in treatment and opportunity. It is about ensuring that no group of people are put at any disadvantage or treated less favourably because of their actual, perceived or associative differences when compared to others.
Diversity: Diversity is slightly different. This is the range of people in your workforce and is about recognising differences, acknowledging the benefit of having a range of perspectives in decision-making and the workforce being representative of the organisation’s customers.
Inclusion: Hand in hand with equality and diversity is inclusion. Inclusion is about creating an environment in which everyone feels that they belong without having to conform, their contribution matters and they are able to perform to their full potential, no matter their background, identity or circumstances.
Why is EDI important – consequences of failing to embrace EDI
EDI is important from the perspective of both the individual (generally and when at work), and the organisation.
From the individual’s perspective, an understanding of EDI may help people recognise that they or others have experienced overt or inadvertent discrimination at some point in their lives, and everyone has a part to play in challenging this. Improved awareness may lead to greater willingness to speak up, support between colleagues, appropriate reporting of concerns at an early stage, genuine instigation of and participation in appropriate investigations, fewer grievances, improved mental health and improved staff engagement across the board.
From the organisation’s perspective, if EDI is not embraced from both a strategic and practical perspective, there is a far greater chance of high attrition rates, poor morale, and costly litigation. Tribunal statistics covering October to December 2022 published on 9 March 2023 show that there were just under 5,000 Employment Tribunal claims (4,969) brought based on discrimination against a protected characteristic (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation) with disability, race and sex claims being the most commonly protected characteristic relied upon. The 2022/2023 statistics for maximum, median and average awards are not yet available. However, if last year is anything to go by (where the highest award for a race discrimination claim was £225,893), given the increase in Vento bands for claims brought from 6 April 2023, injury to feelings awards in the worse type of upheld discrimination claims could be damaging to an organisation.
And with social media, sites like Glass Door and publication of tribunal judgments on the internet, paying lip service to EDI as opposed to taking it seriously can cause significant reputational damage.
What you can do?
In short, be pro-active, and not reactive. Don’t wait until it is too late. Create or review your strategic and practical approach to EDI now.
We recommend that organisations:
- Implement and regularly re-visit their EDI strategy which should ideally be data driven to ensure that impact measures are in place to track progress, and meaningful regular reporting to senior management can take place and be followed up
- Enable managers, by assessing job design and delivering training on core people management skills, to lead by example, promote accountability for each individuals’ actions and encourage and enforce desired behaviours of colleagues
- Review their EDI policies and procedures together with linked policies and procedures (such as grievances / disciplinary / whistleblowing / bullying and harassment / discrimination) with an EDI focus
- Train all colleagues on their workplace responsibilities with an EDI slant
- Consider the robustness of their current approach to EDI investigations and, potentially, consider on a case by case basis the use of an external investigator
- Take appropriate and proportionate action where discriminatory action has been found to have occurred
- Look to balance confidentiality with respectful transparency around incidents and organisational responses (once outcomes have been determined).
If you do the above, and do it well, you can improve and maintain morale, retention, reputation and, if an employment tribunal does arrive, a successful reasonable steps defence to employer liability for the actions of a rogue discriminator might be possible.
How can we help?
HR Protect clients can access our HR Protect portal, which includes a range of advice documents, precedent letters and guidance notes on EDI issues.
We regularly deliver bespoke EDI training to clients at all levels of their structure, from Board level, through to managers, and junior colleagues. We also have significant experience in conducting EDI investigations, audits on related EDI topics such as equal pay, gender pay gap reporting and, of course, employment tribunal claims.
Please do get in touch with the Employment Team to chat through your EDI issue and we would be very happy to support you.
Some useful links
Please note that this briefing is designed to be informative, not advisory and represents our understanding of English law and practice as at the date indicated. We would always recommend that you should seek specific guidance on any particular legal issue.
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