Organisations of all sizes across all industry sectors have felt the ongoing impacts of COVID-19. ‘Business as usual’ took a back seat as organisations handled the immediate impacts of the pandemic and huge numbers of professionals switched to working remotely practically overnight. Priorities shifted and some areas which had previously been a focus for employers got pushed aside.

One priority which may initially be perceived to have taken a back seat is progression on equity, diversity, and inclusion (ED&I). But in fact, when it comes to recruiting new staff, ED&I is now established as one of the highest priorities for jobseekers and is equally as important to existing employees.

Do Employers Still Need to Prioritise ED&I?

According to research we published in the Hays Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Report 2020, an organisation’s ED&I policies are important to nearly three quarters (73 percent) of professionals when considering a new role. It’s clear that this is important to professionals and needs to be equally, if not more important for employers in the quest of attracting the talent they seek.

As well as talent attraction, ED&I increasingly needs to be a focus for improved employee retention. Staff want to see a strong, genuine commitment to ED&I from their employer.

Demonstrating a commitment to ED&I both internally and externally therefore needs to be a priority for organisations wanting to hold on to their talent. Perceived benefits that flow from this include a healthier workplace culture, improved staff morale and inclusive leadership, which will resonate with employees and ensure that they stay engaged with your organisation and its purpose.

It’s important to highlight the connectivity between flexible working practices and ED&I in the workplace

A Spotlight on Flexible Working

Flexible working has been on the rise over the last decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly accelerated the adoption of this working practice at scale and across the globe. With the caveat that flexible working is not simply a change in workplace, it is clear that the ability to work flexibly is critical to balance professional and personal commitments and no longer just a privilege offered to a select few or an accommodation for those who successfully made a business case to request it.

It’s important to highlight the connectivity between flexible working practices and ED&I in the workplace. Providing a variety of well-designed and good quality jobs can have huge positive impact on the sustained diversity of a workforce which is echoed by the vast majority (86 percent) of professionals, who believe that increased access to flexible working practices can help organisations gain access to a more diverse pool of talent.

That’s not to say that there aren’t potential drawbacks to working flexibly, as it can induce feelings of isolation, blurred boundaries between work and home lives and barriers to clear communication. As flexible working is to remain a core part of our way of working for many from now on, employers need to be mindful of these risks to ensure their workplaces remain as inclusive as possible.

What Steps Can Employers Take to Put Their ED&I Agenda Back on the Map?

Today’s challenges shouldn’t overshadow the commitment and onward progression of an organisation’s ED&I agenda and it is employers who need to take the lead to meet the challenge of keeping this on track. Here are three key recommendations:

Be bold about your commitment to ED&I: A diverse workforce and inclusive workplace is no longer a unique selling point to prospective employees – it is an expectation. Attracting and retaining the best individuals means that well planned, relevant, and forward-looking comprehensive ED&I policies need to be in place and part of an organisation’s talent acquisition and retention strategy.

Promote ED&I initiatives throughout the recruitment process: In order to really connect with speak to potential employees, ED&I policies including flexible working options need to be promoted at key points such as in job adverts and on your organisation’s website as well as during the interview process. Once a hire is made, ED&I commitments and programmes to engage should also be clearly promoted in the onboarding process.

Actively consult flexible working options flexible: Flexible working isn’t one-size-fits-all. While it can offer huge advantages for some, equally it bears drawbacks for others depending on their role, working style and personal circumstances. Try to be mindful of and accommodating to this by tailoring your flexible working offering across your workforce.

How Employees Can Also Take Responsibility

Employees also have a key part to play in ensuring that their organisation makes meaningful progress forward with ED&I. Here are some actionable things they can do:

Identify and seek evidence of challenge an employer’s ED&I commitment: If you are job searching, you may want to find examples of where the differences of experience and perspective created by diversity are captured, respected, understood and celebrated an organisation. Look on their website and social media and if it feels appropriate, ask for examples about it in an interview setting.

Be clear on your working pattern: When do you work at your best? Decide on what your preferred working options are and discuss this with your manager. An organisation that truly fosters a diverse and inclusive environment will work with you to figure out a working arrangement which best suits you as well as meets your organisation’s needs.

Brace yourself for change: Try to remain adaptable and practical considering an inevitable change to your employer’s situation and internal and external changing circumstances. When discussing ED&I initiatives or flexible working, bear in mind that these may need to be reviewed and re-evaluated to better reflect the fast-changing world of work.

By approaching ED&I proactively and confidently, we are better placed to make progress and keep this front of mind through such a significant period of change.